Young people just want to be heard

Youth work volunteer EMMA BRENNAN, aged 24, from Mallow, is sharing her personal story of how youth work volunteering changed her life, as part of the National Youth Council of Ireland’s ‘Community is You’ volunteer recruitment drive
Young people just want to be heard

Youth work volunteer, Emma Brennan, from Mallow, County Cork.

I HAVE volunteered with The Big Blue Cube CDYS (Cloyne Diocesan Youth Services) in Mallow since 2018. I started volunteering after I finished my 2nd year student placement in college. I decided to stay involved with The Big Blue Cube because I had developed good relationships with so many young people involved in the service.

If I had a long day in college, I would always look forward to coming down and seeing the young people and hearing about how their week is going. 

We might talk about school, family, friendships, problems they’re facing and the list just goes on.

I find a lot of the time young people want to talk about their problems but don’t necessarily want you to solve them. They just want to know they have been heard.

I have volunteered in various aspects of The Big Blue Cube and have enjoyed the variety. I have taken part in youth cafés, santa’s grottos, summer camps and FoodCloud. I have always been able to tailor my volunteering around my own work schedule.

Some weeks I can give more time than others but it is all about finding the right balance. I enjoy volunteering in the Big Blue Cube and have developed great friendships with the staff and other volunteers involved in the centre.

I love finding something in common with young people. When you find something in common it allows for a meaningful relationship to develop. 

It can be a similar taste in music, a TV show, or sport. It gives you something to talk about and you both have an interest you can develop further together.

Over the years, I have seen young people grow and develop. I have seen some of them at their lowest and equally I have been there for their highs. I have seen them stressing about school and friendships and watched them grow to learn how to cope and manage these stressful situations and come out stronger.

Being a young person today is probably the most difficult time to be a young person. The last two years have been very difficult for everyone, but I think it was particularly difficult on our young people. We moved online to support young people and there was great buzz and excitement when we first went on Zoom. As time went on you could see the changes in young people’s moods and how the pandemic was affecting them.

The first Covid-19 summer was probably one of my favourite summers with our young people. Because of restrictions we had to meet outside and this meant we were meeting in the local park. The fun and laughter we had that summer was something else. 

After a tough few months of lockdown and not seeing each other in person, everyone was just delighted to be reunited. 

You would think my favourite summer volunteering would consist of some trip abroad or loads of action - packed day trips, but it wasn’t. It was meeting our young people in the park because you just didn’t know what you would be doing.

One day we just sat in a circle and sang; we went around and different young people just showed off their talent. It was amazing to see because it wasn’t a music group, but it was just what they were feeling that day.

Another moment that summer was a simple game of soccer. I am a competitive person so I always need to remind myself it is only a bit of fun, but the young people love seeing your competitive side and they do try to tap into that side of me every now and again.

The young people I volunteer with are always so appreciative and they understand that I am there as a volunteer. They recognise that I give up my own time to be there and are always supportive in everything I do. 

I would urge anyone who would like to volunteer to contact their local youth service and sign up. I have not regretted a minute of volunteering because I have met amazing young people and have made some amazing friends.

The motto of my primary school was “Mól an óige agus tíocfaidh sí”, which means “Praise young people and they will flourish”. I now understand and believe this seanfocal from working with young people since 2018. I volunteer with fantastic young people in The Big Blue Cube CDYS in Mallow and they are only going to get better. I think our future is in very safe hands with them.

NYCI is calling for people with all kinds of experience and skills to sign up and get involved with volunteering for their local youth groups. The call is in response to a 64% drop in youth work volunteer numbers due to the pandemic. If you’ve been inspired by youth work volunteer Emma Brennan’s personal story, you can find out more about youth work volunteering and opportunities at

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