Groundup Features: Jiayou Station
In this edition of Groundup Features: we speak to the co-founders of Jiayou Station, an initiative that aims to provide academic support to students who may not have access to such resources, and to guide them towards realizing their aspirations. Hear from them as they touch on their inspirations, challenges and share their tips for peers who are keen to start their own groundup.
Hey Jiayou Station team, thanks for making time to speak with us. Please share more about yourself!
Jin Jie: Hello, I am Jin Jie (JJ). I just ended my National Service (NS) and I am currently an intern at NVPC’s Centre for Non-Profit Leadership! All of us met in army while we were going through a course. As we began to spend more time together, we asked ourselves how we could make a difference in this society once we graduate from army – which led us to planning for Jiayou Station. At Jiayou Station, I take care of the Volunteer Management team.
Yi Xuan: Hi, I am Yi Xuan. Echoing what JJ mentioned, the five of us met in army and finished our NS in November last year. Jiayou Station was first conceptualized by Yu Cheng and Zi Xuan, who then roped us in to embark on this project. I take care of the Outreach team in Jiayou Station.
Yu Cheng: Hi everyone, I am Yu Cheng. Thank you, JJ and Yi Xuan, for covering the history of Jiayou Station and how we met. A little about myself: I am currently working as a part-time school relief teacher and zookeeper/animal presenter at Night Safari.
We have two other members, Zi Xuan and Chern Ern, who oversee The Void Deck, the knowledge-sharing side of Jiayou Station.
Zi Xuan is also currently working as a school relief teacher. He is an Art student, so he draws and designs a lot. If you look at Jiayou Station’s Instagram page, most of the posts and illustrations are done by him.
Chern Ern is currently doing an internship at his church and is very passionate about serving the community. Chern Ern does the conceptualisation of content for Jiayou Station, found in the write ups on the website which expand upon the content on the instagram page
Thanks for introducing yourselves! Jiayou Station is described as a Peer Mentorship programme. Could you share more about what you do?
Yi Xuan: At Jiayou Station, we support and empower secondary school students. We believe that at this point in their lives, they need to make many decisions which will have a huge impact on their future. We have two main aims – academic and aspirational.
Under the academic aim, we want to help students improve in their various school subjects. These students may not have the resources or motivation to seek the additional help that they require, which is why we hope to provide academic help so they can do better and subsequently gain better self-confidence from the results that they see.
Under the aspirational aim, we want to help students have a better idea of what they want to do in the future. We want to share the various opportunities available to them, be it pre-tertiary education choices or career prospects.
Our programmes are tailored according to our two aims – we have in-person and online tutoring sessions and mentorship. Our vision is to have students achieve both aims simultaneously. While giving them academic tuition, we will also guide them along in making their life decisions.
During the tutoring sessions, we do not want to be perceived as only being a tuition teacher. We want to connect with them on a deeper level and share about how they can see life and their situation in a more positive light. Even though they might be forced to do things they do not want to do, we hope they can see the benefits of it so that it helps form a new direction which they might want to take.
As for the mentorship programme – mentors may be school seniors or volunteers who have travelled a similar path. Mentors will share about their experiences and reflection so that these students are better informed to make a suitable decision for themselves.
Zi Xuan: To add on to what my friends have said, Jiayou Station is really all about having the students feel like there is a senior looking out for their backs. We want to help them feel that if they have any aspirations, little bits of inspiration for their future, or questions about a different lifepath, there is a channel for them to seek out. Ultimately, we want to be there as friends who care about them.
What was the inspiration behind Jiayou Station?
Jin Jie: I think the first spark of inspiration came from Zi Xuan! Back when Zi Xuan was in JC, they had a programme which paired JC students to secondary school students to provide peer mentorship. Zi Xuan felt that the programme, although meaningful, was limiting in some ways. This led to the conceptualisation of Jiayou Station, which we hope can provide all-rounded support to the student community.
Yu Cheng: Adding on, Zi Xuan and I were good friends before Jiayou Station started but what really brought us together to start this project was the book, “This Is What Inequality Look Like”. We do not fully subscribe to all the ideas in the book but there were notable parts of the book that spoke to us. We realised that many of us are living in our own bubbles, especially JC students, in our opinion. There were a lot of information gaps that we failed to observe and notice.
One such example would be the number of Instagram pages and online resources that are dedicated to sharing knowledge on the transition from JC to university. Topics such as applying to university and writing a personal statement are usually covered. Although there is no lack of such knowledge-sharing pages, the issue is that they are only targeting a mere 10% of the student population who have the privilege and opportunity to pick the university course of their choice. There are people we are neglecting by subscribing and enclosing ourselves to this bubble.
So, one thing that really motivated us was the fact that we stepped in, and made baby steps to eradicate this social bubble that we live in. We hope that through Jiayou Station, volunteers will be exposed to a more diverse group of students with different backgrounds. We want them to understand the needs that these students have and the opportunities that they lack.
We really hope to be able to provide holistic growth to these students and to provide them with a role model that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to link up with.
