A third-year mathematics student at the University of Oxford has shared her story of volunteering and fundraising for Guide Dogs to mark Student Volunteering Week.
Ella from Cheddar, Somerset, has been involved with the sight loss charity since being matched with her guide dog Rio in June 2018.
“I first got involved as a volunteer speaker for Guide Dogs in November 2018. I was looking for things to get involved in [before starting university] and a local school had asked if I would come in an speak to a class,” said Ella.
“I did my first talk for a community group in June 2019 and have continued doing around half a dozen talks each year, for various groups including schools, Cubs, Beavers and Guide Dogs events.”
Ella is also part of her local Guide Dogs fundraising group in Somerset and in 2021 she encouraged her college to fundraise £5,000 to name a guide dog puppy.
“Every year the JCR (undergraduate student body at college) elects a couple of charities to which we donate money, so I suggested Guide Dogs. As we all know, animals are a great welfare resource, especially cute and cuddly animals like dogs. I arranged for the Oxford Guide Dogs group to come into college during ‘Welfare Week’ and bring their dogs and puppies in training with them.
“Many students came along for short sessions throughout the day to meet and stroke the dogs, and I believe many also had great conversations with the guide dog owners and volunteer puppy raisers.”
The college also raised funds with a cream tea, a raffle, a film night, and a formal dinner.
The fundraising continued into 2022.
“Unbeknownst to me, a friend nominated Guide Dogs to be supported by the JCR for a second year and it was chosen again, so between two years’ worth of the charities levy and the extra fundraising we did, we reached £5,000!”
Ella says she has made a friend along the way through volunteering, and it has helped her develop her confidence.
“Our local fundraising group is very small, essentially just me and my mum and one other. That one other, Tiggi, is a fellow guide dog owner who is great fun to be around, and my only friend who is also blind so we can share experiences,” she said. “We are from different generations, but get on so well, perhaps influenced by sharing the experience of losing sight and having a guide dog.”
“Being a volunteer, both as a speaker and a general fundraiser, has improved my confidence, my public speaking skills, my ability and ease to talk to strangers, which all help in improving my independence.
“I really enjoy giving talks, it feels like I’m educating and inspiring people a little bit, especially when I’m talking to young children where I might be the first disabled or blind person they’ve ever met. Wherever I end up in the future, I will do my best to continue being involved in whatever capacity I can be.
Ella would encourage other students thinking about volunteering to get involved. “Volunteering, especially with a charity like Guide Dogs, can be as high or low commitment as you like. I’ve grown in so many skills, some that I probably haven’t even realised.
“It is also something I can put on my CV, and I can talk about my volunteering experiences and how it’s given me skills that would be useful in many jobs and other situations in life in general.”
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