What I gained from volunteering

27 October 2016

"I got a buzz from volunteering. It really boosted my confidence."

Emily Yates, Accessibility Consultant, Travel Writer and Presenter

I’m a wheelchair user and I have cerebral palsy. My first volunteering experience was fundraising for the disability charity Scope. From then, it really started properly at university. I helped set up a few projects to help the local community. It was on a voluntary basis, and enabled me to make some friends away from the academic side.

I later applied to be a Games Maker at London 2012. I’ve always had an interest in major sports events. And that if you like was my first experience of real volunteering on a mass scale. The people I was volunteering with were different from me. They were from different backgrounds. They were younger, older, medical staff, retired managing directors, hairdressers – you name it. That really gave me a buzz from volunteering.

I then went to volunteer at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. And tomorrow I’m leaving for Rio to volunteer at the 2016 Paralympic Games! I’m not a student anymore I do have a full time job. With these big sporting events, it’s great to have that time off and meet people from all over the world - and also turn it into a trip. I’ve been working out there for the last two years doing access consultancy. That means basically helping to make the Games and transport systems in Rio as accessible and inclusive as they can be.

I’ve also just written a Lonely Planet guide to accessible Rio. I’m hoping that kind of work, the consultancy and travel writing, will continue for Tokyo 2020. Until then, it’s just working hard and trying to keep things going here. I do things like disability awareness training, motivational speaking and ‘mystery shopper’ things at hotels with my wheelchair. I also do some TV presenting for the BBC.

I think first and foremost someone with volunteering skills is pretty much a people person. They enjoy being around people. They get a good buzz off people. They’re a good judge of character and can get on with different types of people. You also have to work as part of a team. I think that’s really important. Volunteering gives you that confidence to go and speak to people to go and use your initiative. It’s very rare as a volunteer at big events that you’re told exactly what to do. You have to just get on with it. I’ve definitely used all these skills in the world of work.

Personally, the contacts I made while volunteering and the networking opportunities enabled me to make the career I have now. Without the experience of London 2012, it wouldn’t have dawned on me to do that kind of work in the first place.

I think we’re now in a very worrying time. Everything that we do seems to be fuelled by how much money we can make from it. Volunteering has a bad reputation because people don’t get paid for it. But you gain so much more. You get friends, skills and experience. You also get useful contacts to help you develop both as a person and develop your career.  Volunteering can give you self-value while helping other people at the same time. If more people volunteered the world would be a better place. 

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