John's Road to Volunteering. My story

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1 John's Road to Volunteering My story

2 Sitting here updating my story, I always feel a sense of pride looking back at what s been an incredible few years. To think I only looked at volunteering for a month, and yet here I am running John s Road to Volunteering, working with charities across the globe, and making a difference to so many lives. I m even about to take on the next stage of my volunteering journey by doing something different. One Goal. One Journey. One Man. This isn t a motto of self belief, life experiences or story telling, it s the tagline of John s Road to Volunteering, the place I, John Sennett, tests the unknown, setting his sight on the next big thing. This is my journey and how I went from a shy, guarded, young person to becoming a spokesperson for volunteering, using his unknown to open pathways for others.

3 Prelogue At the age of 20, I was going nowhere in life. I had no direction, no real passion, nor a feeling of self worth. I d look in the mirror and look at someone I didn t know and this broke me. It broke me in a sense that after being offered an incredible apprenticeship with the county council, I decided it wasn t for me. I needed to do something fresh and a little out of my comfort zone to take me where I wanted it to be in life. I had always dreamt of becoming a professional athlete, and when I lost out on a scholarship in America due to a serious knee injury, I was stuck. The apprenticeship was part of this stuck phase and an undefined future. I was already in a dark place due to previous bullying incidents and family traumas, and I didn t want to be in a dark place with my career. I needed to do what was best for my future, so the moment I left my job, I went online to find my first volunteering role. I left a financially stable job to do something I wasn t sure about. Was I about to make the biggest mistake of my life? Maybe you re about to find out

4 The story begins... With a little bit of my back story, when did it all start? December 2012 to be precise. I had no clue this would be the start of something special, as I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea where to look, what I was looking for and how it was going to help. All I knew was that things needed to change and even if I volunteered for an hour and I didn t like it, it could end there 1000s of hours later and I m still here. Funny how this happens! There weren't any real stand out qualifications in my record of achievement, so I started doing something I had a feeling I could make a difference with. At the time, I wanted to become a sports coach and use my previous experiences as a Sprinter to help those coming up in the sport. It scared me! The Sennett family aren t a family you d associate with achieving their goals, and with no real inspiration from other members of the family or any support, I had to go it alone. My family s misconception of volunteering rubbed off on me. I didn t think it was going to be worth my time, but I had to give it a try. Knowing I had little self confidence at this stage in my life, would an hour of giving really hinder my confidence any further? I had to look for a role that had a personal meaning and use that to inspire my future. My sister at the age of 21 experienced a stroke, after being diagnosed with Chron s Disease and if this wasn t an area of volunteering to look into, I didn t know what was. The personal touch to finding this role became quickly apparent when I found my first role. My sister is still today in 2017 judged by the way she looks, without a single ounce of understanding who she is as a person and not by her disability.

5 Her experiences motivated me to sign up as a Disability Buddy. I wanted to give others a voice, but I didn t know how to. I didn t know how to speak to individuals with learning difficulties. I struggled to communicate with my own sister! Were there procedures needing to be followed when helping those with learning or physical disabilities? I had excluded myself for so long from the real world, I shivered inside at the thought of doing something wrong. Saying something wrong. Even looking at something wrong. And do you know what happened? Within my first hour volunteering, I felt different. I felt like a pathway opened up, signalling my future before my eyes and it was time to take that path. For someone with still very little self confidence, I didn t know how long this feeling would last or the way my family would react. It had taken me a few years post losing my scholarship, until I felt some sort of self worth, and I had to put everything and everyone to one side and focused on me. Focusing on me would mean dedicating my life to others. Confusing, right? I learned I needed to be a friend, a mentor and a spokesperson for others who didn t feel they were being listened and to use my past to dictate the future; not just mine, but anyone who was part of my life. The individuals I volunteered with, as part of my Disability Buddy role were inspirational individuals. Despite life getting in the way, they d still be part of various projects, beaming their smiles off the walls, bringing mine to life.

