National Volunteer Week was held in May and to celebrate the week, Youth Off The Streets sat down with Bettina, one of our long-service volunteers at Key College, to discuss her experience volunteering for Youth Off The Streets.
YOTS: When did you first become involved with YOTS?
Bettina: Around 2011, so about 5 years.
YOTS: What was the first service you volunteered for?
Bettina: Well, I first went for my interview at Youth Off The Streets and they told me they had a place at Key College, helping with the lunches, and that’s where I’ve been ever since. I assist in the kitchen, talk to the kids and I am there for support.
YOTS: What was it about Key College that made you want to commit to doing it consistently?
Bettina: The kids and at the time Lyn (staff member) was there and we got on really well. It was a good environment, but mostly for the kids.
YOTS: What is the most important thing you have learned while volunteering?
Bettina: I’ve learned not to be judgmental and not to judge by sight. The roughest kids are the softest. On my first day I was really nervous, I don’t have children of my own and I didn’t know how I was going to go. I walked in and saw there were a few kids there and I didn’t know what to do. I saw that it was a beautiful day outside, so I put everything out on platters and took it outside for the kids. A 17 year old boy with tattoos asked me if I was the one responsible for taking all the food outside for them, I said yes and he said I was a ‘legend’ (laughs). It was great. Then I noticed a few of the kids were smoking and throwing their cigarettes on the ground, it was my first day so I didn’t want to be pushy but I asked them if they didn’t mind using the ashtray, they were very good about it and even said ‘she seems nice’ to the other kids.
YOTS: Do you have any ideas of what could be done to further assist young people?
Bettina: It would be good if we could have more staff to support young people. When our young people first come to the school, it takes a couple of months for them to settle in, mid-year they start to feel comfortable and the place starts feeling like a home to them. Then we have a beautiful graduation for them and they’re off. It is a shame that they can’t still be held for another year because they’re at that time where they need support. Key college is a base for them. What they need is more continuous support.
YOTS: The theme for National Volunteer Week this year is ‘Give Happy, Live Happy’. Do you think giving your time and volunteering can make your life better and make you happier?
Bettina: Yes, definitely. It’s a good feeling and the kids do actually listen to me sometimes (laughs). Becoming a volunteer has made me get more people involved. I’m involved in a choir and have gotten them involved, they have donated toys to the kids and it’s very satisfying.
From the start I introduced the giving of soft toys to the kids. I always get pleasure when they receive them. I gave a 17 year old boy with the tattoos a teddy bear and he sat with it in his arms while he did his studies in the afternoon, and the next time I saw him he said he slept with the bear last night, from then on I got daily updates of the bear! I told him that when he felt sad all he needed to do is hug his bear. He went on to write a project about me where he talked about the bear and how he always felt better after speaking to me. So that’s why I do it.
YOTS: Do you have a favourite quote or piece of advice that you live by or that you wish you could’ve told your younger self?
Bettina: ‘It will get better’- so that’s what I tell the young ones, it will get better.