This Volunteers' Week (1-7 June), The Donkey Sanctuary is celebrating the amazing people who give us the gift of time.

One such hero is Emily McCarron, who was recently awarded a prize recognising her dedication, after being nominated by staff.

The 22-year-old volunteers at the our Ivybridge sanctuary, where donkey facilitated learning sessions are used to help vulnerable people.  Emily is involved with every aspect of volunteering, from grooming the donkeys to helping at events and speaking to visitors about the work of the charity.

“I was very shy when I started [volunteering]," says Emily, who suffers from epilepsy and autism, "but I gained a lot of confidence being around people and knowing I was helping children just like me. When the children are with the donkeys and I see them do or say things for the first time it makes me very happy and it can also be quite emotional.”

Emily’s confidence improved so much that in November 2017 she was able to give a speech to over 250 staff at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth after receiving a ‘Golden Bray’ award in recognition of her outstanding contribution. Emily explains: “It was difficult for me to stand on stage and talk in front of so many people but I was proud and felt I should talk about my journey. I wanted everyone to realise that people with autism and epilepsy can do anything and live like everybody else.”

Naomi Kinsman, centre co-ordinator at The Donkey Sanctuary in Ivybridge, said: "Emily has blossomed over the last four years into a charismatic, reliable and devoted member of the voluntary team who never seeks the recognition she so evidently deserves, which is why we nominated her for a Golden Bray. She is always happy to help and the donkeys love her."

Emily started at The Donkey Sanctuary in 2013 as a student on a weekly work placement whilst on an animal care course. She had worked with horses before but soon learned how donkeys are very different. Like the hundreds of other volunteers, she loved the work so much she stayed. She has now completed Donkey Care Stage 1 and 2 at The Donkey Sanctuary’s training centre near Sidmouth.

As Sara Blair-Salter, volunteer manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, explains: "Our volunteers are an amazing part of our team - they play a huge role in delivering some of our key programs, either directly or behind the scenes, ensuring we can fulfill our mission for donkeys. Volunteers donate precious time and give extra support to the donkeys, visitors and service users and help to generate the income we need to carry out our vital work.

"They are helping to educate people on the work we do, so we can raise the status of donkeys and improve their welfare worldwide. In 2017 alone, they donated a staggering 44,626 hours (minimum), which equates to £379,180. They truly are human gold."

The most popular volunteering roles at the charity are Quality Time Volunteers (QTVs) - those who work in direct contact with the donkeys, grooming and caring for them - but there are countless others, from home-knitters who produce hundreds of cute, woolly toys for sale in sanctuary gift shops, to car parking attendants facilitating events and customer assistants in shops and restaurants.

Volunteers’ Week (1-7 June) is a UK-wide programme designed to celebrate the contribution that volunteers make to the workforce. The Donkey Sanctuary cherishes its small ‘army’ of volunteers – currently standing at 503. From trustees and campaigners to donkey-carers and fundraisers, volunteers make a huge, diverse and invaluable contribution to the work of the world’s leading equine welfare charity.

Could you volunteer?