6 I felt such a buzz knowing I was making a difference to these individuals, letting them know that I did care and I didn t single them out for their personal traits. This is what a disability is isn t it? A personality trait? By giving them the time of day and giving them a reason to feel part of the project, I gained their respect. As someone who was severely bullied in school, to gain someone s respect was rare in my life. Was it my actions that brought to life that respect or was it the fact I was just volunteering that increased my presence? Without volunteers, those in need wouldn t have anywhere to go, so I increased my volunteer hours. When I first signed up to be a Disability Buddy, my main project focused around inclusive cycling. I wasn t expected to then be asked to run a project. During my school days, I loved Table Tennis. I loved the skill needed to go into specific shots and the dedicated focus in making decisions. I learned that by being honest about your past, opportunities can arise and I was asked to run the project, when I mentioned my background. Am I gaining confidence? Am I now using my past to influence my future? I thought I had screwed up my future, but then this happened. It made me feel good about myself. I had gained so much confidence, I made a brave decision. It s not the only decision I ve made throughout my journey. Do you remember when I mentioned I lost a scholarship? I decided I needed to use my heartbreak, being told by the doctor that I was done, to help young athletes with their athletic futures. I contacted my previous coach and mentioned my wish to become a coach. Shortly after, I met with fellow volunteers and started my journey to being an Academy Coach. One problem I d have to watch these young athletes train for something I no longer could do. I turned up every week with approximately 70 children and 5 other volunteers to teach the sprint sections of the weekly training session.

7 I hated school, so the thought of teaching so many children scared the crap out of me! I was scared I was going to be bullied and go back to the dark place I was once at. I had to look at each session as a motivational platform to help those in the training group who ve also been bullied. I needed to know my Disability Buddy role was doing good for my confidence and the Academy Coach role was going to showcase this. I was an assistant coach at the athletics club, so when I was asked to lead the group; 70 children and 5 volunteers, I was gobsmacked! Why me? Did I stand out from everyone else? Becoming apparent quite quickly, I was being asked to take on more senior roles than my entire career before volunteering. I had no lead coaching qualifications either, so the opportunity opened my eyes Am I reaching my goals? Is my personality changing in a way I once dreamt about? I had to see for myself and leading the group started. When the head coach wasn t around, I d be planning the weekly sessions, coordinating the other volunteers and travelling across the south to oversee the academy competitions. What was amazing was we won the southern title! We managed to lead the way with 26 other cities trying to take it away from us. I learned that to be the person you want to be, you have to put yourself out of your comfort zone and make the unknown scared of you. If someone believes in you, there s a reason for it! We all have the power to make a difference, but sometimes it takes a little outside support to get us there. That s why I signed up to be a mentor.

8 This role started before my coaching role, but it seems better to write it in now, rather than before. I can t tell you much about what I done in this role, but being able to use my experiences to help others was an overwhelming and emotional feeling. You had to stay strong in this role, as with any heart breaking story, the aim of a mentor is to help shine the light on the dark days. It was a very casual role, but it taught me so much about myself. I learned I was stronger than I once thought and maybe I was always the only barrier in my life. The only barrier, that then saw me move for the Summer, helping run a sports programme in Dorset for international students. I had never been away from home for such a period, so the role gave me a great learning opportunity to see what life would be like on my own. Let s just say I loved it! Volunteering made this happen. I made this happen. By volunteering, a great opportunity came my way and a new life was on the horizon. Oh, did I forget.i reached my goal of becoming a sports coach! The role allowed me to bring everything I learned as a volunteer together and the day I arrived something happened. Now I left the Disability Buddy role, which tore me to pieces. I felt like I was part of a family, but it was time to move on. Move on in a sense, I wanted more. I wanted to stay on this high and see where it would take me next. I didn t anticipate to be asked to teach 2 staffing teams on the way to plan and deliver a sports session. WHAT?! I had already thought volunteering had changed my life and given me a pathway to be the person I once dreamt of being, but here I was being that person! This was just after a few months of volunteering! Either I had low expectations of myself or volunteering has a great influence. I d say both, as training 2 teams and even educating senior management i.e. the directors was something incredible! Standing there, scared inside, a voice spoke. I was training 25 staff with each wanting more. I wanted more. I came back to can you guess? I volunteered again.

