I’ve been a volunteer youth leader with Foróige quite literally since the day I turned 18. A few weeks prior to turning 18, a few of my friends and I met with our nearest Foróige Regional Youth Officer, Bríd. We took part in the appropriate training and so began our Foróige journey! My mother, Tracey, has been working with young people in both a voluntary and professional capacity since I started secondary school. So working with young people is something that my family have been involved in for a long time.
Sometimes when people I’m friends with or people that I meet out and about ask things like “What do you do in your spare time?” or “Oh what’s that teenager thing you were on about?” and I tell them that I’m a volunteer youth leader with Foróige they kind of don’t know what I’m talking about. (If you ever meet me don’t make that mistake, I’ll never shut up!) Sometimes I hear stuff like “Oh, right... yeah. Why would you be doing things like that at your age, have you not got better/more fun things to be doing with your time?” And that’s the part that always gets me ... I quite literally cannot think of anything better to do with my spare time than to put it back into a club and an organisation who were and are always there for me and who invested their time and resources into helping me become the person who I am today.
While many people in and around my age have either emigrated or intend to do so in the future, I don’t want to. If time, energy and resources are put into youth work, Ireland can not only get better but be better than it ever was and young people will be the ones to make that happen. Some people (a lot of young leaders included) believe that a young leader is not as beneficial as a more “experienced” or older leader –they’re wrong. As a young volunteer you can actually use your age to your advantage. In my experience a lot of members while still being respectful of you still see you as being on their level which is very important when building trust and friendships with your members.
There’s so much to Foroige – being a leader is just a part of it. It’s like a big family, you get to know everyone. And you can make a real difference to the life of a young person. There is nothing quite like watching a member come in the doors and just change for the better over the course of their time within the Foróige Club –like the really introverted, shy young lad who hasn’t got so many friends suddenly becoming part of a tight-knit community where everyone looks out for one another and nobody is ever alone. It’s amazing. Building up that trust and companionship that we all know is so important as a teenager can make such a difference to a young person, it means something. It’s like “Wow, this person really took the time to get to know me.” People both young and old appreciate it when you take the time.
Another question that I get asked quite a lot is “So why do you keep it up? Why do you do it?” I started volunteering for the exact same reason as I still do it now and for the same reason that I will continue to do so for a very long time – I believe in young people. I believe in what young people can achieve and in the fact that any young person, given the right support, can rise to any occasion and become anyone and anything that they want to be. I chose Foróige because I’m not alone in that belief.
To those of you who have never been involved with Foroige, getting started as a volunteer is so easy. If you’re over 18 or nearing 18 – find out about Foroige in your area and contact your nearest Regional Youth Officer and find out what volunteering opportunities are available in your area. Training is all provided by really fantastic Foroige facilitators and not only is it informative, it’s FUN.
Volunteering is not all give; trust me. True, you do give of your time and sometimes of your patience! But it’s not just something to do and somewhere to go on a Friday evening. For some people that is enough but just know that there is more to it. There are so many opportunities! Chances to learn new skills, develop projects, meet new people, experience new things and most of all to have an impact.
People are always very quick to use that famous quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”. As a volunteer you have the opportunity to affect that change and the younger you start, the more time you have to change the world! There’s another quote that I really like from a song by a band called Enter Shikari, it goes; “Don't be fooled into thinking that a small group of friends can't change the world” and we’re a BIG group of friends! Be the change, believe in young people. Believe in Foróige.