Hope UK, a Christian drug and alcohol education charity for children and young people, won two awards last year - the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Award for Volunteering and the Big Society Award.
Hope UK recruits, trains and provides voluntary educators to speak with young people about drugs and alcohol. Their work is making a significant impact on young people's perceptions of drug abuse, with an emphasis on preventing drugs problems from starting in the first place.
To commemorate International Woman's Day today, one of Hope UK's voluntary Drug Educators, Hayley Humphreys, was interviewed by the Big Society Awards team.
What made you decide to get into volunteering with Hope UK in the first place?
I grew up in a home where there was alcohol misuse and domestic violence. My Dad had a problem with alcohol and would take things out on my mum and was generally aggressive towards me and my sister, ruling by intimidation and fear. My mum finally plucked up the courage to leave my dad when I was about 10, but I'd seen enough by then.
Even so, in my teenage years I got involved in drug & alcohol misuse and on my 21st birthday I ended up in City University Hospital, having collapsed from alcohol poisoning. It was a couple of years after this that I had an epiphany moment, became a Christian and realised there was more to life. I had a friend working as a missionary in Africa with AIDS orphans and I realised that I wanted my life to count and to do something good with it.
I was working in IT at the time and had to fix a computer at a magistrate's court where it was young offenders' day. It was there that I realised I didn't have to go to Africa to help kids but that I could make a difference on my doorstep. I could help young people from similar background to mine. I retrained and did a youth work degree and felt I also needed some practical tools around educating young people & helping them to make good, informed choices about drugs & alcohol.
Hope UK has equipped me with the practical skills & resources I need to be able to engage young people in a fun, interactive way that enables learning through participation and challenging perceptions.
In your time as an Educator, could you tell us about a particular moment where you felt you really were able to make an impact on a young person's life?
A school called us because a Year 6 boy had been exposed to his brother's gang activity and crack taking and was educating the other young people in his year group about drugs. We went in to do four weeks of sessions, starting with what they already thought they knew, challenging perceptions, giving drug information and teaching the effects on the body as well as peer resistance techniques. We often don't know the difference we make. Sometimes evaluation forms say 'because of this session I will never take drugs', but prevention is a hard outcome to measure in the long term.
As a Hope UK Educator I'm committed to prevention as I wholeheartedly believe it is better than cure.
I have delivered sessions where, at the end, professional adults have said that they learned so much and that a particular exercise challenged them about their drinking habits. If we have that impact on them, then I'm hoping we have an even greater impact on younger people who are making life forming decisions now.
Any advice for the next generation of volunteers?
There is a cost, a sacrifice involved with volunteering, but the reward is greater than you could hope or imagine. I've volunteered with youth groups over the years and some of those young people are now grown up. We have stayed friends and they often call me or we go out to dinner and catch up with each other. It's a real privilege.
During my time training as a youth worker I had a voluntary placement in prison. At first I felt I was going in to make a difference and help change lives, but when you volunteer you soon discover that you are the one who is changed by your encounters with people, by listening to people's stories.
Sometimes we have a 'them and us' attitude; there's me and then there's those young people, there's me and then there's those prisoners. What you quickly realise when volunteering for a while is that there is no 'them & us', no divide. You humbly see that we are all JUST people, different but similar. In volunteering there is a sense of standing alongside your fellow man and that we are all in this together.
My advice to others wanting to volunteer is, why not go out and observe first, experience a taste of what it is like? When you do volunteer, be teachable, be prepared to change along the way' and the reward will far outweigh the cost.
For more about the Big Societ Awards, visit http://www.bigsocietyawards.org