Sociology student creating meaningful experiences for disabled youth

25 May 2020

Tauranga sociology student Emma Dalton wants to encourage more students to volunteer with Recreate NZ.

Emma Dalton found the perfect part-time job to work around her studies at the University of Waikato. The role of programme coordinator for the Bay of Plenty branch of Recreate NZ, a provider of social and recreational services to the disability community, was also a good fit for the sociology student’s goal to make a difference in the lives of others.

The focus of Emma’s role is to organise programmes for Recreate NZ participants, ranging in age from 10 to 35, that create meaningful and inclusive social and recreational experiences.

With activities, overnighters, camps and social evenings put on hold during lockdown, shortly after Emma started the job in March, she’s had to get creative online with her team of volunteers and participants.

“It’s been hard for lots of our participants,” says Emma. “We’ve been doing Zoom calls with our young people where we’ve run things like Mother’s Day card making, karaoke sessions and online social hangouts. Last week, everyone was asking when our programmes will start again so there will definitely be demand for activities once we’ve got the all clear.”

She can’t wait to get the programmes up and running again. When they do, more volunteers will be needed, so Emma is using this time to encourage young people to sign up.

For University of Waikato students, the added bonus is that this is a registered Employability Plus Programme (EPP) opportunity – ensuring that the practical skills and experience gained through volunteering are highlighted to help new graduates stand out to prospective employers. The work-ready skills that students could expect to gain from volunteering with Recreate NZ include; leadership and communication skills, flexibility, perseverance and empathy. Such 'soft skills' may look great on the CV, but it's more than that - volunteers also gain a greater perspective of the challenges that disabled youth face every day.

”The organisation’s philosophy is to support young people to live meaningful lives where they are valued for who they are,” says Emma. “Volunteering is all about coming along on our programmes, being a role model and friend to the young people, and encouraging them to get involved and have fun.”

The aim is to have young people supporting young people, so volunteers must be over 15 years old and, ideally, be of a similar age to the participants. The time commitment could be as little as one evening per school term or as much as signing up for every event on offer.

“Previously we’ve done trips to the movies, water parks, zorbing, or further afield to Hobbiton. For any of the activities we do, the volunteer’s participation costs are paid by Recreate NZ,” says Emma.

It’s a dream job for the bubbly 22-year-old who has experience as a residential support worker for adults with intellectual disabilities, and has worked for several years at Ōmokoroa Boat Club teaching kids to sail. She believes she’s struck a good balance with work and study commitments and says the skills she learns at university complement what she’s doing at work and vice versa.Initially, when she completed her studies at Tauranga Girls’ College, Emma opted for a different study path. She enrolled in a Bachelor of Science at Victoria University and took sociology as an elective. She loved the subject so much, she changed her degree to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) majoring in it. Last year, she transferred her BA to the University of Waikato when sociology was offered as a major at the Tauranga campus.

“I moved for the weather, and to be closer to my family and friends. I’m loving studying at the Tauranga campus. The smaller class sizes mean you get to hear everyone’s point of view and ask really specific questions to the lecturers. Also, the diversity of topics covered by papers within each field is great. In just the two semesters I’ve been here, I’ve studied pop culture, Māori politics, crime and health - all within my sociology degree.”

Emma hasn’t settled on a long-term goal yet - whether she’ll pursue a career or continue on to postgraduate study. She’s focused on the ‘now’, doing the best job she can with work and study and encouraging others to give volunteering a go.

“It’s incredibly rewarding and I’d encourage anyone with a bit of time and a lot of enthusiasm to get involved.”

For more information or to register as a volunteer with Recreate NZ visit,

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