Community Service... not just for celebrity convicts
Volunteering is known in many forms. Unfortunately most of the high profile images that come to mind when we talk about "community service" are those of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Robert Downey Jr or Naomi Campbell giving back to their communities in order to avoid jail. The other is the strangely connected misconception that it is exclusively the domain of the middle class.
Through Cities of Service we have met an array of individuals that not only challenge that assumption, but also raise questions as to whether the most common statement for not being able to volunteer - ‘not having enough time’ - really is as big a barrier as we seem to have convinced ourselves that it is.
Allow me to introduce you to Keshia Austin who grew up in Portsmouth and was the first in her family to study at university.
Keshia, 28, is a volunteer who has been mentoring a student at King Richards School through the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Education Business Partnership (EBP) in conjunction with Cities of Service initiative Portsmouth Together. Keshia also works as a Senior Recruitment Consultant for Excipion based in Northarbour Portsmouth.
What inspired you to volunteer?
I have been volunteering in lots of different schemes since I was at university.
I have benefitted from being involved in volunteer programmes before. To me it is really important and I am a great supporter of volunteering, and it is great for the city.
Why did you choose the role of mentor as a volunteering opportunity?
I had a mentor myself when I was 14 through the Connexions scheme and it really helped me keep on track, without my mentor I wouldn't have got my exams.
We still keep in touch now, and she's pleased to see me doing so well.
'I am forever thankful. If it hadn't been for that support I might not be doing the things I am today.'
Do you volunteer in any other capacity?
I have previously volunteered in the Shaping the future of Portsmouth scheme as a business and enterprise mentor. I mentored a 17 year old entrepreneur sharing my skills from an entrepreneurial perspective with this young person who was then a runner-up of the Portsmouth News’ Accelerator programme.
Can you tell us about some of the experiences you have had volunteering on the project?
It's developed me a lot personally: I had to build a relationship with the student I was mentoring to try and understand their needs. It takes a lot of patience and understanding which are really important skills in business. I am currently on a management development plan at work and it's almost like free training - a lot of the skills are transferable, it's all about getting the best out of people.
Can you tell us about the difference you have seen in your mentee?
I have been working with a fifteen year old from King Richards School. We meet once a week for an hour to give her one to one support with her education. Since volunteering my time to work with her, she has become more focused and more of a realist.
When we started the project the student was predicted mainly E's and F's for her GCSE's but following her mocks she has already secured some A's and B's.
I was awarded 'Woman to watch' earlier in the year and she saw how happy and proud I was and shared in that with me.
'I hope I have shown her that you can achieve anything from any background.'
What is it about being a volunteer that encourages you to continue?
I look forward to seeing my mentee; I've seen her grow a lot and I'm proud of her.
I will definitely continue volunteering in other capacities in the future, there are a diverse range of opportunities and it helps me to develop as well.
Cities of Service makes volunteering a more recognised and formal programme so it is easier for employers to understand what it is I do for the hour a week I go to King Richards School, enabling me to integrate it into my lifestyle.