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A Feeling of Belonging at Focus Surrey

#Volunteersweek takes place 1-7 June every year. It's a chance to recognise the fantastic contribution volunteers make to our communities and say thank you. Focus Surrey would like to recognise the more than 380 volunteers who have been pivotal to the success of the Saturday club which has been running since September 2016.

Current volunteer Qiyu Xia explains why volunteering at Focus Surrey brings her a sense of belonging.

I was a first-year undergraduate student of Psychology with Education when I first learned about Focus Surrey from my programme leader. I have always enjoyed working with children but had few experiences engaging with neurodiverse children before.

I can still vividly remember my first club day at Focus Surrey, when we first learned about ABA and received extensive training on how ABA could be incorporated into play-based activities. The training was so rich in content and I felt so happy to meet people from all backgrounds: university students, parents of ASD children, practitioners and professionals in this field. Despite coming from different paths of life, we shared a similar passion for volunteering and love for children, which made me feel at home instantly.

The first few sessions were challenging yet extremely rewarding, I learned a range of strategies to actively engage children and accommodate different sensory needs. It was intense, but I knew I always had the support from my peers, room leads and ABA consultants.

"Despite coming from different paths of life, we shared a similar passion for volunteering and love for children, which made me feel at home instantly."

My first term was sadly interrupted by COVID-19. I went back to China, but having this mind-opening experience at Focus Surrey, I decided to look for more opportunities volunteering with children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) in Beijing. This led me to several local Non Government Organisations (NGOs) for children and adults with ASD, where I met many volunteers and families of autistic children, became close friends with them, and furthered my understanding of ASD and ABA.

When the Covid situation gradually stabilised, I came back and continued volunteering at Focus Surrey. Saturday soon became my favourite day of the week and seemed to be a ‘reset button’. I knew whatever happened during the week, I could always go to Focus Surrey, enjoy playing with children, meet lovely people and refresh myself. It felt like I could leave all troubles behind me once I arrived at the club, and I could hear myself cheering with excitement inside: ‘This is somewhere I belong to!’

Throughout my volunteer experience at Focus Surrey, I got prompt and detailed hands-on guidance from room leads and consultants, who taught me how to creatively engage children, to expand their interests and to weave ABA strategies in all kinds of fun activities. All volunteers and parents were also super warm and cooperative, supported me and shared their valuable experience on how to deal with particular behaviours and how to best engage children of different needs.

With all the encouragement, positive feedback and role models surrounding me at Focus Surrey, I became more and more confident, active and passionate. At the same time, I was increasingly aware that I genuinely love working with children with SEND and would like to have a life-long career working towards a more inclusive environment for all children. Therefore, I started to explore more about special and inclusive education, as well as topics related to ASD in my degree, and decided to further my understanding of this field with more research and work experience.

One thing I cherished the most from volunteering at Focus Surrey was all the wonderful people I have met. I cannot describe how amazing it feels when a child I paired with, built a closer bond with me and leaned on my shoulder; not to mention those wonderful moments everyone jumped on the trampoline and showed the brightest smile in the Spring breeze; those moments when I successfully channelled in with a child and spotted their progress; as well as those sparkling memories of celebrating graduation together and sharing home-made food. I enjoyed every moment at Focus Surrey, and felt blessed to be able to meet all these lovely people each week.

I am forever grateful for this opportunity to volunteer at Focus Surrey, as it not only gave me valuable hands-on experience to engage with children, to practice ABA, to work in a team, but also helped me grow personally, made me more passionate and confident about pursuing a career supporting children with SEND. Most importantly, Focus Surrey gave me the opportunity to meet so many like-minded friends from all kinds of backgrounds and made me wholeheartedly feel at home.

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