What is one memorable moment you have had so far in your volunteering journey at Jiayou Station?
Yi Xuan: During November and December 2020, it was our planning and outreach phase. We officially launched our programme in January 2021 with our first secondary school partner, holding weekly in-person tutoring sessions.
In my opinion, the things that are always memorable would be the challenges. The most challenging part would be the start – how we established ourselves, developed our plans and reached out to the schools we wanted to support. We sent many emails to the different schools we wanted to help, before we eventually landed our first partnership.
Even though we finally had a partner, it was also very difficult to get things started due to certain restrictions that the school had. We could not proceed with a lot of the programmes that we initially had in mind as we had to tweak the programme according to the school’s guidelines.
The process was difficult because we found out through the pitching and rejecting of our proposal, that their expectation was not aligned with our direction. We had to change our plans to see how we could adapt, to fit their guidelines and our original aim.
Zi Xuan: My memorable moment would be the hydro dipping session we held at our partner school. At the end of every four weeks of tutoring session, we usually have an extra-curricular activity planned out and our first session was for students to hydro dip their pencil cases.
This was memorable because it was the first ever session, and we were not sure if the teachers and students would be receptive to the idea. Leading up to the hydro dipping session, we faced quite several obstacles. We had to try it out ourselves and there were many failures before we were successful. We were also limited by budget constraints which meant we had a limited supply of materials to make do with.
Despite the difficulty, it was fulfilling when we saw the students enjoying the activity and using their new pencil cases.
Yu Cheng: A memorable moment for me is when our volunteer shared about how one of his students, who has never passed Math since Primary 5, clinched an “A” grading after being with Jiayou Station for one month. This served as a large boost of morale for the student. I think that was not the main point but rather, that the student asked our volunteer if they could come for this programme forever.
As these students tend to be unmotivated, for them to get an “A” and to initiate coming for our programme is very touching for us – more so for the volunteers who have put in so much effort.
Jin Jie: This is a memorable moment that happened quite recently! One week ago, a few of our volunteers wrote a song for the students, sang it, and sent it to us. The fact that they put in effort to write a song on their own accord to encourage the students, showed us that we were not only helping the students but also the volunteers. It was very heartwarming to see how we were impacting and supporting one another.
What about challenges? Were there any that you faced along the way?
Jin Jie & Zi Xuan: We were all quite new to the idea of forming an organisation and there were a lot of shortcomings at the start. After the first tutoring session at our partner school, we stayed up till midnight at McDonalds and started criticising our project. We ended up spending six hours trying to find new ways to form our committee and implement an organisation structure.
At the start, it was just the five of us doing everything by ourselves and if there were gaps, we would be rushing to fill that gap. That was when we realized there was a need for us to criticize our project and rethink our processes.
Yu Cheng: The most challenging part so far, was the week before we started our programme with our partner school. This was around end December where we had already confirmed the number of students and volunteer participating. One day, when Zi Xuan and I were confirming details of the programme, we received news that we had to reduce the number of volunteers. Initially we had wanted to bring in 20 volunteers, but that number was reduced to six.
It was hard having to call up the volunteers a few days before the programme, to tell them that they did not have to come down anymore. I felt that it might have destroyed our credibility, especially since these volunteers had placed their trust in us and in the programme.
The silver lining of this challenge was that we learnt to implement a process to follow, whenever we reach out to different stakeholders. We gave ourselves deadlines to ensure that we have time for troubleshooting, should it happen again.
We also struggled with credibility. Initially the school told us that they would not be able to partner us until we acquired endorsement or provided past examples that our programme works. To show that our programme works, we need to have volunteers. However, the volunteers would also ask the same questions on our legitimacy.
This is how we arrive at the chicken and egg problem, where we are unable to satisfy either party. We had to put in a lot of effort to earn the trust of our partners.
Yi Xuan: We faced some logistical and financial challenges as well. We had to procure services like Zoom and virtual whiteboards to ensure that our online lessons were effective. We also had to purchase different sets of materials for each extra-curricular activity that we held. Before we could even buy these materials, we first had to look at the cost involved.
Currently we are funded by the Young ChangeMakers (YCM) grant and Temasek Trust’s oscar@sg fund.
Temasek Trust gives us full subsidy but require a detailed budget proposal. It has to be submitted before we start our project but at that point in time, we can only foresee so much. As we go along and meet more partners, we will have to cater to each organisation’s requirements, and it may not be possible for us to foresee every single cost. So, for budget that we can foresee, it is covered under Temasek Trust’s oscar@sg fund.
For budget that we are unable to foresee, we rely on the YCM grant. However, the YCM grant only covers up to 80% of supported cost. If we have new projects that we want to embark on, we cannot proceed straightaway due to the lack of funds.
Zi Xuan: Figuring out how to present the stories is also a challenge we face. The choices that these seniors picked were made personally, subjectively and with a lot of emotions. Which is why we feel that it is very important to share stories with emotive content. We want to shed light on the perspective of the sharer – what they were going through and what they felt. Ultimately, that is what helps people to make decisions according to values and cores, rather than just objective facts.
