Student volunteering during university has been widely championed for its purported benefits to both students and society alike. Internationally, universities have increasingly coupled student volunteering opportunities or embedded forms of service learning with sport-for-development programmes (SFD) as a means of contributing to strategic institutional objectives. However, there is a paucity of academic research that documents the social processes experienced by students as they converge with hard-to-reach client groups when volunteering on university-led SFD platforms. Therefore, and utilising data captured from semi-structured interviews (n=40), this article explores the lived experiences of undergraduate students who volunteered on a sports-based community outreach project: the Sport Universities North East England (SUNEE) project. Largely run by student volunteers, the SUNEE project delivers a raft of sports-based and personal development programmes to hard-to-reach groups. This article utilises Victor Turner’s concepts of liminality and communitas to illustrate the processes of initiation and integration that confer both membership upon student volunteers and their legitimacy as leaders, when working with the hard-to-reach clientele on the project.