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The Benefits of Volunteering at Focus Surrey

As part of #Nationalvolunteersweek2022 Sara Kobayashi explains the benefits of volunteering at Focus Surrey's Saturday club for children with autism

Before volunteering at Focus Surrey, I was an Education Studies student without any proper first-hand experience with children. The COVID-19 situation restricted my opportunities to have any interactive work or volunteer experience with children, so I was instead reading, writing, and discussing education. Special education needs (SEN) was an area that I had the most opportunity to closely learn about outside of my studies. Naturally, I wanted to start off my experience working with children with SEN.

When hearing about the experience I noticed that Focus Surrey, compared to other organisational groups, cared a lot more about the volunteer’s: offering full day training sessions, allocating guidance and feedback time every session, etc. Although I knew that spending a whole Saturday was a big commitment during university term time, I was determined to be a volunteer from what the club had to offer.

My first few volunteering sessions were very challenging. The child allocated to me in the morning wanted to go home mid-way and the child I was working with in the afternoon wasn’t comfortable working with new tutors. In those few sessions, I had times when I really didn’t know what to do. However, room-leads and consultants were always there for me: they helped me identify the situation, think of new plans, and would always give me kind words.

Gradually, I started to develop a better and closer relationship with my allocated children and became more independent in tutoring. The most important process of building a good relationship was pairing, connecting myself with the child and getting to know what kind of things interested them. After my day at Focus Surrey, I often feel so happy thinking about something whether myself or my child has achieved that day. I enjoy getting to know more and more about my child every session and discovering all the potential they hold. Overall, I learned what it really means to tutor 1-to-1: learning new things together, experiencing the highs and lows together, and facing challenges together.

Meeting like-minded people is something I also love about the experience, apart from the tutoring aspect. Ranging from A-level students to parents of autistic children, we all work together as a team to set-up rooms with different skill purposes and have meaningful debriefs. All the volunteers I have met in this club are lovely; they may come from different backgrounds, but one thing we all share is that they really care about their role as 1-to-1 tutors. These volunteers and wonderful supervisors/management team essentially shape the heart-warming atmosphere of the Saturday club :)

I am still unsure of what I hope to do in the future, so I am currently trying to explore my special interests within the field of education through internships. Recently, I started a role as a teaching assistant in a primary school (predominantly SEN support) and as a research assistant at my university investigating Long Covid - I believe the volunteer experience looked positive when applying for the internship roles and so I am thankful for this experience widening my future opportunities. Most importantly, I am grateful to have had the 1-to-1 tutoring opportunity which has made me more fond and passionate about education!

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