NAME: Karen Reyes
DEGREE/EMPLOYMENT: Graduated in 2005 from the University of Leicester with a degree in Psychology and Sociology. She now works as a student volunteer co-ordinator for Brunel University and is an active volunteer herself giving time to the Samaritans and Childline; and campaigning for Oxfam and Make Poverty History.
Work Experience: Karen was president of ‘Contact’ the student volunteering organisation at Leicester University. In her spare time she volunteered every week as a classroom assistant, and through Leicester Millennium Volunteers gave a total of 200 hours of volunteering in one year.
What was your motivation?
I got into volunteering through my church when I was about 13 and started off giving an hour a week to help with some of the youth groups. It’s quite contagious. There were a whole range of reasons – a passion for helping people, the realisation that I got as much out of it as they did. I also knew that many organisations offer great training and that employers love people who have volunteered.
What does the application process involve?
The best way is to search on the internet for volunteering accreditation and opportunities. Application processes will vary but the first step is to set some time aside to volunteer. People always assume that they have to give a lot of time but that’s not the case.
What did you do?
I got involved in so much during university, but my key role was as president of Contact. It was pretty much a full-time role. It facilitates and supports students to volunteer in the local community.
How did you sell the experience on your CV?
The application process for my current job was quite hard but because I had a lot of volunteering experience I could really sell the projects that I was most proud of. Plus, I emphasised that my position as president was elected. I have a long-term career ambition to train as a social worker and my voluntary work will set me in good stead for that.
Did you enjoy it?
It’s just the best way to get out, enjoy life and learn what you want to do with your life. I have a real passion for volunteering and get back as much as I put in.
What did you learn?
I’ve gained a huge range of practical skills. One of the things I’d like to do is to set up a charity over the next two years. It will be like setting up a business and take a lot of hard work.
There have been many projects which I’ve found particularly rewarding and been very proud of, such as running a seven-day fundraiser for Hillingdon Women’s Centre which brought in more than £2,000. I’ve a passion for everything I do.
Doing so many things is a lot of hard work and I do have to force myself to stay on top of things.
Advice to readers:
I’d encourage everyone to do something, anything. You only have to give a little. No matter what you are studying you will always find an opportunity to enhance your skills.
Get ahead with volunteering
Working for free as a volunteer might not seem too appealing if you’re drowning in debt, but you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour if you spend at least some of your time at university volunteering. Why? Well, almost two thirds of the UK’s top employers prefer to recruit candidates with volunteering experience, according to research by Reed.
"As a volunteer you’re usually setting up your own projects, fundraising, recruiting, budgeting, organising logistics and managing people," says Graham Allcott, director of Student Volunteering England. "You are given such an amazing amount of responsibility, which is incredibly empowering."