Volunteering not only changed my life – it saved it
Here, Joanna shares her powerful and inspirational story….
Have you ever felt so alone that it hurt? Thought about the future and wanted to harm yourself? Felt the pain that you are causing to other people was too much and that they would be better without you? I have.
Four years ago, after a traumatic experience, I was sitting in an isolation room at school crying, feeling worthless and unable to see a future with me in it.
I was being bullied, wasn’t doing well in lessons, self- harming and completely and utterly lost. Every time I thought I had hit rock bottom – I would fall further.
How volunteering changed everything
There have been three pivotal events since then that have helped me turn my life around.
Firstly, through volunteering as a football coach I was given the opportunity to represent Bedfordshire at the FA National leadership and volunteer camp. It was my first time away from home. The 99 other young people that I met that week accepted me for who I was as they didn’t know about my past.
I realised that I maybe wouldn’t be able to rebuild my school life – but there was a whole other life to be had. I could change things and I found that I could be liked for who I was outside of school.
I started doing a lot of volunteering. Next thing I knew I had applied and was accepted to be part of the UK Youth Healthy Young Adults Transitions Project (HYAT). It meant that I would have to travel up to Chester for a weekend residential. I had not been on a train on my own before. I was going to a place I had never been before to meet people I have never seen before; and not only that I had to use the tube!
But I managed it. This project carried on for another two and a half years. It allowed me to grow in confidence. I found acceptance from people who knew and understood my situation.
Most recently I was lucky enough to be able to go on the Rotary Youth Leadership Award. What a hard week! But something positive changed in me that week and I haven’t looked back since.
Gaining something money can’t buy
I could write pages and pages about what volunteering has done for me.
People ask me why I volunteer when I don’t get paid, but for me I gained something that cannot ever be valued by money.
It wasn’t an overnight thing. Some days I really did feel like I didn’t want to get out of bed, and there were times when I question why I do it. But I stick with it.
I will never be able to put into words just how thankful I am to the people who helped me along the way.
I just hope that the fact that I won the 2012 National vInspired Award for Bringing Communities Together and have done over 5000 hours of voluntary work can go some way to saying, in my own way: “thank you”.
Discover the power of volunteering for yourself on vinspired.com.
Visit YoungMinds for further information and support on young people’s mental health and wellbeing.