Why I volunteer - Yana Malem from Jacobs

"It couldn’t be easier to offer up 30 minutes throughout your working week to really make a difference to a child’s future."

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Anyone with a passion for reading and learning has the right skills and experience to support young readers

Yana Malem is one of the Chapter One online reading volunteers from our Gold partner Jacobs. She is in her second year as a Chapter One online reading volunteer.

Why did you sign up as a volunteer for Chapter One? What spoke to you about the programme?
As a former primary school teacher, teaching children in Key Stages 1 and 2, I was keen to find ways that I could continue supporting the young minds of the future, outside my daily role within Programme and Project Partners at Sellafield (PPP) and Jacobs.

I’d made contact with the social impact team quite early on to keep my eye out for opportunities I could get involved with and offer up my skills. The social impact manager told me about the introduction of Chapter One’s exciting literacy scheme at PPP at Sellafield which would bring together a team of our corporate volunteers to support children in Key Stage 1 who would benefit from additional one-on-one reading time.

It was the perfect fit and just the kind of initiative that would allow me to share my expertise and give back. I jumped at the opportunity to become one of the first Jacobs volunteers to sign up. I started out my career in the engineering sector before I’d moved into teaching, so when I moved back into the industry that kickstarted my career, I felt very fortunate. And then with this opportunity, I’ve now also been able to build in some teaching time with young learners – it’s been the best of both worlds for me, being able to do the two things I’m incredibly passionate about.

I must say, though, that you don’t need to be a teacher or have teaching experience to take up this Chapter One opportunity. Anyone with a passion for reading and learning has the right skills and experience to support young readers, which can be very rewarding and reaps benefits for both you and the child very quickly.

Were you particularly attracted by it being an online volunteering opportunity?
All the children we’re supporting are from local schools located around Cumbria and are close to our main construction site in line with our social impact strategy. However, my home office is located over 100 miles away which makes it almost impossible to commit to any in-person volunteering activities. Getting involved in an online scheme was really the only feasible way in which I could offer my support, but it certainly did not deter me, and I knew the right opportunity would be out there. And that was Chapter One.

From the outset, I have found Chapter One’s software and technology to be very easy to use. The online platform that you use to read with your pupil is intuitive and versatile and means that I can offer my virtual support no matter where I am based, at a time that suits my work diary. This flexibility is really valuable when it comes to ensuring commitment from volunteers. Sometimes I’ll carry out my session at my office desk which can often provoke some interesting discussions from those listening in around me! But I’m also able to run the sessions from my home without any hitches.

The children are also able to interact with the platform really easily too, which means we’re able to focus on the reading and activities. They seem to love it and respond very well to this learning medium. On the rare occasion where I’ve not been able to do something, the Chapter One support team are always quick to respond and handle my query efficiently.

Could you tell us what you’ve learned and observed about reading with a child since you’ve been a volunteer?
The consistency of a regular reading session and the dedicated time and patience you are offering to one child, especially to our struggling readers, is invaluable. Having the opportunity to continuously practise reading is really important to improve reading confidence and enjoyment, no matter what level the child is at – it is even more vital for those who may find reading challenging. But all too often, these children lack opportunities for one-to-one reading practice with a trusted adult.

While volunteering with Chapter One, I’ve seen that giving continuous praise for the little things they achieve in every session works wonders and I’ve found that both my pupils have responded instantly to the in-built stickers that I am able to send them to flash up on their screen, for example when they have attempted to sound out a word carefully or have moved up a reading level.

Over time, as your little reader grows in confidence, they’ll be more excited to explore the stories you’re reading together and they start to open up their imagination to the world of books. I’ve seen my readers become comfortable enough with me to begin to share personal anecdotes and reflections on a story, which has enhanced my overall experience of the programme. We’ve been able to make our sessions really fun and enjoyable.

It is so difficult to build in this one-to-one time with a child when you’re a teacher in a busy class of 30 children, no matter how much you’d like to do it. The time corporate volunteers give Chapter One is invaluable and they are all doing a marvellous job in bolstering a child’s reading confidence and ability.

What are the benefits for your work colleagues in volunteering in Chapter One?
The benefits for the volunteers, not just the participating children, are so wide and varied. That feeling you get from knowing you’re helping that child reach their potential and seeing just how much they value the one-on-one time with an adult to practise and learn is immeasurable. You also feel your own sense of achievement and pride as the sessions progress and you witness their abilities improving week-on-week. This programme really does work - it begins to have an impact even from the first week.

It couldn’t be easier to offer up 30 minutes throughout your working week to really make a difference to a child’s future, as the reading sessions can be carried out from any location at a time that suits your work commitments. This also aligns with Jacob’s vision of creating a more connected, sustainable world and the positive impact this makes on a young reader cannot be overstated.

Have you got any tips for anyone starting out on the Chapter One journey?
The two mandatory training sessions provided by Chapter One equip you with all the tools and knowledge you will need to get up and running, and of course a little play around with the software a day or two before you start your first session will help. That said, the programme is very intuitive and easy to navigate.

I would also take advantage of the growing network of volunteers who have taken part in the programme to ask any initial questions you may have. They’ll be more than happy to offer their advice and tips and it’s also a great way to expand your own network and get as much out of the opportunity as you can.

But, overall, the main piece of advice I would give is to enjoy this volunteering opportunity and to appreciate the 30 minutes you get to take away from your busy day to spend with a young reader sharing in the love of books.

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 or social value 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 children from disadvantaged communities

- 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’ll find out who we currently work with on our partners’ page.. You can contact us here or email sarah.taylor@chapterone.org.