To mark the end of Volunteers' Week, Chief Executive, Tim Ramsey, shares why our Just Like Us Ambassadors are so inspiring.
When I first explained the model for Just Like Us to people, there was a common criticism: no one was going to get up 6.30am, walk twenty minutes to a bus, travel forty-five minutes to a school and then deliver a workshop.
They'd say this even before I’d mentioned that those “people” happened to be students. At that point, it was game over. There was no way a lazy group of students would do this voluntarily.
Two years later, Just Like Us has trained over 100 LGBT+ students to be relatable role models for kids in schools. As volunteers, they complete three days of training, spend hours planning and refining their workshops or talks, and give up their time to visit schools to champion LGBT+ equality.
I’m always inspired by the energy and commitment of our ambassadors. Whenever I ask what motivates them to volunteer, time and time again, it’s the desire to be the role model they never had growing up, that one person who could have let them know they could be proud of who they were.
Many of our ambassadors, like me, spent most - or all - of their time at school terrified by the thought of coming out or being outed. I certainly never imagined I’d ever tell anyone, let alone say “I’m gay” in my school.
The thought of coming out to a group of school students can be terrifying. I remember one volunteer who wrote to me during training explaining that, although they didn’t feel confident enough in themselves or about public speaking to visit a school, they wanted to continue their training in the hope of overcoming it.
A couple of months later, I went to see this ambassador do their first talk. They’d been up since six to practise and prepare themselves. For the whole bus journey, they didn’t say a thing and were visibly nervous.
But when they shared their story, they spoke with such confidence, humour and honesty that every student in that class was mesmerised. After they’d finished, one student came up to the ambassador and thanked them for sharing their story because they’d never had a role model they could relate to.
It was inspiring to see this ambassador not just overcome their nerves, but deliver one of the best sessions I’ve seen.
All our volunteers put themselves through this same experience. It’s one of the things that makes our volunteers such inspirational people - opening up about bullying, mental health and some of their most vulnerable moments takes great courage.
So this volunteer week, I want to say a huge thank you to our ambassadors for their commitment, openness, and enthusiasm. It’s because of you that young people in so many schools grow up with the knowledge so many of us never had: that being LGBT+ won’t hold you back from having an awesome life and realising your dreams.