Volunteering at university isn’t just about your CV

by Niamh O'Toole
August 2022

Niamh, a lesbian and a Just Like Us ambassador

Volunteering at university was something I decided to do just as I was about to begin my master’s degree at the University of Manchester last summer.

I was looking for opportunities on my university’s volunteering hub, when I found a post from Just Like Us. The charity was looking for ambassadors to tell their stories growing up LGBT+ in schools.

I’d been searching for volunteering opportunities, as I was looking for ways to improve my CV. The pandemic also meant I was hardly able to leave my room in my final year of undergraduate. But I was looking for a way to give back, meet people, and to just feel more involved in the LGBT+ community.

Volunteering at university with Just Like Us

Through volunteering with Just Like Us, I’ve had so many amazing opportunities. Over the last year I have done numerous online and in-person school talks, speaking about allyship and growing up LGBT+.

Each opportunity has given me a new chance to talk to and educate young people on being LGBT+. While it can sometimes feel challenging to share my story, it’s definitely worth it every single time.

Niamh does LGBT volunteering in Manchester
Niamh does LGBT volunteering in Manchester with Just Like Us

I always imagine what it would’ve been like if teenage me walked into assembly and heard someone talk about being LGBT+. Inclusive education is so needed.

It feels like every day the news is filled with stories of homophobia and transphobia. School talks are an amazing opportunity to spread messages of hope and positivity.

LGBT+ representation

The only LGBT+ people I knew of at school were celebrities or influencers. By volunteering with Just Like Us, I can show pupils that LGBT+ people exist in all walks of life. They’re able to see that their futures can be happy and fulfilling, no matter which route they take. And they can see that LGBT+ happiness is not reserved only for famous people!

Just Like Us has also given me the opportunity to be interviewed by BBC Radio 5 and BBC Radio Manchester. I spoke on air about the challenges young people face when coming out.

I have also had articles published with PinkNews and Gay Times about my identity and my favourite book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I’ve even spoken on the Gay Times’ Instagram about Anne Lister, one of my favourite historical figures.

It’s always an amazing feeling to be able to share my experiences with others. Using your voice is one of the key things you get to do on Just Like Us’ Ambassador Programme.

Volunteering at university can be flexible

Another amazing part of volunteering with Just Like Us during my studies was the amount of flexibility I had with my time. During my master’s degree, I also worked on the weekends, so I had a very busy life!

“I’ve really enjoyed volunteering alongside my studies over the last year.”

Volunteering with Just Like Us meant I could sign up for talks on days when I didn’t have classes. It also meant that if there were a few particularly stressful weeks where I had a lot of deadlines, there was no expectation to do school talks, and I was able to take some time out to focus on my essays.

I’ve really enjoyed volunteering alongside my studies over the last year. That’s because giving school talks is a good break from studying and working. I could also do something I enjoyed while feeling that I was making a difference.

Volunteering at university has given me so much confidence

Over the last year, I have also gained so much confidence. Not only am I now more comfortable talking in front of large groups of people (including answering questions some students have about being LGBT+ or LGBT+ identities), but I have also found myself being able to discuss my experiences with my friends and family more easily.

“Volunteering with Just Like Us is definitely an experience I would recommend to other LGBT+ students.”

I have also been able to work with and meet some great people with so many different experiences and backgrounds. I feel more a part of a community of people, which is something I felt I was really missing before I became an ambassador.

Volunteering with Just Like Us is definitely an experience I would recommend to other LGBT+ students. Not only does it make a difference to young people in schools, but it can also make a difference in your own life too.

It can maybe seem really daunting at first – talking about something which can be so personal in front of a classroom or assembly hall. But every time I finish a talk, I know I’m a part of making a huge difference to the lives of young people growing up LGBT+.

Volunteer at university with Just Like Us

We’re looking for volunteers to join our Ambassador Programme.