19 November 2022
Why I volunteer - Samantha Scott, Sodexo
"Sometimes when you volunteer, you can be quite a few steps removed from the beneficiaries. With Chapter One you have real interaction with the child you are helping."
Samantha Scott is Head of Communications at Sodexo Government Energy & Resources. She was one of the 21 Sodexo employees who together volunteered 85 hours with the Chapter One Online Reading Volunteers programme over the course of the 2021-22 school year, helping pupils progress their reading skills. After a fantastic experience, Samantha is signed up for a second year and is again paired with a child in a school in Middlesbrough.
Why did you volunteer for with Chapter One?
From a personal perspective, there are a number of reasons that I wanted to get involved. It's been quite difficult over the past couple of years to take part in volunteering projects because of the pandemic, so Chapter One’s online model provided a great opportunity to give something back in a Covid-friendly way. Although it only takes up a short amount of time each week, it's a long-term commitment which enables you to see the impact you are having on the life of a young person. I've always really enjoyed reading but I think it is something that we often take for granted. When you stop to reflect, being able to read is one of the key skills for a successful life.
What do you value most about the experience?
Sometimes when you volunteer, you can be quite a few steps removed from the beneficiaries. With Chapter One you have real interaction with the child you are helping. Reading with a child over the course of a school year allows you to build up a rapport, establish a relationship with them and watch them grow - and it's a lot of fun as well! You get to know the child and what makes them tick, which in turn means you can support them better. The boy I was reading with last year tended to want to pick the games rather than read the stories to me. Seeing him every week meant that I was able to keep him on track and understand how best to motivate him. I worked out that it was best for us to focus on the reading at the start of the session and then the games would be the carrot at the end. It was really rewarding seeing his progress. To start with he wasn't confident but as the weeks went by the words he was tackling, his fluency and his comprehension really started to grow.
Can you recall any ‘aha!’ moments with your little boy where something clicked for him?
There were some moments. His recall and the way he linked things together was really interesting. If we didn't have time to finish a story one week, and came back to it the next week, he would always remember a lot of details of the story that I didn’t! Then there was a time when we were doing a flashcard exercise and we just whisked through them really, really quickly. It was like a penny that suddenly dropped as previously he had really struggled with some of the words. I think for me one of the most rewarding things was at the end of the school year when we had the online ‘graduation ceremony’ and I got to actually ‘see’ and ‘meet’ the boy I had been working with, to find out what he had liked about reading and to see the special pictures he had drawn of the experience. It was very emotional! I understand why you don’t get to see your pupil throughout the year, why it is audio only, but to be able to meet him properly at the end and to exchange a few words face-to-face was very special.
So it isn’t off putting that the reading sessions are audio only and not over a video link?
No. Having the sessions audio only makes you focus on the task, you're not distracted by other things, and you're more ‘in the moment’. You need to be focused on what the child is saying, how they’re interpreting things, and what you are seeing in front of you on the screen.
And what's it brought to you as a team at Sodexo?
The feedback from colleagues that have also volunteered for Chapter One has been unanimous: it’s a really good thing to do. Everybody has benefited from it. It's a nice way to break up your week and to give something back. It's also really rewarding. From a personal development perspective, even though I work in communications, it's really helped me in terms of how I communicate because I'm not used to engaging with young children. For example, if I'm giving some feedback to my pupil, and he doesn’t interpret it in the way I meant it to be, it makes me examine what I was trying to say and how I had expressed it. How can I say that differently to help him understand, or to make sure that we're both coming at things from the same direction? And again, from a personal development perspective, volunteering with Chapter One is really good because it is something different, and learning something different is always really good for you. It challenges you, makes you think differently and uses a different part of your brain. That’s the kind of stuff you can't underestimate.
We're so used to our day-to-day work and talking to adults but with a young person, there is often a need to find different ways to speak to them to elicit from them the answer you require. The reading session is quite a demanding half an hour because you've got to be fully immersed in what you're doing, and when you're potentially making a big impact on someone, you want to do things in the right way. If there were struggles with some words, I would find different ways of looking at it, breaking the word down and thinking about the phonics as well as about the story. I like doing the reflections at the end of a story, going back to check my child’s comprehension of what they’ve just read.
What tips do you have for new volunteers?
The more you invest, the more you get out of it. Be patient and take your time to get to know the child in terms of the speed at which they learn, working out the level they're at and when to move them on. And I guess if you spend that time in the early days getting to know them, you have a good baseline for measuring their progress. Also, have fun with it: kids are great fun! The conversations that you have and how they interpret things is amazing. We had lots of laughs during our sessions, which was really good. It's really nice to make learning fun.
I would also say make sure you properly set aside the time and be committed. Before I actually started it looked quite daunting because of the training, the safeguarding and phonics. But once the sessions started, it all fell into place quickly. So don't be put off by the prep that you've got to do because the guidance and support are really good and it's easy to grasp everything with the user-friendly, intuitive system. I have nothing negative to say! Just get involved!
Sodexo was awarded silver in the innovation category of the sixth annual UK Social Mobility Awards for its support of the Chapter One Online Volunteer Reading programme. Sodexo employees participate in the Chapter One programme as part of Sodexo’s charitable foundation, Stop Hunger.
HOW CAN COMPANIES GET INVOLVED IN CHAPTER ONE?
Chapter One’s virtual, time-efficient, flexible model for volunteering will enhance your company’s employee value proposition, whilst fulfilling CSR commitments around education, social mobility and inclusion. Employees can:
- volunteer online directly from their desks with no travel
- make a direct impact on the lives of disadvantaged children
- support local communities across the UK
- improve their own well-being by helping others
- reconnect with your company’s social purpose
If you’re interested in joining us, we’d love to hear from you! You can contact us by emailing email@example.com