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Nick Vaughan, City Year Birmingham, 2014-15

Volunteer mentor in uniform

Nick was born prematurely and almost died several times as a baby before being diagnosed with cerebral palsy. As a kid with physical difficulties he felt isolated and was bullied at school and even his teachers didn’t know how to respond to him.  However his mother, who Nick describes as ‘a real fighter’, taught him there was nothing he couldn’t do and through high school he learnt to stick up for himself.  He decided that he would use his disability, not as a barrier, but as a motivation.

On meeting a representative from City Year UK, at first Nick thought that it sounded too good to be true – to help kids from tough backgrounds and help himself at the same time – but decided to give it a go and signed up to volunteer for a year as a near-peer mentor, role model and tutor.  In the autumn of 2014 he joined the City Year Birmingham team at Lozells Primary School.

Nick says: “City Year changes you as a person; your self-confidence, maturity and general approach to life.  At times I’ve felt very sorry for myself but now I feel positive.  City Year shows you how to use your talents to help others.  You have the opportunity to make kids feel better about themselves and help them learn their own strengths.

“I’ve been that kid who didn’t get a lot of help at school; to be that person that a child needs, to offer that help that they wouldn’t get from anywhere else – it’s a really special thing to have and to be.”

Nick’s a good illustrator so as part of his service in school he decided to run an illustration club, encouraging pupils to design their own characters around a theme.  Other highlights of the year have been helping a pupil who’d struggled in maths to make real progress, and introducing a western drum kit to drumming club and seeing how another kid used his usual Asian drumming style on it to great effect.

Nick adds that he’s learnt to be assertive in a firm but fair way and how to build mutual respect with the pupils he supports.  He says: “It’s an incredible feeling to have walked down the corridor and gotten shaken by the hand or high fives.”

While City Year UK volunteers spend Monday-Thursday in school, Fridays are dedicated to their personal and professional development with a training and careers programme and as part of that programme, each volunteer is offered a mentor to advise and guide them.   Nick’s has given him pride and confidence and commenting on the positive feedback he has received, Nick says: “I was sceptical at first but if they’re saying it and someone else is saying it, it must be true!” Looking to the future, although Nick’s not sure what he wants to do after City Year, he says he’s learnt a lot about what to aim for and says he’s ready to push himself forward in the world.

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