How To Get Involved With Digital Volunteering
Make-A-Smile is a charity founded by Luke Morgan, a Cardiff University student. He intended to create an environment where children could enjoy their childhood despite physical and cognitive disabilities. Put simply, we are there to Make a Smile! The organisation has created networks within several universities, even right here in Swansea! At Make-A-Smile, our Volunteers dress up as well-known Disney characters, princesses, and superheroes alike. We run interactive sessions to help children with both long and short-term disabilities enjoy life. They can often miss out on vital opportunities to meet their heroes and part-take in everyday fun activities. In Swansea, we worked with the Local Aid in their Play Library and Buddies project, helping promote fun by singing with Elsa and even football with Batman. Both the kids and volunteers have enjoyed these sessions, and we hope to continue this work as we advance.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on our ability to do in-person volunteering. As such, we have had to be resilient and adapt; as this is a sensitive time for children, especially those with disabilities, we have a duty to help out the most vulnerable. Therefore, we have introduced virtual volunteering projects. These do exactly as they say – we still make a smile …just virtually!
Our Virtual Projects include creating social media content on our Youtube channel such as baking videos, fundraising activities for the charity, princess day in the life videos, as well as arts and crafts follow along. The virtual projects allow us to bring joy to children in an easily accessible way while still staying safe. We are continually setting up and planning new and wonderful virtual projects and hope to get more volunteers involved soon! Recently, we had an online video call with a young girl for her 4th birthday. We had volunteers in character on the video call interacting and singing happy birthday. We also provided colouring sheets so she could colour with her favourite princesses. The online call was a success, and she absolutely loved it! This being one of the first live virtual projects we have run, we are continually learning more about this volunteering style and how we could improve to make it both enjoyable for the children and the volunteers.
Of course, our volunteers’ well-being is paramount, so we are continually using different social media forms to recruit and interact with our volunteers and have a designated Well-Being officer. We have an Instagram where we showcase our volunteering activities and their impact on the children we support and run regular fundraising raffles – Just recently, we ran a raffle in conjunction with Swansea University Union’s very own TheDockYard. We advertise weekly volunteering opportunities through our Facebook volunteer’s group and promote various training sessions throughout the year to ensure our volunteers are well equipped to be successful. The training sessions cover a range of safeguarding, activity planning, character training, etc. As a volunteering society, we want to provide exceptional opportunities for students, allowing them to gain the skills to interact with people with additional needs and help sharpen their professional skills while maintaining a fun and care-free element (everyone loves a dress-up every now and then).
Make-A-Smile is all about bringing some happiness to a child’s day, especially in these difficult times. We have seen the positive effects of the volunteering we do from the in-person sessions we ran last year and the responses we have had to our virtual volunteering this year. Make-A-Smile creates smiles on the children’s faces and those of our volunteers, seeing how their hard work affects the children’s lives in such a positive way.
We are looking forward to continuing our volunteering throughout the pandemic, adapting to virtual platforms, and hopefully returning to in-person volunteering sessions again in the not too distant future.
If you like the sound of Make-a-Smile and want to see more, or even get involved with us, check us out on social media.
Facebook: Make a Smile – Swansea
Youtube: Make a Smile