In February, we were very pleased to welcome Luke Morgan, a St David’s alumnus, who spoke to some of our students about his new project Make a Smile.

We spoke to Luke to find out more about what he's been up to since he left St David's, and to learn a bit more about his new charity.

To find out more about this fantastic project please visit their Facebook page.

You were at St David's from 2013 to 2015, what did you study while you were with us?

I studied A Level Chemistry, A Level Biology, A Level Maths, AS History and Welsh Baccalaureate as part of the Honours Programme.

Why did you choose Cardiff University to study Medicine?

The medical course at Cardiff is revolutionary, balancing clinical experience with biomedical knowledge. It provides a fantastic small group scenario in which the patient is the focus of the learning and uses full body dissection as a teaching tool, something very few universities still do. I have always enjoyed working with people as their differences provide a variety that is difficult to find elsewhere. This, allied with an innate desire to help, makes studying medicine at Cardiff perfect for me.

What inspired you to start the Make a Smile project?

I was invited to a similar project a few years ago but unfortunately while the concept was excellent, I felt that the execution could be improved and thus Make a Smile was created. This is why one of the core aims for Make a Smile is to be professional as I have seen it done very unprofessionally in the past and this means that the children have a diminished experience.

Can you tell us a bit more about the project?

We are a student-led charity that is comprised of mostly Cardiff University medical students. Our volunteers dress as popular children's characters and visit children that have been affected by hardship. We believe that this hardship can result in children maturing faster than they would otherwise and missing out on a key part of their development.

"Therefore, Make a Smile is about giving children the opportunity to forget about hardship for a few hours and enjoy being a child."

We have done work for a number of charities, play groups and hospitals, working with a range of children with illness, disability and deprivation.

How long have you been doing this?

I started it back in about June 2017 with a few of my friends and some very cheap costumes that I managed to buy off the internet. I managed to convince a few of my friends (particularly Disney lovers) that it would be a fantastic idea. After that I spent many an hour emailing and calling places to try and arrange an event.

There was a lot of difficulty early on as not many places seemed to grasp the concept but eventually we managed to find a few places that were keen to have us visit. After a few successful visits, despite issues in availability of volunteers, we managed to start to make a name for ourselves and get a better understanding of how we could move forward.

As the next University year rapidly approached, I realised the friends I had in Cardiff would be moving back to university and Cardiff University itself held potential for helping Make a Smile to advance.

At about the start of August I drafted a constitution, wrote down all of the experience I had picked up in how I felt things should be run and created the procedure handbook. I then got in touch with the Cardiff University Volunteering Department and formed a collaboration with them. Since then, the number of volunteers, number of events we appear at and quality of costumes has improve exponentially.

What are your aims?

We believe that all children deserve a childhood and understand that illness or disability can make this very difficult for some children. Our goal is to help these children to enjoy their childhood.

"We endeavour to be professional, forward-thinking and well trained but hold at the forefront of our practice that fun is the number one priority for both children and volunteers."

How can we help?

We are always looking for more volunteers and we are always in need of donations.

We hope that the students at St Davids can attend events during the holidays when we are short on volunteers as most of our volunteers are university students that move home for the holidays. This would allow us to run events throughout the year and not just during term time. Currently during the holidays I am still reliant on a few of my friends who are often away or busy.

What skills will our students develop by volunteering?

University, medical school and jobs all look for a number of factors. I feel Make a Smile hits a number of points that they’re looking for. Good people skills and communication form the basis of Make a Smile as volunteers are expected to become a character and hold conversations and interact with a range of different people with different beliefs, backgrounds and forms of communication.

Body language is a key part of this as we teach volunteers how to interact with children that place more emphasis upon non-verbal communication. Being able to think of your feet is also a vital skill as children will always do something unexpected or ask a difficult question, this makes for some fantastic interactions if volunteers are capable of improvisation. These are both skills that are vital within an interview as well as in the workforce.

In terms of other factors that Make a Smile demonstrates, it can be used to show teamwork and altruism as volunteers give up their time to work together and deliver a fun and creative environment for children.

Finally we provide volunteers the opportunity to take on a committee role or after completing 20 hours of events, they are able to act as a lead volunteers, working to organise an event and manage a small group of volunteers.

"More importantly in my opinion, Make a Smile is very different to what most people talk about in interviews, etc. so helps a lot for standing out, something that I have found to be crucial within competitive environments."

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