Say “YES” to adventure and volunteering!

It’s National Volunteer’s Week, which happens annually to celebrate volunteering in all its diversity and the millions of volunteers who keep valuable services operating, such as the RNLI lifeboat crew who I relied on two weeks ago!

By accident, rather than design, I realise that National Volunteer’s Week is book-ended in my diary with my own volunteer commitments, so I thought I would use my blog to give a shout out to two great charities I volunteer with who work hard to serve vulnerable and/or disadvantaged young people through sailing and outdoor education programmes.

Last weekend I was at Coastal Camp; a three-day camp that takes place in Purbeck, Dorset, which I have attended as a Programme Volunteer for the last two years for Youth Adventure Trust (YAT). The Youth Adventure Trust uses outdoor adventure to enable young people to build resilience, develop confidence and self-esteem, learn valuable life skills and achieve their full potential through a three-year outdoor adventure programme. The programme is for 11-14 year olds, some of whom have lost their parent/guardian and some of whom are young carers. That’s why the charity appealed to me, because I know only too well the impact of long-term caring and bereavement on families; both through personal experience and through my academic research.

For these young people the camps are a break from their routines and daily life and an opportunity to make new friendships, experience the outdoors, camping, being away from home and the many wonderful outdoor activities on offer in a full-on, hectic schedule that runs from 7am to 10pm each day incorporating: coasteering, SUP, kayaking, sailing, canoeing, raft-building and racing, hiking, team games on the beach and canoeing (as well as all the camp duties such as washing up, cleaning the shower block and their tents). This year we had the additional perks of sighting a dolphin in Swanage Bay as we were kayaking, which for many of the young people in my group quickly became their highlight of the camp, as well as watching a fawn (baby deer) wondering through the camp and shooting stars above Corfe Castle. Magic!

I love the young people I’m there to serve in my role as a volunteer; they make me laugh a lot and always surprise me with their courage and perseverance. As a YAT volunteer I’m there to look after the welfare of the young people in my group and ensure that the young people are given every opportunity to gain maximum benefit out of Coastal Camp. What this actually entails is supervising my group throughout the day and evening and being ready to assist the Land and Wave activity instructors when needed.

I am constantly keeping an eye on ensuring all the young people in my group are engaged, working well together and hopefully, having fun. Initiating the occasional game or team riddle when attention is drifting, star jumps when they’re cold after coasteering, reassuring those in tears because of homesickness, or taking time out with those who are challenging in their behaviour is all part of my Coastal Camp day. I love the many people I meet in connection with Coastal Camp too, including the Land and Wave instructors and other YAT volunteers; we all look out for each other to make the camp run as smoothly as possible. I am always impressed by the young people I meet who were very timid and afraid of the sea, who only 3 days later, step onto a coach to return home having made a few jokes at my expense or said “thank you” to me as we pack up camp knowing that they’ve jumped off rocks and paddle boards into a sea where they can’t see the bottom and the swell heaves against rocks. I hope the experience inspires them to continue to be courageous.

Tonight marks the end of National Volunteers Week, but tomorrow I set off very early for a Saturday to drive to Poole. I will stay aboard Prolific, a vessel owned by Ocean Youth Trust South who are a charity I have been volunteering with as Sea Staff for the last one-and-a-half years. Prolific is in Poole for the weekend as part of the Poole Boat Show and I’ll be showing members of the public around the boat and informing them of what we get up to on week-long voyages with young people.

Ocean Youth Trust South offer adventure under sail to young people aged 12-25 from a wide range of backgrounds. Wherever possible, the sea staff aim to hand over responsibility to the young people sailing as crew. Prolific is not a vessel where the Skipper makes decisions, and everyone obeys orders, rather the young crew are encouraged to play an active part in the voyage. An ideal voyage is one where by the end of a week-long voyage the volunteer sea staff are there just for safety, but the effective running of the boat is undertaken by the crew. All volunteer sea staff, as well as paid staff, make a commitment to every young crew member that whatever energy and enthusiasm they put into the voyage, the sea staff will match and beat it. All volunteer and paid sea staff have in common a love of sailing, a lot of enthusiasm about working with young people from a wide variety of backgrounds and are prepared to give 100% to ensure that each voyage is a success for the young crew…This video gives you a good idea:

Ocean Youth Trust is one of three regional charities, which grew out of the Ocean Youth Club, originally founded in 1960. If you’re in Poole over the weekend why don’t you come down and say “hello”, step aboard and explore Prolific?