“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they are worthless but because they are priceless”
I heard this quote recently at an OU Students Association Volunteer Recognition Event and it hit me hard.
I have always been a volunteer, right from when I was 15 years old and volunteered at the local care home providing socialisation and entertainment to the elderly residents. Later in my life I took on a similar volunteering role, working with Dementia patients and their families, a cause close to my heart after watching my beloved Gran lose herself and eventually her life to this horrible disease. I have volunteered at a snow dog rescue charity travelling around to various events, fundraising, campaigning and rehoming many dogs in the process. My last volunteer role involved providing free musical theatre themed holiday events for children through my local amateur dramatics group, I even got the chance to try my hand at directing a few times too 🙂
However during this time I was also trying to find paid employment that fit with my disabilities and kept getting knocked back over and over again. I started to feel that I was only of value when I was giving my time freely but I wasn’t worth being paid for anything and this is why the above quote helped me change my outlook.
After getting all of these knockbacks I decided I needed to do something and on a whim one day I started looking through the OU prospectus not really sure exactly what I wanted to study. I came across the BA in Criminology and immediately knew that was what I wanted to study and so I signed up!
Being a new University student can be absolutely terrifying if you have never done it before! I had so many doubts about my ability, about if I had made the right decision, about if I would “fit in” being someone with a disability, the list of doubts was endless. I saw an advert for a “drop in” with the Students Association and decided I would go along and just see what it was like. I don’t think I said a single word for that entire first session, the people were friendly and the conversation pleasant but for that first session I just wanted to listen. I went back for a second session and again I was welcomed in by everyone and this time I bit the bullet and started speaking….I think that was the moment everything changed for me. I found laughter, I found friendship, I found support and I found a sense of belonging that I hadn’t expected.
In getting to know these people, particularly the volunteers, I found out more about the association and it’s volunteer opportunities and I knew that I wanted to get involved. With support from current volunteers I applied for a spot on the Senate Reference Group and to my surprise I was successful! The first batch of papers were slightly intimidating when they first arrived but I was offered support by many volunteers and particularly Cinnomen the VP Education who chairs the Senate Reference Group meetings.
I started to feel much more confident, not just in my socialisation but also in my own ability, the more involved I got, the more confident I felt and the more I wanted to do. I started to get involved in OU Clubs, creating a successful one and being admin support on some others which allowed me to be more student facing and to really listen to the student voice. I applied for a Central Committee Representative position on the Teaching Committee for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and was successful and very quickly was able to give feedback which had a direct impact on the teaching of a particular module. I became a meet up host and was able to create a social event for people in the East of England (although we have many attendees from other areas), I observed CEC weekends and Faculty Assemblies, I took part in student consultations and I was co opted onto the Disabled Students Group Committee.
With every new position I took on I was able to have a positive impact on the experiences of OU students and to meet and support many. I knew that if I wanted to be in a position where I could have maximum impact I would need to stand for a position on the Student Leadership Team in the next election, however as luck would have it, positions became open for co option for the second year of the two year term and I was lucky enough to be selected as the new Area Association Representative for England.
Looking back on all of this now, I wonder how I have managed to do all of this in just a year but I’m also filled with a huge sense of achievement and a completely changed sense of self. I continued studying during this time and finished both level 1 modules with a Distinction and I can’t wait to get started on level 2 in October!
In addition to being able to have a huge positive impact on the experiences of all OU Students which is what it’s all about, joining the OU and Volunteering with the OU Students Association has given me confidence, it’s given me skills, it’s given me friends for life, it’s given me a sense of value and wellbeing, it’s proved to me that I can rise above my disabilities and like the quote at the start, it’s proved to me that I am priceless!