Leonie Hellwich is studying Psychology and volunteers at The Kids Network. Read on to find out how she uses volunteering to test a possible career choice out!

Tell us a little about your volunteering

I volunteer with The Kids Network on a 1-year programme where I mentor a child from an underprivileged background.  The volunteers act as a constant in the child’s life, so commitment is a key aspect needed from us. We are mainly tasked with involving the kid in different activities and taking them around.

I try to set sessions in a familiar environment to ensure the child feels comfortable. The first few sessions were around the kid’s residential area. We plan a lot of activities together and I try to involve the kid in all the decisions. We have gone to the cinema, and have done a lot of painting and crafts. I even try to take her for exhibitions so that she can learn and explore new things. Another favourite of ours is to go to cafes and work on DIY kits. I don’t think anyone else my age would have seen all the latest animated movies, but I can proudly say that I have. 😊

I usually do sessions in the weekends and given the nature of the activities they act as a good break from work and studies.

How did you find out about the role?

I wanted to get give back to the community through volunteering and it was made easy through the directory and the guidance the UCL Volunteering Service provided. There were a lot of opportunities pouring in through newsletters as well. I used the categories feature to filter psychology related roles since that related to my degree.  

Why did you want to become a volunteer?

I have volunteered before and found the experience very rewarding. The classic argument is that volunteering makes you feel good and I couldn’t agree more. Being a UCL student also means that we are in a privileged position to help others out by taking some time out of our week.

What difference do you feel you’ve made by volunteering?

The way you perceive the difference you are making may not always be accurate. But the organisation regularly collects feedback from me, the kid and her parents. From what I have been told, the kid has greatly enjoyed the sessions and looks forward to them.

It is a challenge to know how much of the input they actually absorb and how they are being formed as skills used to develop the child.

What impact has volunteering had on you?

Volunteering comes in many forms and this role had lot of impact on where I would want to go professionally. Since I am studying psychology, I was leaning towards a career as a therapist but now I want to switch my focus to working with children. It definitely was intimidating at first but I have grown fond of the role.

Volunteering comes in many forms and this role had a lot of impact on where I would want to go professionally.

What’s the best thing about volunteering? 

Volunteering allows you a whole new perspective you would never get otherwise. We as typical students rarely see the world as it is. We are not connected to the lives others are living. The other volunteers are a mix of students and working professionals. So, this was a chance to mingle with people from different backgrounds and see things differently. Volunteering gives you a real insight into the lives of people you wouldn’t meet otherwise.

And the most challenging? How did you overcome the challenges? 

Before we began the role, we received training. It was a lot of responsibility and I was one of the younger volunteers. I was put in different situations and I had to figure things out by myself and trust my intuition. Once I found a solution, I started applying it to further issues we faced.

It was simple decisions such as calling the mother if we were delayed, allowing the child to eat, deciding how to spend the budget wisely. If she goes to the bathroom - do I let her go alone? I soon realised there was no perfect answer to most of the things I was worried about. You just stick to the general intuition in that moment, and you will be fine.

I had a lot guidance in this programme. The volunteers formed a good network which I could use for help and support. There is a team that reads the session reports and if something comes up, we can talk to them. There is a check-up call every 2 months where we discuss goal setting and talk through similar experiences of other volunteers. At the end of the day, there were people prepared to step in and support me where needed.

Tell us about something memorable that’s happened to you whilst volunteering

It amazes me how she would remember a lot of what I said and how she brings up conversations we have had. You don’t expect children to remember things! But when they bring a memory up, it surprises you in the best way possible. Children have a lot of emotions so you don’t know what sticks. When she animatedly talked about past sessions, I could see that I have a direct impact on her day.

Another fond memory was the time we spent at the playground. There was a big slide she did not feel confident with but with each session, we gradually approached it. Soon she was able to overcome her fear and go on the slide. This surprisingly touched me as well!

Would you recommend volunteering? If so, why? 

Yes, I would! Based on my story, hopefully you can see the impact that it has on you and others. It is easy to factor in a couple of hours each week. The programme I chose requires a good level of commitment since it is a year-long. But it only takes up 3-4 hours on Sunday which for me is very doable.

I would advise you to take those hours you spend on your phone and get out there to something.