Jen Murray, our Development Officer for Youth Volunteering, shares her experiences of getting into youth work as a young volunteer.
Ever since I was really wee, I knew I wanted to work with and connect with people. I loved hearing people’s stories and discovered I have a natural ability to empathise and connect to people. My struggle throughout school was discovering what that inner dream would look like in real life.
In Comes Youth Work and Community Education.
My journey of youth volunteering began in my local community centre in 2011. At the time I had just received a conditional offer to study HNC Working with Communities at Edinburgh College. The condition was that during the summer, prior to starting the course, I had to gain community work experience. I still remember the combination of excitement, fear and apprehension I felt that day. How was I going to find an opportunity and the most pressing thing, how was I going to move past the crushing fear that I might not be able to do it?! I didn’t define this as deep-rooted low self-confidence or belief at the time, but on reflection, it was exactly that.
The first step was finding an opportunity. I remember searching and calling a range of community centres asking if they had any volunteering opportunities, before and during each call I was filled with butterflies, apprehension mixed with excitement. Eventually, I connected with the Senior Community Educator who covered my local area. He invited me to an informal interview the following week.
That initial meeting changed the direction of my life. It was a door opening moment. The catalyst for me gaining a wide range of voluntary experience and going on to study Community Education at University, something my younger self could never have imagined.
I ended up having the opportunity to volunteer as a youth and community worker in a range of wonderful spaces with incredible people.
A few stand out moments:
The wonderful weekly homework club, where we did homework, played games, ate nice snacks and shared stories.
The Summer project where we “travelled” to different countries everyday trying new foods and learning about different cultures.
Saving my most favourite memory until last…
Making big pots of lentil soup (my grans recipe) together on a really cold winter’s night. We would all gather in the kitchen or joined dining hall to help create the soup. Everyone would have a wee job; peeling carrots, washing the lentils, setting up the dishes etc. The soup often cost less than £5 and allowed over forty young people to get seconds! It was one of my favourite things to do at the youth club.
The community centre became my home.
A space where I created life-long connections, developed belief within myself, found community, developed an unmeasurable amount of skills and fuelled my passion to challenge injustice and inequality.
I went on to secure a paid position at the community centre and continued working there when I moved 40 miles away. Travelling home every Thursday to connect with the young people and youth workers was such a joy. Although the train ride and cycle from the train station in the rain, hail and snow was rough, just so I don’t paint a romanticised, perfect picture!
Volunteering isn’t always easy, it can be tough going. Like many things we do, it can be energy draining and difficult. It can be really important to set boundaries for yourself and not take on too much.
Over 11 years later, I am still incredibly grateful for my early volunteering experience. I know it changed my path entirely. I have went onto volunteer at cycling, food banks, etc. Especially when I have moved somewhere new, volunteering has been a lovely way to connect, share and hear stories.
Discover more volunteering stories and/or share your own stories using the hashtag #VolunteeringMakesMe as part of the #YouthVIP campaign.