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Soamopriya wearing a purple princess dress and crown smiling at the camera ;

Bringing Disneyland to Dalston – volunteering with Make a Smile

Soamopriya Som
MRes Translational Cancer Medicine

15 September 2022

When you hear the word ‘volunteering’, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? Do you think of the warmth of the sun on your skin as you plant away in community gardens? Or of the laughter filled afternoons spent dancing with residents in care homes?

The versatility of volunteering means that there are numerous ways to get involved and the breadth of opportunities available means that there is bound to be something which aligns with your interests – such as the two examples above!

Today I wanted to share my unique experience being a real-life princess while making a meaningful positive impact in the local community through volunteering with Make a Smile.

Make a Smile is a children’s charity founded on the principle that all children deserve to have memorable and enjoyable childhood experiences, recognising that circumstances such as deprivation, illness or disability can sometimes make this difficult. The main mission of the charity is to bring the magic of Disneyland and other enchanted lands directly to these children in an accessible format, as hospitalisation, costs or sensory overload can present a barrier to accessing these experiences.

Soamopriya wearing a purple princess dress and crown smiling at the camera

As a ‘character’ volunteer, my role is to help spread the magic in London by visiting children in hospitals, community centres, care homes and libraries dressed as popular children’s characters such as princesses, superheroes, fairies or Hogwarts wizards! During these visits, I get to carry out a range of different activities such as character storytelling, arts and crafts and dance parties as part of play therapy, which is not only great fun but also very important for the social and emotional development of young children.

Alongside ‘character’ volunteers like myself, there are also other roles available focused on helping to run the charity behind the scenes as an ‘imagineer’ or facilitating activities during visits out of character as a ‘magic maker’. These roles are suited for people who may be nervous about embodying a character or prefer to gain experience relating to running charities.

Every visit I have completed has brought new friendships, adventures and memories and my time volunteering with Make a Smile has played a big part in connecting me with the King’s and local community. As well as improving my emotional wellbeing, the challenge of embodying a character has significantly built upon my confidence as well as transferable skills such as quick-thinking, innovation and attention to detail – all of which are skills highly sought out by employers and beneficial to your degree.

In addition to this, balancing volunteering while being a full-time MRes student and working part time has also strengthened my organisation skills and my ability to manage time effectively, enabling me to enjoy a balanced and fulfilling experience at King’s. Fortunately, managing my role as a volunteer at Make a Smile with my other commitments was facilitated by the fact that visits often took place over the weekend and occurred at a reduced frequency during term times (twice a month). The option to volunteer remotely, at one-off events, fortnightly or monthly events was also very helpful in making volunteering more accessible to myself and other volunteers and is something you should look out for if you’d like to start volunteering but are worried about managing your time.

While I can list countless memorable moments from my time volunteering with Make a Smile, the highlight of every event must be witnessing the joy and excitement take over the children’s faces as they recognise their favourite characters coming in. The experience is truly indescribable, and true to its name, is one that really does make you smile.

Find out more about King’s Volunteering

King’s Volunteering is your one-stop shop for discovering opportunities and building connections with people and organisations that are driving positive change in our local, national and international communities.

From one-off events to regular volunteering opportunities, there's something for everyone. Develop skills and share those you already have while tackling issues that are important to you. Whether you are passionate about the environment, education or mental health, King’s Volunteering can connect you with an organisation and a cause that's right for you

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