9 I think I got to the stage that even though I wanted to work, whilst looking for the next role, I d volunteer. Volunteering was giving me such a buzz all I wanted to do was get involved wherever I could. Not being aware of the power of social media at the time, I found this one sport really interesting. Goalball it s called. Have you heard of it? Goalball is a Paralympic sport best described as a mixture of Football and Ten Pin Bowling. I loved both, so wanted to find out more. What makes Goalball different is it s a visually impaired sport. Have you ever wondered where my passion for VI (visually impaired) came from? I even met my best friend here. Now, I wasn t aware that the club was run by two London 2012 Paralympians! Having the opportunity to learn from them was a surreal moment. Every week, I d also get the opportunity to play and coach alongside them. One problem they can throw the ball at 60mph! I was not ready for that. The ball they use is similar to a medicine ball, and with a blindfold on (every player VI or not has to wear one) all I could hear is a rattling sound coming straight for. At least I got the chance to get my own back! It was also a wake up call. Why are VI individuals treated differently? The same thing happened when I was a Disability Buddy, so I decided to go back. I missed the role so much, I received an invitation to return for Easter to help run their Playscheme. It felt like Summer camp all over again, but with younger children and a lot of happiness. I am an emotional guy, and I m happy to admit that, so even though it felt amazing going back, it was also hard. I knew that after Easter, I d be leaving again. I d be leaving to head back to Summer Camp. Hang on. Before I reveal what happened next, can you guess what my new role was? I d be returning to Summer Camp as a Senior Manager. I was going to return for a month (based in London this time) leading the sports team, teachers and assisting the Camp Manager with the overall running of the student experience and welfare. If you asked me did I think this was going to happen, I would have laughed. Laughed hard! With ideas flowing through my mind, I knew I had a great opportunity here. What if I could teach Goalball to fully sighted individuals and increase awareness of the sport? I ll point out

10 I was still with the Goalball club at the time. The opportunity arose to take a training ball with me to both the Summer Camp and Playscheme to teach others what life would be like with limited sight. *This was a point I started to tear up. I still can t believe what has happened to me these last 4 years and I m so grateful for everyone that s been involved in my journey and for all of you who ve read up to this point. I know my story is a tad long. If you ve read up until now and have been inspired, don t stop, keep reading. There s so much more to come, that this is what volunteering is to me it s a journey.* Upon my return, what happened? JOHN S ROAD TO VOLUNTEERING WAS CREATED. I hated every aspect of English at school. I exceled in telling stories, but that was my opinion. My teachers never saw my potential in the subject and I didn t let this stop me. I felt I had to share the remarkable power of volunteering to hopefully inspire at least 1 person. I now had the voice, but did I have the technical skills to run a blog? I had failed IT at school, so it all came down to how bad did I want it! How bad did I want to make a difference? The brain was lacking any knowledge on the areas needing to run a successful blog, but like anything else, I thought it would burn out in the first few months. I used my heart to start John s Road to Volunteering and who would have thought it would have exploded into what it is today!

11 Before I got back from Summer Camp, something was also going on. You can tell I love what I do, so when I found out the local park, where I once played Football and spent most of my evenings, were looking for committee members for an upcoming event I jumped at the chance. What I ve learned throughout my journey is to not say no. If you think something has a purpose in your journey do it! You don t want to regret not getting involved! The local event was unfortunately on when I was managing the summer camp, so I couldn t be there, but I wasn t expecting this When I signed up to join the committee, I saw the potential. The potential it could have in developing once more, and impacting lives along the way. I never anticipated to win a southern title with the Athletics club, nor a national title with the Goalball club, so I was generally excited to see what the event could bring. The event named Community Games was a national initiative to provide local opportunities, increasing the resident s physical activity levels through delivering a sports and arts event to showcase local clubs. This doesn t necessarily been sports clubs, as it could mean going for a walk or going salsa dancing. It became apparent quite quickly that there was noone with sports experience, causing me to step into the lead role. This was a progression from the role I originally signed up for, but like the rest of my journey, I took advantage of what was available.

