Why I volunteer and the difference it has made to my life – By Tom Norton

tomI’m Tom, 28 years old and live in Loughborough, Leicestershire. I started volunteering with VICTA about 6 years ago and have been on their trips as a young person for about 8 years. During this time I’ve volunteered at a huge variety of activities and events, from supporting toddlers at a 0-5s weekend to a 10 day trip to Latvia with 18-25s. I’ve done a lot with VICTA and they have done a huge amount for me – I can go as far as to say I might not have my current job without the experience I gained with them – so it’s going to be difficult to condense everything to one post, but here we go!

tom 2At the start of everything I was taken for the person that I am and given responsibilities that I enjoyed. Some people prefer helping parents or running odd jobs and errands, but I wanted to support children in the activities. The volunteering always begins with ice-breakers and the practical training that you need. You get to know everyone quickly and each experience is interesting and challenging in its own way. If you’ve never tried to make a sandwich while blindfolded then you should definitely come along and give it a go. We’re always encouraged to get involved and have fun on the activities after the initial training, joining in with the kids’ jokes and setting challenges around what we’re doing at the time. There are always situations that the training can’t teach you to deal with, but the staff team are always on hand to support if you come across anything that you can’t deal with so you’re never really worried.

I was always in a team of 2-3 people on activities so I was never on my own in anything, whether we were out on activities, getting food or finding our way around the centres. It’s always great to chat to the other volunteers, learn from each other’s experiences and become friends outside of volunteering. I got to know several of the others and we still meet up whenever we can. There’s a volunteers meal at the end of the year which is great fun and sometimes there’s a chance to go chill out together after the activities are done too (although a lot of people are usually exhausted afterwards!). I managed to convince a few of my friends to volunteer too and we did a couple of events together.

tom and alexThe activities fly past because you’re always on your feet, but I’ve had a lot of unforgettable moments within them. The most rewarding experience I’ve had was on a family weekend when I was supporting a group of 9-10 year olds. We had one young person who was terrified of heights and wouldn’t even go up the ladder for the abseiling activity at the start, but by the last day he was climbing half-way up the climbing wall and his personality had completely opened up. Another experience that sticks in the mind is when I encouraged a parent who had been very worried about their 8 year old child to leave us at the activities. They left for 30 minutes for a cup of tea on the second session, but by the last day they were able to leave us at the activities for the whole morning.

tom 4The best thing VICTA ever gave me, both as a volunteer and a young person, was opportunity. Supporting their activities gave me a lot of experience that I needed to become a full time Children, Young People and Families Coordinator with Action for Blind People, and I now organise similar activities to those that I volunteer on with VICTA. Also, as a young person on a youth exchange to Bosnia, I met someone who invited me to spend a year on a volunteer placement in Italy – 3 weeks later I was there and supported countless international projects.

I’d try to sum things up, but it’s difficult to do because I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. If you’re thinking about signing up after reading this then stop thinking and just sign up. There’s nothing to lose and you’ll be able to help a huge number of families, doing something you love as a part of a community of volunteers from all over the country (and world now!). I’ve had a great time and will definitely be volunteering with them again in the future. See you there, I guess!

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