Karen Wood, Volunteer Coordinator at local community group, Pallion Action Group in Sunderland
Karen Wood was a single Mum at 19 who worked as a head barmaid and promotions girl. She was a real party girl who was forced to grow up when one of her children, Toni, was diagnosed with severe learning difficulties. She gave up her barmaid job because she was committed to being in and out of hospital with Toni but quickly yearned to do some sort of work to keep her busy in other ways.
So she turned to volunteering where she acted as a mentor to the unemployed to help them try and find a job.
She loved it – it was fulfilling to know that she was helping others and it felt good working in a better job than in a bar, despite it being unpaid.
She heard about a similar role in a local youth charity, Pallion Action Group, which was a paid role, part time, where she was still able to look after Toni. She was delighted when she got offered the job as a Pre-Employment Support Officer. Also, because she had such a great experience volunteering she signed up to volunteer where she helped encourage and place young people in voluntary jobs.
From that moment on, she really found her calling to work with young people and since then she has become a real champion for youth work, doing some incredible work supporting young people who are not in education employment or training (NEET’s) in particular.
One project that she managed recently was an initiative by T-Mobile in partnership with the national volunteering charity TimeBank which is designed to give NEET’s the chance to develop a mobile phone application and at the same time develop their own community projects that tackle social and environmental issues.
I love working with young people. It’s made me who I am today. For so long I was working as a barmaid and partying hard – I didn’t realise what else there was out there! Now I can really relate to young people and parents around me. The people here at PAG are almost like my own children, I’d do anything for them. One young girl who’s from a real troubled background has just had an interview to go and volunteer in Africa as a result of one of the projects we ran here with TimeBank and T-Mobile – I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am of her, I’m just praying that she gets the chance to go. It will completely transform her life, just like volunteering changed mine.