[BLOG] Why I Serve: Josh Wood

In November of last year I was fortunate enough to be introduced to two City Year UK Alumni who had changed their lives for the better through City Year UK.

Upon speaking to these inspiring individuals and hearing their stories, I knew immediately that I had to apply and experience a year of voluntary work that could be transformative not only for myself but for the young people I would have the opportunity to help and support.

Before serving as a volunteer for City Year UK I had completed sixth form, achieved my A-Levels and studied at two Universities, though at the time of applying for my year of service I was working in distribution at a warehouse in my home town of Burton on Trent.

Prior to embarking on my journey with City Year UK I struggled with anxiety that lead to depression and eventually meant that I was unable to complete my first degree and then sadly brought the second attempt to an end also. This was a devastating period in my life and I was finding it increasingly difficult to motivate myself and manage the day-to-day challenges of life.

This year has changed all of that for me. Volunteering with City Year has given me the opportunity to work as a near peer mentor with a focus list of children with challenges of their own. My aim has been to lift these young people’s attainment levels most notably in Maths and English. These children have so many barriers to learning that need to be addressed for this to happen, which is my primary role. Learning to manage their own behaviour is a key factor in their success or otherwise, which is where I have often found my greatest challenge.

Though they have proven difficult at times, holding 1 to 1 guided reading sessions, delivering phonics interventions and assisting Maths support groups have been invaluable experiences, only made possible with the coaching strategies I have learnt at our leadership development training every Friday. Through running extra-curricular programs such as breakfast club, debate club, art club and homework club, I have been able to reach the children on a different level to when supporting them in their classrooms with their formal learning. I get to find out about their home lives, families and friends which gives me a greater insight into what makes them tick and the tools I need to support them to be better learners.

Debate club has been a successful group in engaging the children, helping to improve their self-confidence, their conversational English and general speaking skills. Art club has given me the opportunity to use my personal skills to support the children to express their own creativity while exploring their emotions, and breakfast club provides an ideal chance to check in with the children and support them to be ready for the school day. As my relationships with the children and their trust in me has developed, supporting them with their academic challenges has become easier and progress is really beginning to show with particular children on my focus list.

Through my work as a volunteer mentor with City Year UK, I have found a renewed sense of joy and purpose in my life which if I am honest I had completely lost. This experience has given me a focus, improved my self-esteem, my resilience and made me realise without doubt that my future career must involve working with young people to improve their life chances and outcomes. My life has been enriched by inspiring the lives of others. I found out fairly quickly that I am at my best and happiest when I’m making a difference to others, even in the smallest of ways. This year so far has been the most rewarding of my life to date and I want to continue into a career that is equally as fulfilling and enables me to further make a difference in the lives of young people in this increasingly challenging world.

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