That’s what Pals are for

Was at an AGM last night of a West Berkshire based organisation called PALS (Partners for Active Leisure). They run activities for special needs young people or provide volunteers for those young people to help them take part in mainstream activities. PALS recruit volunteers (most of them teenagers), train them and they then deliver the service alongside the two paid co-ordinators. It was an encouraging AGM and presentation, PALS has built great links with several schools locally both for volunteer recruitment and a couple of Private schools where the younger pupils help host events at their schools. Millenium volunteers in West Berkshire have also been actively promoting volunteering with the scheme.
Blogable bit is this: I’m not aware of any of the committee having a youth work background or there being any direct youthwork input, however there’s some fantastic youth work happening. It seemed to me that some very good youth work practice has evolved quite naturally out of a young person centred approach.
The Young people themselves play a part in the decision about what activities are run, in the group sessions that they do there is a considerable amount of ownership and involvment, for e.g some of the PALS had asked to do some cookery so were then involved in menu planning, shopping and obviously the actual cooking. (Most encouraged by this because I still see a lot of client-provider youth work where planning, delivery and evaluation rests largely with the leaders).
In terms of the volunteers too, really good youth work. The volunteers have a compulsory training programme before they can be involved but then have real responsibility, they can also grow into being a senior volunteer with additional training and responsibility as well as then having a mentoring role for the new volunteers. They meet regularly without the young people in order to discuss, get feedback and build team. The volunteers gain an enormous amount from all aspects of involvment, not least working with a group of young people they may not even have come into contact with otherwise. The volunteers are highly motivated, confident and obviously enjoy what they do. As is always evident in good work with young people, there was a good level of humour. Having been on one of their outings I know why. If you’ve not ice skated at a rate of knots around a rink while pushing someone in a wheelchair with both of you whooping with delight and exhileration, you’ve missed an important experience!