#studentvolunteeringweek | Include.org

Award-winning volunteer – Sofia

What does it take to be recognised as The Mayor’s Young Volunteer of the year?

Please meet one of our most generous, energetic and versatile volunteers…

Sofia first got in touch with Include aged 13, to ask if she could do her Duke of Edinburgh (DofE) Award volunteering section with the charity.

For some young people, volunteering as part of DofE may a bit of a “tick the box” exercise to get the award. But not for Sofia.

She says, “I wanted to work with people. All my friends were going, ‘I just want to get this bit over with so I’ll just go to the public library for a few weeks and quietly help out there.’  But I didn’t want to go to the library! (I thought) ‘I don’t think I can cope with that! So, I’ll find something else that will be more fun’.”

What she didn’t have in experience she made up for in enthusiasm, empathy, humour and versatility. Include’s volunteering experience is a great fit for Sofia.

“Include is for everyone that wants to learn and wants to have fun and meet new people that they wouldn’t necessarily meet.”

Sofia’s talents and willingness to learn new things – mean she has helped Include in a wide variety of ways. She famously understates her contribution as “I just do a little bit of everything!” But really, she is an essential part of the charity – keeping important things like AV technology running smoothly during rehearsals, helping people to feel welcome and calm, and creating accessible Easy Read resources.

This last year has uncovered even more of what Sofia has to offer. She helps Include to rise to the challenges of Covid19 – adapting to new platforms like Zoom, piloting a covid-safe roadshow and doing more than ever on our social media channels to help raise awareness of what we do to break down barriers for people with communication needs.

Follow the Include Instagram account that Sofia manages here

When asked how volunteering for Include has benefitted her, she says, “I got to do so many things that I wouldn’t have. I’ve been responsible for things and I’ve learnt how to be responsible for other people and, you know, build trust with others. Obviously being the youngest, you don’t know if people are going to trust you that much. But I’ve been trusted with big things. And taken them forward and have kind of shown that I can do it.

“So yeah, it’s fantastic to have a charity that have just gone, ‘Yep, Sofia can do this. She’s our girl.'”

A few years down the line, working with people with additional needs is something Sofia is embracing in her working life too. She landed a teaching assistant role in a local school, working with a young boy who has autism.  Being able to help calm and distract him are skills she has used in choir rehearsals. She remembers one rehearsal: “A member of The Include Choir was having a hard time because there were lots of upcoming event date announcements and then it was break time, when people go to get a cup of tea and chat. I noticed that he got a bit stressed. I took him to the side and was like, ‘Do you want me to get you your biscuit and a drink?’ And I told him, ‘I’ll get the dates printed out for you.’”

Sofia also works behind the counter in Boots and her Include experience has been helpful there too.  As an Include volunteer she has learnt Makaton signing to support people with a range of communication needs, and this has given her the confidence to also learn some British Sign Language.

“I see a lot of deaf customers in Boots. My colleague was struggling to help a deaf couple once, and was just shouting. So, I went over and I signed, “Do you want to buy with cash or card?” and ”Can I take my mask down so you can lip read?” Now if deaf people come to Boots, they seem to navigate in my direction!”

“I try to do my bit in the community to make everyone feel included and I just love seeing people who join Include connect. It’s like a big family. Seeing the support workers get involved as well as the members, when everyone is joining in, is fantastic!”

“I remember watching two Include Choir members with different levels of communication adapting to each other. He was signing to her using Makaton signs that he just learned from a song – really trying hard to sign and talk to her. She is limited verbally and does use a lot of Makaton.  He had an idea – and went to get an iPad with a supported communication app on it – and then those two were having like a conversation on the iPad and it was so sweet. And it’s in moments like those that all our team’s hard work is so very worth it.”

Everyone at Include is proud of our girl Sofia for the wonderful achievement of receiving this award and for all the creativity, energy and warmth she brings to everything she does.

See Sofia and find out more about volunteering with Include here

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Communications and Partnerships Manager

Student volunteers: key to an inclusive future

It’s Student Volunteering Week! About a third of all of Include’s
volunteers are student volunteers, so we’d like to take this opportunity to
send a massive THANK YOU their way! They help us every day to
spread the message of Inclusive Communication.
Three of our volunteers have kindly take time to share their experience
of volunteering:

Name: Sarea, English Undergraduate

Time with Include: 3 months 

Role: Newsletter Co-Editor

Sarea has quickly become invaluable in helping us to create our weekly accessible newsletter – keeping our members connected and helping everyone to tell their story 

Sarea says:

 “Whilst Volunteering at Include, I have learnt a lot about communication difficulties and how ‘no one size fits all’. Thus, it is essential to consider a lot of factors when writing, for example the formatting I use and ensuring I am consistent with headlines. I have started to think more inclusively during my volunteering experience by following the important values and missions that Include promotes, like making the world better at including people with speech difficulties.

Volunteering at Include has meant that I’ve learnt a lot about sign language and how communication can take place in various ways so everyone can take part and actively engage. My favourite part of volunteering at Include has been taking part in the tea breaks where I get to meet all the lovely faces that are part of include and hear about how much they enjoy taking part in all the events Include has to offer.”

Name: Jennifer, Speech & Language Therapy Postgraduate 

Time with Include: 7 months  

Role: Session Facilitator & representative for CardMedic

Jennifer uses her speech and language therapy skills to help us in a range of ways. The Include Choir are  impressed with her cake baking skills too!

Jennifer says:

 “Include has given me a chance to really put my knowledge in Speech and

Language Therapy into practice to support individuals living with learning disabilities. I help facilitate members’ socials and am also part of a project to develop an accessible app to improve communication in hospital settings with CardMedic. These are very rewarding as I can see that my work has a positive impact on people’s daily life in many different contexts.

Volunteering with Include has inspired me to think more creatively when working with learning disabilities.  I love to hear all our members’ fun stories during our tea breaks, and it’s truly a delight to be part of this community!”

Name: Jasmine, A Level Student 

Time with Include: 2 years

Role: Graphics Creation 

Jasmine has been with us since the days when we could sing in one room together! She has adapted brilliantly to the virtual working environment.

Jasmine says:

“I have had the loveliest experience with the Include Choir. I have learnt so much about communication difficulties, about the supportive and caring community that Include provides for people with communication difficulties and their families, and most of all, about the amazing lengths Include goes to make everyone – choir members and volunteers alike – feel included. 

I really wanted to volunteer with Include because I want to be a psychologist when I grow up; I am intrigued by the way music can help people express themselves, particularly when they have communication difficulties.  I love to design posters and flyers and, with Include’s teaching and guidance, I’ve learnt how to make them user-friendly for the choir members. 

One of my favourite parts about having volunteered with Include has been learning Makaton. Not only did this allow me to help sign during online singing sessions, but it was just really fun! The staff and volunteers have been so welcoming and kind, and I am proud to have worked alongside them to make those with communication difficulties feel understood and included.”

Hear from more volunteers about their experiences 

Find out more about our current volunteering roles here

Nina Bromham
Nina Bromham
Volunteer Coordinator