In little over a year Matt Harris has clocked up more than 300 hours volunteering his time to support those with a disability improve their lives through sport and exercise.
The dedication of the 19-year-old Sports Development student at the University of Sunderland has led to him achieving a recent Sunderland Caring for Carers Award, following on from his previous award – Volunteer of the Year, awarded last year by the University.
“I certainly don’t do this for the awards,” said Matt, from Washington, adding, “but I was very flattered to be recognised because you’re nominated through those people you’re supporting. It made it more special, coming from their appreciation of the work you do with them.
“I just hope it encourages others to do the same. There needs to be more young people volunteering to support those who need it most.”
Matt became hooked on helping others when he was required to include 10 hours of volunteering time as part of his degree course in his first year. The experience fueled his passion for volunteering and he continued coaching a group of adults with varying degrees of disabilities, through Headway, the Brain Injury Association, in CitySpace, the University’s sports and social centre.
Matt explained: “I had never volunteered before, but knew I always wanted to help others so I started with adult disability, completed my 10 hours and loved it. I kept it going and began tailoring programmes for people who had varying degrees of abilities, both mental and physical.
“It’s an hour in the gym and an hour football, you tailor the programme to fit around their ability level. This has now led to me supporting children with special needs from Sunderland’s Portland Academy school, it’s hugely satisfying.”
Every year Sunderland Carers Centre hosts their ‘Caring for Carers’ Awards. This year the ceremony took place at the Stadium of Light as part of The Carers Rights Day celebrations. The ceremony celebrated 21 individuals or organisations, including Matt, for their day-to-day support and recognition of carers.
Matt volunteers alongside Matthew Lyons, the Head Community Coach at the University and works in the area of adult disability, which includes Headway Wearside Brain Injury Group, as well as various groups including youth offending, probation and the homeless.
The coach said: “Matt brings a vibrancy to our groups that I have not had for many years, his selfless devotion to those who he helps shines through and his ability to adapt to the clients’ individual needs is fantastic. Nothing is too much for him and he is a credit to this university and a very special person indeed.”
Dr Ian Whyte, Team Leader and Principal Lecturer in Sport and Exercise, added: “This is a fabulous award for Matt as it recognises work in the community that often goes unsung.
“Sport and Exercise Sciences courses at the University of Sunderland strive to ensure that our students get as many opportunities as possible to apply their course work to real-life situations. Volunteering is one key way that we achieve this. Matt’s achievements in this area have been outstanding and attests to his work ethic and commitment allied with the support that he has received from University staff.”
With a love of sport Matt, a footballer, kickboxer and long-distance runner, joined the University from Sunderland College, to study Sports Development and has never looked back.
“I thought initially about joining the police, and had also been looking around for apprenticeships, but really liked the look of the course at Sunderland, as I’m interested in all aspects of sport, coaching and teaching,” he said. “I’m so glad I made that decision, as I have achieved so much since starting the course.”