If you ask Tom, volunteering comes naturally because it is natural to support and protect the ones we care about. Tom’s inspiring volunteer journey started in a dark place where, in spite of adversity, he found strength and decided to use it to help others.
Essentially, what I do is so gratifying because it comes from the heart – as cheesy as it may sound, sincerity is especially crucial in volunteering.
Nowadays, Tom is a volunteering ‘Superman’, helping not just one but three charities. Parents’ Aid, Autism Anglia and Havens Hospices are all currently benefiting from his digital media skills and from September onwards he has plans to add a fourth.
It all started with what Tom calls “an epiphany” after receiving a formal diagnosis of autism while a student at De Montfort University .
Previously, as an undiagnosed special needs student, I received no support when I most needed it and only just managed to scrape through with mediocre grades. On top of that I was subjected to bullying which made those days by far the worst of my life. After my unexpected success at university I had something of an epiphany and found myself with a burning desire to help those like me.
Tom was clear in his mind where to start and that year won an election to become the University’s Disabled Students’ Representative. As part of his election pledge he founded the first Disabled Students’ Society.
Giving fellow disabled students a community where they could feel welcome and access support is my proudest achievement to date, and I’m happy to say the Society still survives today.
Tom returned to Essex after finishing university, where his enthusiasm and motivation to help skyrocketed and his career as a volunteer took off. He wanted to continue helping fellow autistics and to raise awareness of autism in general. He sought out the nearest autism charity which led him to Autism Anglia, a growing charity based in Colchester, and was determined to pledge his support and become part of their community. In the spirit of offering support to families who may have been affected by circumstances like his own, he then approached Parents’ Aid, who gave him the opportunity to help while learning a new skill. This was followed by Havens Hospices in Southend, who care for those with life limiting illnesses. Finally, as a result of his own counselling experience and a new appreciation of solving problems by talking them out, he plans to volunteer with the Samaritans from September onwards.
Tom’s volunteering roles mainly revolve around media marketing skills he picked up during an internship at university. He learned how to use media techniques, such as video production/editing and the creation of posters and blogs to help enhance an organisation’s profile and is currently taking part in projects with Autism Anglia and Parents’ Aid putting together promotional videos as well as producing blogs for the Autism Anglia website.
The type of volunteering that I do can be done off-site, so essentially I choose my own hours. My material needs to be as good as it can be, and I sometimes need to stick to deadlines so it’s not unusual for me to stay up into the small hours of the morning to put together and refine a project. Usually, when I’m not doing my paid job, I’ll be sitting in front of the laptop either planning or video editing.
The amount of hours and the professionalism that Tom puts into volunteering are impressive and he must also fit his volunteer roles around his paid job.
I volunteer because I care deeply about helping those like me, especially with autism. Offering support by doing things I am good at is greatly fulfilling. Volunteering has been great in terms of opening up new opportunities and gaining useful experience, and especially in meeting new people that I strongly identify with. I urge anyone reading this, if you haven’t already done so, start volunteering for a charity that represents a cause you care about.
So, to paraphrase Tom’s words, don’t wait any longer, stand by what you love and volunteer for it!