12 Leading the team with planning the sports/activity programme, which was a major part of the event (bit obvious, I know!), I was left with the responsibility of contacting local sports clubs, but also devising plans for sports that had no local sports club. The role was huge and my decisions were a critical part in the success of the event. I cried a tad when I found out the event had over 3000 people attend! I always look back at the Community Games as one of the most important parts of my journey, as it wasn t just a case of turning up and volunteering. It was a real stepping stone in learning more about my influential ways. I was achieving so much at this point, I had to keep pushing and pushing. John s Road to Volunteering was become more important with each day passing, as the bigger my story grew, the more people I could impact. The blog/my story became the talk in all my voluntary roles and has been since and it s because of the growth of John s Road to Volunteering, my confidence is at an all time high. People wanted to hear about my story and experiences so much, that it was reflected when I joined forces with an Olympic legacy charity. The role would see me assist local sports clubs and events to recruit volunteers. Funny isn t it how my journey always progresses not regresses? Some of you might be reading this thinking things have been handed to me on a plate, but that s far from the case. I couldn t count how many volunteering hours I had done at this point, and I didn t have any sort of knowledge at the beginning. I worked my ass off to get where I was at this point and I constantly put myself out of my comfort zone, ignoring my parent s perception of volunteering and fought for every step forward. It s these steps that define you and if you re not willing to put in the hard work, don t expect anything to happen. This is why my story is so long. It s been a proper journey with its ups and downs and even though the downs aren t highlighted here, you can read them in the blog.

13 Back to the story Volunteering with the Olympic legacy charity, many opportunities were offered; event attendances, Volunteer Manager roles and also VIP treatment at the Sainsbury s Anniversary Games. It s an essence of doors opening as a volunteer and coinciding this with volunteer recruitment, was I about to find the role for me? Am I a natural born leader? Well the opportunity arose through the charity to team up with a Cancer charity close to my heart. I had already volunteered with them previously as an event marshal, but yet again, it was taken up a notch. I signed up as the events Volunteer Manager, and the event is very well known! I was working with the Cancer charity on their volunteer recruitment, designing web pages and also their Volunteer Management on the day. I was even invited back to lead other events with them, dressing up as a Polar Bear for pre event promotions in the local city centre. I had a whoopsie moment with the costume being back to front in the first instance.

14 Despite everything that happened to this point, I, for whatever reason didn t believe I reached my max. I knew I had more to give and that was in the shape of a world record attempt. Putting my career on the back burner for several months, I took full control of my development once again and put everything I had learned into the biggest project of my life. I saw the record attempt succeed with sponsors coming in from across the UK, attendees came down south (even a family from Ireland came over), BBC and ITV covered the event (feel sorry for people listening to me on the radio) and a host of MP s (including the current Mayor of Southampton), local businesses and community associations came together to ignite the community spirit in Southampton and put on a spectacle. Never did I ever imagine to be speaking on the same day as the current Mayor and teaming up with public services to do this one off event. It was a grueling journey organising the world record attempt, but if you believe an idea will work, you have to give it a try. It doesn t matter what others think, unless you let it! I wouldn t have had a journey like this, if I let my parents misconceptions at first put me off, and the fact they turned up and volunteered at the world record say s something A little bit of self belief can go a long way! With the world record finished, I had a tough decision to make. I decided to take a year off from volunteering and focus solely on developing John s Road to Volunteering.

15 The start of 2016 saw my last role before the break with the local voluntary services as a Volunteer Ambassador. I had the opportunity to use my story to influence the city s volunteering movement and being named the first was overwhelming. My story has never really been about just me. It s been about everyone I ve help, volunteered with and I ve used that impact to create something unimaginable. Did I think, I would have delivered at lecture alongside the voluntary services to local students? Absolutely not! Did I think, John s Road to Volunteering would work with charities in 6 continents? Don t make me laugh! What about that time my mum stood up to Cancer and shared her story on John's Road to Volunteering? It s been an amazing 4 years, and it s only the beginning.

16 Taking the year off was an incredible decision, as it s given me time to reflect back on my journey, whilst realising what I need to do next. Having the opportunities this year to chair a conference, become an advisor for leading UK charities and to share my story with so many people has been the best feeling in the world is set to be much bigger than 2016, which is hard to believe, but with my JRTV100 project set to help 100 charities with their awareness and inspire 1000s more to volunteer, 2017 will be something special. To everyone who ve made it to the very end of my story, thank you so much for taking the time to read it and I hope it s inspired you to give back to your community. I don t have a date in mind when I ll update this next, but do make sure to keep up with John s Road to Volunteering and see what I ve got going on. Maybe, there s some plans to turn my volunteering into massive fundraising challenges, but I ll let you find out in due course. From me to all of you, keep believing and turn your dreams into reality! This has been the story of One Goal. One Journey. One Man.

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