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Award Finalist: Gary Rutherford

Posted on 17 Feb 2015

This week we are introducing you to the five students who have been shortlisted for the Student Volunteer of the Year Award. The winner will be announced at our Parliamentary Celebration on Monday 23 February.

Today, we meet Gary Rutherford, a final year Mental Health Nursing student at Ulster University in Northern Ireland.


Volunteering is an activity that I have worked hard to cultivate in my life. This came as a response to having personally benefitted from the investment of time and resources by others into my own life. Previously, volunteering did not come naturally to me, I was quite a self-serving person with a very insular perspective on life and volunteered my time only if it served my own purposes. However, seeing other people around me demonstrating this quality in their own lives inspired me to help others. Sacrificing my time, personal resources, skills and qualities to help others in my various communities has been an emotionally uplifting experience. In today’s society where budgets are getting slimmer and people’s physical, emotional and social needs are growing, this culture of giving up your time for the benefit of others has never been more important. I volunteer because I can. I volunteer because I want to.

Throughout my time at Ulster University I have been incredibly active on campus. I have organised mental health awareness events, I have acted as student partner and contributor on funded research and I have helped mentor other students and course representatives. I am passionate about enhancing student experience’s whilst studying at University of Ulster and I love to see students take ownership of their learning.

Outside of University, I have volunteered in various ways with a diverse range of organisations. Volunteering with the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust allowed me to facilitate different outings and physical activities to promote physical exercise and social interaction to young people. It has also given me the opportunity to support people in a practical way, enabling them to get involved in activities that they otherwise might not have the opportunity to be involved in. Through my local Church, I volunteered in a yearly “I heart Derry” outreach. This year I helped build a playground for the young people of the Creggan area of Derry, an area with notoriously high levels of social deprivation. I am also an active member of a volunteer program called Street Pastors, helping to provide tea, coffee and emotional support to people on the streets of Derry and A & E on the weekend.

I love a physical challenge and my fundraising campaigns for local charities have been varied. I recently helped Aware Defeat Depression raise almost £600 through a six hour spin session to promote positive mental health in the community. I helped Action with Effect raise money for street children in India by Irish Dancing in a local theatre. My two left feet were very useful on this one. I have also completed five Marathons within 18 months for the Foyle Down Syndrome Trust raising over £7000.

Volunteering has taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined. I developed various skills and push myself out of my comfort zones. Working with children with Down syndrome taught me to be patient, be kind and to laugh. Serving my local community has taught me to respect others from different backgrounds and helped develop positive relationships with the people I do life with. Volunteering with my University has helped me develop transferable skills for future employment and created a sense of ownership for my learning. I hope to think that I have in some way modelled to others how important volunteering is, not just personally but in the wider context.


Follow #SVW2015 on Monday 4-6pm to follow our Parliamentary Celebration event and find out who wins the Student Volunteer of the Year Award!

Gary Rutherford

Gary Rutherford is a final year Mental Health Nursing student at Ulster University in Northern Ireland. He is one of 5 students shortlisted for the 2015 Volunteer of the Year Award.

Categories: Award