With that in mind, our Instagram page presents stories in a very personal way – we even draw comics for the stories to help students visualise and understand the core of the message. It is extremely fulfilling but the creative process is also very draining.
I believe our group has faced a lot of challenges but the one thing we have learnt is to adapt. We learn from our mistakes and find better ways to produce consistent content for the students.
Jin Jie: Adding on to what Zi Xuan has said, setting up an Instagram page for an organisation is basically setting up our promotional avenue. The entire process required a lot of brainstorming and these were challenges that the team did not have experience with. I guess you could say we were like headless chickens since we had no idea what was up ahead, but this has also taught us to react quickly to any problems that we face.
Thank you for sharing so personally about your challenges and the lessons you have learnt! This brings us to our next question. Any other tips for your peers who want to start their own groundup?
Yu Cheng: First and foremost, it is important to have a goal – be it short-term or long-term. Next, come up with a project structure and after, work on the delegation of roles within the team. I think the reason why Jiayou Station has been successful is due to our delegation of work. We try to ensure that the delegated role is assigned to fit the personality of the volunteers.
Getting a structure out and putting the right person in each role is my tip for peers.
Yi Xuan: I think it is important to be adaptable and to have the ability to keep cool. In the nature of things, groundups are usually very involved with the society. Having to interact with different stakeholders will always present one with unpredictable elements.
With external factors in play, we must constantly remain adaptable. However, before being able to adapt, one must also be able to keep cool. There may be obstacles that will come your way but keep calm, look at things objectively and you will be able to find a way forward.
Jin Jie: My advice is to not be afraid. Going through this experience, I wondered if we were considered too young to be speaking with our partners, but we ended up having fruitful communication with them. Know your worth and be daring enough to start a groundup.
Zi Xuan: Start with sustainability in mind! (this was a learning point for us).
What are some of the next steps/future plans for Jiayou Station?
Yi Xuan: Currently we have started work with two secondary schools, and a community club (CC) partnership is on the way. We would definitely like to expand and reach out to more students, so we will continue our work of reaching out to more schools and CCs.
We are also looking at how to sustain Jiayou Station, as the five of us will be starting our university education soon. We are looking at the option of putting together a separate team that can support us in running the operations.
Zi Xuan: Our vision for The Void Deck is to continue creating content that is timeless. We want it to be of value to students, even after we have posted it. We are planning for information kits to be uploaded on our website and to improve website navigation so that students can access it easily.
A lot of the plans will take technical expertise and a clear goal in mind, but these are also exciting opportunities for the knowledge sharing side of Jiayou Station.
Lastly, how do you hope Jiayou Station builds a City of Good?
Jin Jie: I think volunteering and starting our own groundup is like a full cycle. We hope to build a City of Good by nurturing the future generations so that they can pay it forward to help others.
Zi Xuan: A City of Good to me, encapsulates the idea that everyone can help. One of the key things about Jiayou Station that we share with volunteers is that, wanting to help is everything.
Our roles as coordinators are to help as many people, help others, as much as possible. If our peers are unable to volunteer in-person, we get them to share their experiences as a form of helping.
We believe that getting people to start helping is the most critical step. When people start, they sustain themselves and then move on to influence others, which creates a healthy ecosystem.
Yu Cheng: Through Jiayou Station, we hope to create a self-sustaining volunteer community. We should not be hoarding control of every partner we have, but rather to have multiple teams that will serve as account managers to the school they are tagged to.
As they move on with their lives or pick up other commitments, we hope they can then pass the baton on responsibly to the next generation of volunteers. To create a City of Good, we want to involve everybody in the planning process. We want our members to have the opportunity to provide meaningful contributions and inputs.
Yi Xuan: I have something to add regarding City of Good! Many a times, the emphasis of “good” is on the beneficiary. For example, what kind of “good” is delivered to the beneficiary. However, I want to share an alternative viewpoint – the ones who benefit the most, are the ones providing the help.
Take for example, the volunteers we are engaging. At Jiayou Station, we steer them towards the idea of giving back to the society. Once they have done it and incorporated it into their value system, they would be the ones who have benefitted more. Moving forward, outside of Jiayou Station, because they have this experience and it is something within them, they can now spread it to more people in their different circles.
This really emphasizes the City of Good concept.
FUN-FACT TIME! If you had to choose one mode of communication for the rest of your life: phone calls or texts, which would you choose?
Yu Cheng: Phone call for me because it is way more efficient!
Jin Jie: Phone call as well!
Zi Xuan: Texting for me, because I get to use emojis. If I had to choose calls, I cannot get to use my favourite moon face emoji.
Yi Xuan: Phone call too.
Zi Xuan: Oh no! *realising that he is the only one who chose texting*
Jiayou Station is on the lookout for like-minded youth volunteers who are interested to teach, share their experiences or take up management positions.
Head over to https://www.jiayoustationsg.com/volunteer to find out more!
Jiayou Station is looking to collaborate with community organisations. Interested in working with Jiayou Station and the students they support? Drop them an email at email@example.com.
* This feature has been edited for clarity