Melissa Moody: Leaders should be encouraging more young people to volunteer

When I sat down to write this piece, I reflected back over my own experience with charities and what led me to the role of writing for Charity Times; reporting on the sector that has influenced a lot of my life’s decisions thus far.

To give you some background, when I was 10, I unexpectedly became a young carer, and eventually was identified by my school and referred to the local service. That service realised I wasn’t shy about the situation I found myself in and when the opportunity came for me to volunteer with The Children’s Society I couldn’t – and didn’t want to – say no.

From there, I became part of a programme called Young Carers in Focus. Along with other young people, I campaigned for the rights of young carers across the country, talked to policy makers about what could be done, changed laws and helped kick-start programmes that are still helping young carers today.

Looking back, it’s safe to say my volunteering experiences are what led me down the path of journalism – along with my natural love of writing. Even after the programme ended, I continued to work with The Children’s Society, speaking at events, peer training other young carers and even working with the Department of Health and Social Care to craft advice for young carers during the pandemic.

Being a volunteer has taught me more about myself than school or even university did. It allowed me to meet and experience things not many my age have and it ignited my passion for the charity sector. Charities and their leaders should be encouraging more young people to do the same. A lot of my friends have said how admirable it is that I’ve done so much volunteering – until I pointed out how easy it could be for them to do the same.

When I used to think of volunteers, I thought of retirees in charity shops, not young people working for something they’re passionate about. Nowadays, it’s not easy to get young people involved in things that aren’t part of their own personal sphere – unless they already have a strong interest in the subject – but perhaps that’s something to work on.

The Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the cost of living crisis, has shone a light on the underprivileged and those who need a bit of extra help from charities. But it has also created a huge volunteer gap. That gap could be filled by young people; charities just need to find a way to draw them in.

Try to appeal to their passions. Climate change, poverty and inequality are what young people care about – often they feel like the older generations aren’t listening and so they’re shouting into the void of social media instead. If charities show they care about their opinions, there’s a good chance they’ll step up and want to help make things better.

No matter what anyone says, young people care about what others think of them. It’s why social media has such a captive audience – they want to be seen to be doing good things. Showcase the benefits of volunteering, let them show off their good deed of the day and they’ll probably stick around longer than you think.

As someone who came from outside of the charity sector, to a volunteer, to now being able to write about something I’m passionate about – the appeal of the sector is extraordinary. Volunteering can draw so many more people in, it’s just a case of getting them to see the light through the trees in the first place. Now is the time to start helping them do just that.

If you want to speak to me more about my experiences, talk about the sector or just say hi, email me at: melissa.moody@charitytimes.com

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