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Rebecca Stewart, Diandra Sovailescu, and Claudia Colliva are the Project Leaders for the After School Crew volunteering project, which has been running for three years. Recently, they came into the office to talk about what they do, the impact they’ve had, and what they’ve got out of volunteering.

Could you tell us a little about the project and what you do?

Claudia: We meet every Friday for an hour and a half for an after-school homework club. We have a group of around 15-20 kids that come, and a small group of volunteers who help them with their schoolwork. We’re happy to provide them with any support they need, and any help they may not be able to get from home or elsewhere.

What made you want to volunteer for and lead this project?

Diandra: I started off as a volunteer alongside the first group of Project Leaders three years ago and I immediately took over when they graduated. The Project responded to a need in the King’s Cross community to provide academic support to children who couldn’t afford private tutors. We learned this from the King’s Cross Baptist Church organisation, who were looking for something to keep the children more involved academically apart from the activities they were already providing.

What do you think the impact you’ve made has been like?

Diandra: It’s been really interesting because we’ve been working with the same children since we started, so you can see very clear progress. The children were very confident to begin with, but there were certain areas and subjects here and there that needed improvement, and the fact that we had volunteers who were very good at those subjects was really helpful.

What do you think it is about your project that helps the kids?

Diandra: I think the main aspect is the sense of community. Obviously, you can get school help from anyone, but I think the fact they know each other and the volunteers makes ours a very constructive environment, where the kids feel confident and where they can challenge themselves.

Claudia: I also think the sense of safety contributes as well. A lot of them know each other, like they live on the same estate or go to the same school, and they grow more and more comfortable with the volunteers, so there’s a really nice bond.

Rebecca: They have someone to look up to. Some of the older children think it’s amazing that we’re in university, for example. One of them always asks me what it’s like, what I’m studying and how to get there!  To us it’s just normal, but to them it’s like “wow, these girls are helping us, and look at what else they’re doing”, and there is a sense of being a role model that’s really rewarding.  

What do you personally feel you’ve got out of volunteering with After School Crew?

Rebecca: For me, [volunteering on] Friday is one of the highlights of my week; it’s just a really nice time to step outside of doing university work and give something back to the community.  We’ve made friends with the kids and with each other, and together, it’s been a really enjoyable experience. It never feels like a chore.

Claudia: It’s very rewarding. Even just the tiniest things, like a kid coming up and thanking you because they did really well on their homework, it’s just so nice, and they make you feel so warm and happy.

Rebecca: You can also see the gratitude of the parents when they pick their children up: there’s definitely a trust in us, which makes it all so worthwhile.

Diandra: I would say that it really helped me grow as a person as well. All the things that we’ve done collaboratively as Project Leaders have shaped the way I think about a project in general.

Why would you recommend that students volunteer?

Claudia: The way I think about it is that I’m doing a lot of growing personally, but it doesn’t feel that way – it just feels like having fun. That’s the amazing thing, I agree with Diandra. If I go back and think, I can see I’ve achieved all these things that seem small, but actually they took a lot of work, and we had to put in that effort. But it never felt like a burden, it just felt like we were doing this really nice thing and we were enjoying it.

Do you think it’s given you skills you can take forward?

Claudia: Definitely, I’ve learned about time management, organisation, coordinating a group of volunteers…even just patience. After all, you’re working with a group of twenty children!

Diandra: Generally, I would definitely encourage students to try volunteering.  There’s a huge range of opportunities available at the Volunteering Service: even just going to a One-Off activity, there is so much you can see in society that needs just that little bit of effort that you can definitely put in to help somebody else. As UCL students, we are all in very privileged positions that we can use to do a little bit of good in society.

Rebecca: It can be completely unrelated to anything you want to do or anything you’re doing right now, but that really doesn’t matter. I have absolutely no intention of making a career of this in the future for example, but it’s just something that you find that you can truly enjoy that develops you as a person in more ways than you can imagine.

None of you are going to be Project Leaders next year; are you going to miss this?

Claudia: So much! I keep telling them that if in some dream scenario, I can find some internship that lets me take Friday afternoons off I’m going to go back! Even just once a month!

Rebecca: When I return from my year abroad, I’m definitely going to be going back!

From what you say, it sounds like you’ve had a huge impact on them

Claudia: I mean, they’ve had a huge impact on us as well.

Rebecca: I hope so! I know that some of the older kids will be finishing school soon and moving on to college, but they already want to join the Project as volunteers themselves, which is really heart-warming!

If Rebecca, Dandra, and Claudia’s story has inspired you, you can find out more about the After School Crew on our directory, or find other opportunities volunteering with children or in tutoring and mentoring.