A space to shine

3 May 2023 | Articles

Ruchika is smiling and standing in a park wearing a red dress

Starship clinical pharmacist by day, StarJam volunteer by night – Ruchika Tandon is a star in her service to youth. Armed with the ethos “kindness and compassion are the best things we can give to others", Ruchika’s volunteering journey now spans two decades and both hemispheres. She shares her experiences, highlighting the power of movement in helping children connect with their potential.

Ruchika was an early starter to volunteering and credits her parents for being positive role models in this space. While many kids were embracing Pokémon or PlayStation, at age 10 she was busy negotiating meat prices for an SPCA sausage sizzle! Completing the community service component of her high school International Baccalaureate diploma also saw her work with the Blind Foundation and support multicultural events. An unbridled passion for performing, dance and volunteering culminated not only in her work with StarJam, but also in joining Love Volunteers. Through this organisation she completed a creative arts project for disabled children in Ghana in 2022 as well as raising funds for the community.

A space to shine
Since April 2022, Ruchika has been a workshop facilitator at StarJam. StarJam provides performing arts opportunities for young people with disabilities. “Jammers” are brought together through weekly workshops covering dancing, singing, drumming and instrumental music. Ruchika is a volunteer at those workshops and specialises in dance. When describing a StarJam workshop, she says “you can feel the excited energy in there. It’s a space they can be themselves and share their talents”. There is also strong momentum to perform for others, with recent highlights including opening Med Revue, jamming at SkyCity and an end of year performance at Victory.

Tailored approach to creativity and expression
StarJam offers myriad opportunities for the Jammers to express themselves in diverse ways, with a particular focus on the mind-body connection. The check-in at the start of each workshop asks each Jammer how they are feeling. Some might point at facial expressions on a sheet, while others might use the height of their arms as a gauge or share associated movement.

All Jammers are given the opportunity to prepare and perform a 60 second piece through the “Spot the Talent” reoccurring item in the workshop programme. Jammers enter an environment of positivity and encouragement where they receive feedback at the individual level. This helps them to form a sense of identity and community.

The workshop facilitators have a continuous improvement mindset both when designing the workshops but also while running them. Crucial to their success is reading the room and making adjustments on the night where needed. For example, if the jammers are feeling tired in a session, they might play calmer music and play games like “sleeping lions”.

The impact of the workshops is not just limited to getting the creative juices flowing. Jammers develop the confidence to try new things and connect with other people. Some even report that it helps with them staying calm or sustaining attention in other areas of their lives.

Volunteer experience
StarJam volunteers are across the country and work closely with regional coordinators to ensure that they are supported and the workshops are of high quality. Ruchika shares that the ideal volunteer is “open to trying new things, has a sense of fun, likes to work with kids, is creative and above all is passionate about bringing out the best in people”.

Ruchika observes that as we age, we sometimes become less open-minded. By working with children in a professional and volunteer capacity, they inspire her to be present, learn, celebrate and grow. Ultimately, it’s all about “giving people the space to be who they are”.

To learn more about StarJam volunteer opportunities
Volunteering Auckland StarJam roles
StarJam website

- by Caitlin Craigie
Volunteering Auckland volunteer storywriter

Volunteer Stories

Helping young people grow

I had a family friend who supported and mentored me when I was young. I felt that I could give back and that I wanted to give back.