By Jade Clarke, Aylesbury Youth Action
When I first got involved with youth volunteering charity Aylesbury Youth Action at the age of 14, it was motivated almost exclusively by the need to meet the volunteering requirement of my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Five years later, I’m 19 and the youngest Trustee the organisation has ever had. So how did this happen, and how do I go about being a Trustee whilst still being a volunteer within the charity?
While I was signing up for my first project (gardening for a local disabled lady), the path was already being laid for young Trustees of AYA. In order to strive towards an objective of being youth-led, the existing Trustees decided to convert the charity’s structure to a CIO and begin accepting Trustees aged over 16. Initially, I felt somewhat detached from the idea – when I was asked to participate in a poll on whether 16-year-olds should be allowed to be Trustees I had to ask my mother what a Trustee was. But as the concept was discussed more with volunteers, and as I became involved in more and more projects, I began to wonder whether I should give being a Trustee a go.
Throughout my volunteering journey I became increasingly interested in the work going on behind the scenes. I became part of the Management Advisory Committee, a board of volunteers who met regularly to discuss how projects were going. I started asking questions when I was in the office: where do grants come from? How do finances work in a not-for-profit organisation? Eventually, the decision was finalised and the paperwork done to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to become official Trustees of AYA. All that was needed was one volunteer to be the first to make the jump.
So I did.
Step by Step
I went along to a couple of board meetings before committing myself – partly to get used to the idea of what being a Trustee would truly mean, and partly to see how other board members would react to having a teenager in their midst. All were accepting, kind and patient, and the age gap wasn’t as great as I had anticipated: the then youngest Trustee was only in her twenties, and fitted seamlessly into the group. After a few months, the AGM came around and, aged only 17, I was officially appointed as a Trustee.
Despite my increased involvement in the charity, I was – and am – still able to volunteer on projects. The contradiction of me being simultaneously above and below the Manager is simply a non-issue. In meetings, I’m a Trustee and treated the same as other board members. On projects, I’m just another volunteer, interacting with project workers the same way as I always have… despite the fact that by the time I sat my A Levels I had been involved in the recruitment of two staff members, including the current Manager.
Being a Trustee fitted easily around school and, more recently, university. Meetings don’t begin until 7:45pm and are currently planned to fall neatly within university holidays, but the use of video conferencing has been discussed in case dates change and I’m still at university on a meeting day. I travel home for big events such as the annual Celebration Evening, but can deal with everyday tasks and emails from my room in halls.
As well as the obvious experience and CV benefits I gain from being a Trustee, my role has given me invaluable knowledge of the charitable sector. Being both a Trustee and a volunteer has helped me narrow the gap between the two, facilitating greater awareness among fellow volunteers of how the charity functions. As AYA ages, I will age with it. But new young Trustees will come in to take my place, introducing more new values and ideas. And I, along with the rest of my organisation, am excited to see where that will lead.