Why giving your time to charity helps you as much as the people you support – and how youth charities especially need your help right now
“No-one has ever become poor by giving” wrote WWII diarist Anne Frank. Based on this theory, Sherborne, with its population of just 12,000 must be very rich indeed, given that a quick Google of charities in Sherborne throws up at least 25 listings. From the British Heart Foundation, to RNIB Talking Book Service to the Sherborne Town Band, there’s a diverse mix of organisations catering for all aspects of life. But the one thing they have in common – apart from the need to fundraise – is volunteers.
“We couldn’t survive without them,” says Helen Da Silva Wood, the CEO of The Rendezvous, a youth charity which works with people aged 13-25, providing them with practical help and problem-solving, like guiding through the benefits maze or helping them manage life as a young parent. What’s growing in demand, however, is one-to-one tuition in English and Maths (they teach a GCSE equivalent), both face-to-face (during normal times) and online (during lockdowns). “Volunteers are absolutely instrumental in delivering our learning programme” iterates Helen. “Before Covid, we had around thirty from a real range of backgrounds and ages – from graduates, to early retirees who have moved down from London.” (Naturally that number has dropped as a result of the pandemic with people shielding or focussing on personal priorities).
These selfless souls give up their time and skills to help struggling young people cope. The charity was set up around 20 years ago by a group of locals concerned about the problems facing the under-25s. While there is a very good local youth club called Tinney’s, Helen explains over the phone that The Rendezvous caters for “those young people who are kind of bounced out of there.” She continues, “but that’s not because they are ‘bad’. Increasingly we’re seeing a lot more who are so anxious, they can’t cope in a large school setting. Other people have been ill for a long time, missed a lot, which meant that they didn’t get qualifications. Some of them were dyslexic, without knowing, and didn’t necessarily get the support they needed.” Working with the charity to get their qualifications can really help turn their lives around and Helen adds, “it’s really positive to see the self-esteem of the young person grow – they very often think that they will never ever in a million years pass Maths or English, but when they realise they can, that’s amazing to see.”
Reading the research The Rendezvous has compiled on its work, it’s clear that their clients are hugely appreciative of the service. There’s a stream of glowing testimonials (all anonymous) like “The Rendezvous changed my life. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without them”, plus case-studies of young people who have transitioned from understudy to centre-stage confidence. But what’s in it for the volunteers? Vicki Abbey, 60, affirms its rewards. She started teaching maths with The Rendezvous a couple of years after moving to Sherborne from Winchester, following early retirement from teaching five years earlier. “It’s great to feel needed and to feel that you are doing some good.” She says. “One of the most satisfying times last year was when I resumed teaching with one of my students over Zoom after the summer break. And I could see she had a new pencil case and had sharpened her pencils. She was ready to learn, which was very touching.”
There are other positives for Vicki too. “It’s a strange thing when you retire..” she explains, “when you’re working all you want to do is to read the paper in the morning and then you get there and think ‘Hmm, what am I going to do today?” This gives me structure to my week.” Vicki admits she’s a generally happy person, but also feels that volunteering keeps her cheerful, a result backed up by research. A 2018 study by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) looked into the impact of volunteering on volunteers and found that those who give their time often have higher levels of mental health and emotional wellbeing, which actually seems to increase for the over 40s. A study based on The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) shows that volunteers who feel appreciated report a greater improvement in quality of life, life satisfaction, and a greater decrease in feelings of depression than those who do not.
“One of the most satisfying times this year was when I resumed teaching with one of my students over Zoom after the summer break. And I could see she had a new pencil case and had sharpened her pencils. She was ready to learn, which was very touching.” – Volunteer with The Rendezvous
Volunteering is also a great way to make new friends and integrate into the community, especially if you are new to an area, like Nick Chapman was, just over a year ago, when he and his wife moved from Twickenham to Sherborne. He’d recently retired from his GP practice and the couple had decided they no longer wanted to live somewhere congested. They settled on Sherborne, despite not knowing anyone apart from a few musician friends they’d made through the Sherborne Festival where, as musicians themselves, they’d also performed. Through tutoring with The Rendezvous, however, the couple quickly became firm friends with fellow volunteer Vicki Abbey, also a musician, who lives round the corner and Nick is looking forward to meeting more volunteers once ‘normal’ socialising resumes.
So, charities like this help more people than just those they’re set up to assist. And in these crazy times, it’s more important that ever to support charities like this, especially youth charities like The Rendezvous, who faced a £50,000 deficit in fundraising opportunities in 2020. A recent piece in The Guardian writes that “England [currently] faces a wholesale closure of youth organisations, leaving a generation of vulnerable young people without life-changing support,” according to research by the charity UK Youth Fund. The article continues; “almost two-thirds of youth organisations with incomes under £250,000 say they are at risk of closure, with 31% saying they might have to shut in the next six months.” This leaves more than 1.5 million young people in critical need of help
That’s why Lodestone Property’s Shaftesbury office donated to The Rendezvous over Christmas 2020 and why, if you’re in a position to, you should consider giving your support too. After all, it might help you answer what Martin Luther King Jr called ‘life’s most persistent and urgent question’. ‘What are you doing for others?’
By Cath Rapley
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