The need for credits and experience are drawing more kids to volunteer.
Before Amanda – a student in Grade 10 – started volunteering at a local historical village, her life revolved around school and friends her own age. At the village, however, she found herself working with a much older crowd. But that was okay with her. “Working with older people has broadened my view of the world and shown me that I can relate to people of any age,” she says.
Some students may grumble about the 40-hour community involvement requirement needed to graduate from high school in Ontario, but not Amanda. She, like many kids, has discovered that volunteering can be an opportunity to gain valuable experience that not only looks good on a resume, but can also help open the door to university.
In fact, volunteering opens up many doors for students, says Susan Ramey, president of the Association of Managers of Volunteer Services. “It introduces them to the larger community, thus broadening their perspective and benefiting them in many ways.” These benefits include meeting new people, improving communication skills and developing leadership and project management skills.
Finding the right fit
How do students find the right volunteer fit for them? Ramey advises students to start by making a list of their interests, such as helping animals. Then the student should contact local groups and organizations that best match their interests.
There are many sectors in need of volunteer help, including:
- Health care – Volunteers can help in patient-care areas, in laboratories, in x-ray departments, in the gift shop, or by doing clerical work.
- Animal care – Students with an interest in animals might find volunteer work at an animal shelter or zoo – cleaning cages, caring for the animals, preparing food, walking dogs, socializing animals, or helping with the laundry.
- Environment – Volunteers can plant trees, pick up garbage or help build and maintain nature trails.
- Libraries and cultural organizations – Libraries, historical villages, art galleries, theatre groups, festivals and others often need volunteers to guide tours, shelve books, take tickets, help with children’s groups, or work behind the scenes.
- Education – Students can tutor after hours, help with the breakfast club or help organize a food drive.
- Seniors – Seniors’ residences often need volunteers for friendly visiting, helping residents with their meals, or assisting with a recreation program.
Ramey suggests that older students stretch themselves beyond their comfort level with their volunteering. “Students in Grade 12 should think about volunteering in career-related areas. For instance, a student who wants to be a teacher could volunteer at a learning disabilities association, or tutor for a literacy agency. That way she can give to the organization, while finding out if it’s really work she wants to do.”
How to go about it
“Most organizations have a system in place for accepting volunteers and training them,” explains Ramey. “It’s similar to applying for a job; volunteers must fill out an application form and be interviewed.”
Some communities have volunteer fairs where agencies, service groups, hospitals, nursing homes and faith organizations that are looking for volunteers display their information. Students can also find volunteer work by checking their school’s volunteer bulletin board, by asking relatives, friends and teachers about their volunteer connections, by looking in the local newspaper, or by contacting a volunteer centre.
Amanda offers her take on what volunteering has done for her. “I used to be quite shy,” she says, “but being in different situations has shown me that I can do anything, all I have to do is try.”
Other Ideas for Volunteering
- Nature organizations such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada or Ontario Nature use volunteers regularly to work on conservation projects in natural areas. Planting trees, doing bird surveys, developing trails and restoring wetlands are some of the jobs that volunteers do. To find out more, visit www.ontarionature.org and click on “Volunteer for Nature.”
- Students can research charities, such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, or United Way, to establish a fundraiser at their school. They could present information about the charity and its work.
- Students can explore the service clubs in their community and find out if they have ongoing projects in need of volunteer assistance.
- Volunteer Canada has some excellent resources on youth volunteering. Find out more by visiting www.volunteer.ca.