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“Volunteering with Puddle Jumpers has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Hi, my name is Archie Young and I am currently in Year 11. My Service Learning journey at school has been a very rewarding one. I guess like many boys, I was looking to help others, but wanted to do something I would also enjoy. I sing in the St Peter’s Cathedral Choir as a volunteer, but I love this too much to be able to really class it as my only “service hours”, so was looking for something else to help others less fortunate than myself.  I am hoping to become a teacher when I leave school, so thought working with children would be a good fit for me. I then had a look into child focused charities and decided on Puddle Jumpers as they have a strong focus on supporting children who are in foster care. I have friends who foster two young boys, and it was their amazing journey that led me to decide on Puddle Jumpers.

Puddle Jumpers provide opportunities and support for children and families at risk through holidays and recreational activities and camps which are designed to promote personal, social and cultural growth.  The programs are designed to empower young people and equip them with the skills and confidence to assume more control and make informed choices about their everyday lives.  There is a focus on communication, co-operation, team building, conflict management and problem solving.  Kids attending the camps are giving many opportunities to build on their own self-esteem and confidence.

I have been on a number of camps. You (like I did), may think the kids who come on these camps would be ratty, hyper, noisy or even naughty given their circumstances, but this has not been the case on the camps I have helped with. The kids are usually shy, very quiet and very unsure about everything.

The volunteers and staff on the camps work very hard to help the children settle quickly, each child has a one-on-one Buddy and a backup Buddy for when their Buddy needs a toilet or meal break. They are made to feel safe and secure from the minute they arrive.

The camps have plenty of time for sharing. Each night the children come together in what is called “Ripple Time”.  A bowl of water is placed in the centre of the circle, everyone is given a pebble and the “ripple effect” is explained as each child drops a pebble into the water.  Their actions, their thoughts and their ideas have an impact on those around them and most importantly, on themselves.  We talk about happiness being a choice you can make for yourself. We talk about how their happiness and perspective influences their day to day lives and the lives of those around them. Something as simple as a smile can have a ripple effect. A smile can change someone’s whole day. Puddle Jumpers teaches kids that to be brave enough to start a ripple, even a little one like a smile, can then encourage someone else to be brave and start their own ripple with another smile. Doing something nice for someone without them expecting anything in return is helping to teach children, especially those growing up in difficult circumstances, that acts of kindness start new ripples and these ripples build new relationships and confidence. Some nights on the camps we drop our own pebble in and talk about our own actions, other nights we highlight someone else with our pebble, acknowledging something good another camp member has been seen doing for someone else. For example: “I am dropping my pebble in for Felix tonight. I loved that he helped Kasey put her shoes on before we went on the nature walk today.” These sessions are also used to brainstorm ideas on how to help with problems that arise throughout the day, and we work through emotions that are a result of these issues such as: what is the difference between feeling angry and upset? Which emotion is the right emotion for a particular situation? If you missed out on having a turn on the giant swing today, which emotion of these two emotions would be better to try and show to others?

Many of the volunteers on the camps have been in the Foster Care system themselves and have been on a Puddle Jumper’s Camp as a child, and now want to give back as they understand the importance of the “Ripple Effect” and know that by coming back as a Buddy, they can make a difference in another child’s life.

It is this kindness from these volunteers that I have found this to be the most humbling part of my time with Puddle Jumpers so far.  There are so many of us who have had great childhoods, stable childhoods and lots and lots of opportunities, attending St Peter’s College for our schooling for just a start! Yet, most of the volunteers on these camps have never had the opportunities I have had, and still, they are the ones giving back most often! They tell me it is because they know firsthand how much a camp like this can mean to a child who is struggling in life through no fault of their own. Puddle Jumpers builds them up and encourages them to stay positive despite their circumstances.

As volunteers on the camps we are also supported very well. We all come together once the children area asleep for our own “Ripple Time”. Those volunteers who may still be in Foster Care or who may still be struggling to find their own place in the world, have a safe and supportive place to reflect on their day and volunteers like me have a chance to talk about how we have coped, or not coped with things that have happened and we have the time to thank those around us that have helped throughout the day. One example is, I needed support with a child who wouldn’t eat the meal, and only wanted McDonalds, but thankfully another volunteer who had been working in the kitchen came and sat with us offering the child an alternative to her lasagne, which she did agree to eat. It was teamwork, and I was so pleased this person came over to help, as I didn’t want my Buddy to go to bed hungry, but also knew she had to learn that sometimes you can’t always have what you want right then, right now!

On the last couple of camps I have been on, I have been the only male volunteer. Half the kids on the camps are male. Many of the kids do not have male role models in their lives at all. Many do not see their father as there may be a court ruling stopping this, the father is in prison or some fathers choose not to be a part of their own child’s life. Puddle Jumpers (and all charities that help families) really need both male and female volunteers, who can act as a positive role model for all kids.

I can’t begin to explain how much I have learnt and been given in return as a volunteer. I have new friends, new skills, new knowledge of the people living in my own community and many, many new experiences I would not have had without volunteering. Volunteering with Puddle Jumpers has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Volunteering for Puddle Jumpers has given me far more than I have been able to give them so far. I hope to continue with their organisation in the future and when I am in a position to help them financially I would also like to do this, but for now, just giving them some of my free time each holidays is all they ask. They are so grateful, so appreciative and so welcoming that you can’t help but be so happy to have put your hand up to help kids in need.

If my experience has sparked an interest in volunteering for a camp, and you would like to know more or just want to sign up and become a volunteer, please feel free to come and chat with me anytime. I have also included the information about the upcoming camps as I find it helpful to be able to plan ahead and around other important things (like Rowing camps!).

Click here to read about the upcoming camps.

Thanks for reading.

Archie Young
Year 11 student