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‘As a shy teenager, volunteering really pushed me out of my comfort zone – for the better’

5 June 2023

Jodie Whitham, 30, says it’s the unexpected conversations, new experiences and opportunities for personal growth that have her hooked on volunteering.

I first got into volunteering while doing my degree in public relations. It was that classic case of being a university student and wanting to build my experience – having exciting things to put on my CV to make me stand out.

I volunteered at a local charity newsletter that was written by adults with disabilities within the local area and introduced them to job opportunities and training.

What I loved was the social element. I grew up being quite a shy kid so being a volunteer in the community really forced me out of my comfort zone by meeting and speaking to new people from all different walks of life.

Getting hooked on charity sector volunteering

My newsletter writing role was a great introduction to volunteering, and it kickstarted my volunteering passion. I then undertook a series of temporary volunteering positions, like getting people signed up to a charity tea party or bucket collections. I was hooked.

Before starting university I wanted to be a journalist, but after volunteering for different charitable causes I decided I no longer wanted to do the job I’d been training for, and that I’d rather work in charity fundraising.

What began as a way to fill out my CV back in 2012 has actually shaped my personality, and career – and I’m still volunteering today, 11 years on.

Nowadays, I give up about 12 hours a month for voluntary work, I can fit it around my work and social life, so it’s a win-win.

Highlights from helping at MDUK events

I’m really looking forward to volunteering as a steward for Pedal Paddle Peak and the Great North Run this year for Muscular Dystrophy UK (MDUK). The best bit about being a volunteer is that you get exposed to so many different environments and experiences.

I remember having some of the funniest conversations during these events. I was once cheering people on at a bike challenge in Aberdeen when one rider jokily fell off their bike near the end and said to me, “I’m done, just give me a pint now!”. It made me chuckle.

A few weeks ago, I dressed up as the Easter bunny to do some fundraising for MDUK. During bucket collections I had children jumping up at me for high-fives and parents telling me I’d literally made their child’s day. Next year I’m debating doing an Easter egg hunt or Easter fair with the bunny outfit – for now it’s gone into retirement!

I also abseiled down the Europa Hotel building in Belfast for MDUK – again in the Easter bunny outfit! It was terrifying as you’ve got to lean back, but the bunny outfit turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it restricted my view – I couldn’t look directly down or to the side, only straight on. It certainly made for some funny photos, and there were a lot of spectators on the streets.

I recently hosted a Clairvoyant evening, again with the proceeds going to MDUK. It was a great event where people got to hear from the other side. I’ll be organising another one in Aberdeen this August.. I’ll admit it’s not an event for everyone but it’s good fun! 

Fitting it around full-time work

I currently volunteer as a befriender with a children’s charity. I spend a few hours every fortnight with a young child who is a carer. I try to make our meet ups as fun as possible – one time I took them to laser tag, and our next trip will be crazy golf. It is really fulfilling – I think people take it for granted that some children’s lives are not that easy.

I’ll be starting to mentor a young person soon and it’s great because it doesn’t take up a lot of my time, as I can fit it outside of working hours. 

How to get involved as a volunteer

Jodie shares her top tips from 11 years as a volunteer:

– Find a charity that aligns with your values and beliefs.  

– Don’t put yourself out of pocket. In my experience, those who find it hard claiming expenses feel taken advantage of and don’t come back. 

– Make it as easy as possible for yourself. When I was a student, I had an 11-hour shift at work and had volunteered for something early the next day. I arrived late, embarrassed that I’d slept in.  

– Find an opportunity that interests you, whether it’s a hobby or something you want to learn more about. I’ve known volunteers wanting to build admin experience, or maybe it’s something like working with animals before doing further studies or applying for a specific paid job role.  

– Volunteering is a great way to make friends – by finding an opportunity based around a hobby you enjoy you’re more likely to meet like-minded people. 

– Don’t over commit. Maybe start with one-off roles, or something weekly, monthly, for a set amount of time, and then see how it goes. 

– Remember to have fun, whatever you are doing 

– Discover volunteering opportunities on websites and social media such as Volunteer Scotland, Goodmoves, or go directly to a charity close to your heart like Muscular Dystrophy UK. There is always a volunteer section on charity websites. 

We offer various ways to get involved in volunteering at MDUK, with opportunities ranging from fundraising to peer support, head office roles, and joining our lay panels for shaping and influencing research. Find out more and get involved.  

Jodie Whitham is Regional Development Manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland at Muscular Dystrophy UK.

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