Aaron and Sinead are proof of just how much volunteering can be a confidence builder and a life-changer.
Aaron’s story: From a painfully shy teenager unable to communicate effectively with people, the now confident 21-year-old student is a mentor for others and a true ambassador for youth volunteering in Scotland.
The volunteering journey began five years ago for this lad from the East End of Glasgow, who moved to the City from the Philippines with his family in 2003.
“When I was at St Andrew’s Secondary School, the careers advice focused on how important volunteering was for your employability – the experience would enhance your CV and boost your job prospects,” said Aaron. “So, aged 16, I mustered the courage to take myself out into my local community to look for experiences. I saw a Salvation Army charity shop advertising for volunteers. That was the start. I was with them for over a year and learned a great deal of transferable skills and, more than anything, quite simply how to talk and engage with people.
“I had been a very introverted youngster, unable to approach people. I found it very difficult to make friends. Volunteering has definitely changed me, and my life. I’m now far more outgoing and a confident communicator with no fear of making new friends any more.
“While I enjoyed the shop experience, I wondered what other opportunities were out there. So I got involved with Young Scot and became a Youth Legacy Ambassador, promoting Scottish Culture and sports in the run up to the Commonwealth Games 2014. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in volunteering. After the Games, I decided to look closer to home, seeking out youth projects in Easterhouse. I’d never been to that part of Glasgow and my friends had a very negative impression of the area. When I started to volunteer there, I had already thought of myself as an ambassador, but my eyes were opened. I discovered how active, positive and friendly the young volunteers in Easterhouse are, helping to change the lives of so many around them. It was an experience that really enhanced my own personal development, as they inspired me to become a better volunteer.”
In 2016 that Aaron got involved with the team at Volunteer Glasgow, the local Third Sector Interface (TSI), which delivers the Saltire Awards in Glasgow. He became a Volunteer Ambassador and sits on the awards panel, reading through nominations for the Saltire’s top Summit accolade for outstanding contribution to volunteering. Through Volunteer Glasgow Aaron is now involved in the European Championships to be in Glasgow and has become Volunteer Champion to help with their recruitment campaign.
When Aaron finished school, he wanted to go into medicine and become a doctor. In order to help build his experience, he volunteered in 2013 with St Andrew’s First Aid, Scotland’s only dedicated first aid charity. He continues to deliver first aid service at various events and now mentors young people on the charity’s youth programme.
“Some people think of volunteering as a career but I think of it as my hobby, as it is something I enjoy enormously. Thanks to Volunteer Glasgow, I also got involved with MCR Pathways and its Young Glasgow Talent programme… I provide one-to-one mentoring support.
The last five years have certainly been quite a journey of discovery for Aaron himself, who also slots in volunteering as a STEM Ambassador - actively encouraging school pupils to pursue higher education and a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics – and all while studying for his Honours Degree in Human Biology. “Through my STEM work, I’ve discovered my ability to teach and the children seem to enjoy being around me.”
From the introverted youngster afraid to engage with society, to an inspiring young adult with boundless enthusiasm and energy, Aaron is truly a great ambassador for volunteering and the Saltire Awards programme.
Sinead’s story: Sinead (aged 20) was originally referred to Voluntary Action East Renfrewshire (VAER) by the Flexible Support Project. At the introductory meeting, it became clear she suffered from severe anxiety, which was impacting on every element of her life. Sinead disclosed that she found the idea of having to work with people, particularly those she didn’t know, extremely worrying.
What she did know though was what she loved the most and was happiest doing – and that was working with dogs. Although East Renfrewshire has no registered animal rescue centre, over the last few months VAER has offered extensive support to a woman who rescues and rehabilitates stray dogs. The team have been helping her work towards becoming a registered charity and, in the meantime, develop informal volunteering to meet her desperate need of help with the growing number of animals in her care.
VAER had already suggested two unemployed women about volunteering in the role and both were finding the experience very rewarding, so they also asked Sinead if she would be interested in participating. The answer was a resounding ‘yes’! One of VAER’s staff accompanied her on the first day.
Sinead has now been attending volunteering for the last four months and the changes have been incredible. Her growth and development has been so remarkable that her Flexible Support Project client liaison officer used Sinead’s experience as their case study for their annual review. Her confidence has grown so much that she now speaks in groups to other people about the benefits of volunteering. She is undertaking an online animal behaviour course accredited by the Edinburgh Dick Veterinary School and is applying for kennel staff jobs.
By her own admission, Sinead feels that without this experience she would never have considered herself capable of being responsible for other people’s pets let alone being able to work in a job she loved doing. “It helps take my anxiety away and makes me feel better,” said Sinead. “Every time I’m there, I genuinely feel relaxed. I don’t normally like being around people but enjoy being around the other volunteers who all share the same passion and love for dogs.”