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Strong culture of volunteering helps students succeed

20 June 2014

Strong culture of volunteering helps students succeed

Etta Bollinger came to Victoria University of Wellington to be a successful student, and Vic Volunteers like Phill White have helped her be just that.

Vic Volunteers is a 200-strong group of students and staff, who have been active across the University for 20 years. It began with just 46 volunteers in 1994, with a goal of helping eliminate some of the barriers faced by students with disabilities.

Today, the roles include note-takers, van drivers, walkers, and team leaders who work alongside the staff of Disability Services, who enable Victoria to provide for students with temporary and ongoing disabilities.

Phill, an English Literature and Media Studies student, got involved after a friend told him more van drivers were needed to transport students with disabilities. He put his hand up straight away.

“It’s a great opportunity to interact with other students, rather than just getting on with your own study.”

Born with cerebral palsy, Etta, who is studying German and Sociology, has found that Disability Services put support in place around her study experience, rather than focusing on her disability.

“It takes a lot of effort organising transport and pushing myself all day, and the volunteers allow me to maximise the amount of energy that I have on my study–the reason why I’m at Victoria.”

Although some students volunteer because they like helping others, the long-term benefits are huge says Disability Services Manager Rachel Anderson-Smith.

“When students volunteer for us they often get better grades, focus more in class, gain skills for their CV and it even helps them attend 8am lectures!”

She says the biggest barrier people with disabilities face is the attitude of others.

“Volunteers are renowned for creating good change. We like to think of our volunteers as 200 champions for disability inclusion and awareness and 200 voices against discrimination,” says Rachel.

“We know that when students with disabilities are supported, there is an increase in achievement rates which is comparable to their non-disabled peers.”

The volunteer programme continues to be successful because of the prolonged effort to follow best practice and to run a professional programme, using a formal recruiting process for volunteers and offering continued professional development.

“We are proud of the volunteer culture at Victoria; it has helped Disability Services to be a leading provider of disability advice, expertise and support.”

More than 1000 students at Victoria identify as having some form of disability, a figure that is increasing each year.

“As accessibility of education at Victoria has improved, there has been a steady growth of students with disabilities choosing to study here. It’s fantastic to see the number of volunteers also increasing across all campuses each year.”

16–22 June is New Zealand National Volunteer Week, celebrating the theme “Naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te tangata–With your contribution and my contribution the people will live.”


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