Over the summer I embarked on an exciting adventure. It would take me to exotic places and new people. As I counted down the days, feverish with anticipation, I could only imagine what it would be like and pray that it would fulfil my expectations.
But no, I’m not talking about a trip to the Amazon Rainforest or a hike through Vietnam. I’m not even talking about the Glastonbury music festival. Quite simply, I’m referring to my experience as a volunteer at my local library.
Over the past six weeks or so, I have sung at Storytime (complete with actions!); fashioned paper dolls; built sky scraping towers; starjumped; talked in assemblies; given more high fives than I can remember; laughed; joked and generally had the most fantastic fun. Everything, from the kindness and enthusiasm of the general public to the smiles of the library staff welcoming me, has made the volunteering experience so wonderful.
My role as a volunteer was simply to promote the Summer Reading Challenge; a country wide competition for 4 – 11 year olds designed to promote reading and the use of public libraries. The theme this year was ‘Record Breakers,’ so on top of the usual gifts for each part of the challenge, there were mini challenges held in the Hillingdon libraries, competition related Storytimes and events to inspire individual and group achievement. Promoting the challenge was a key part of my role as a volunteer at the start and as a result, I was lucky enough to attend some of the promotional school assemblies. I was amazed by the way the news of the challenge was received, with both teachers and pupils showing great interest and promising to visit the library over the summer.
However, the best part of my time as a volunteer was yet to come…
As the Summer Reading Challenge gained momentum, so did my volunteering. I started helping out at Storytime on Monday and Wednesday mornings. I can genuinely say this was one of my favourite parts of volunteering. Not only did I learn all twelve verses of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ complete with actions (yes, really!), but I also had so much fun helping the children with their crafts, whilst some of the stories brought back some fond childhood memories for me.
Crafts and creativity were also a large part of the events the libraries did to promote the challenge. I attended the Paper Dolls and Record Breaking Buildings events, both of which were thoroughly enjoyable in their own ways. For the Paper Dolls event the children had to roll a dice and the clothes they received for their paper doll would correspond with the number rolled on the dice. Suffice to say, there were some fantastically creative and unique paper dolls, but all were very stylish! The Record Breaking Buildings event was perhaps a little less sedate, but no less enjoyable for it. PVA glue, cardboard boxes and about twenty excitable children was a challenging mix but after two hours, our towers were both extremely tall and extremely covered in glue! Constructing the towers required patience and cooperation, but I was impressed to see how well the children worked together to create some truly great works of architectural prowess.
The events were not the only excitement in the library however. The weekly ‘Mini Challenges’ provided much frivolity and a sprinkling of competition on occasion. From star jumps to jigsaw puzzles, there was enough variety to appeal for everyone. My personal favourite was a challenge where you had to move marbles from one bowl to another using only chopsticks! One quiet Saturday morning was spent with me endeavouring to master this art (with little success) so that I could perform a demonstration for anyone who wanted to try this fiendishly difficult challenge. Suffice to say, the next time I eat Chinese food I will be using a fork!
However, using a chopstick to pick up marbles was not the only skill I acquired in my time as a volunteer and as I approach the end of my volunteering for the summer, I realise just how much of an adventure the experience has been for me. It may not have taken me to jungles or rainforests, but it took me on a far more demanding, yet rewarding journey. Before starting my volunteering, I was more than a little reluctant to give up my precious six weeks of freedom. However, as the weeks have progressed and I have immersed myself in volunteering, I have realised just how much I have enjoyed the entire experience. The library staff are so friendly; the children so enthusiastic about the challenge; the general public so willing to get involved in the scheme and support their children that my job as a volunteer has been easy. I have loved every minute; the experience has far exceeded my expectations. Not only have I been able to give back to my community, but I also believe that I have grown as a person: now I feel more confident and more comfortable interacting with people of varying ages. Volunteering was definitely the best thing I’ve done all summer and I cannot recommend the experience highly enough. As for me, I can only hope that the library staff will have me again next year. As it is, I’m already counting down the days…
By Enia – Volunteer at Manor Farm Library