Volunteer fair offers benefits for students

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InspirAct was a chance for students to find out the many volunteer opportunities available to them.

CALGARY – The nature of volunteering may seem like ‘all give and no take,’ but Madeleine Kline knows differently.

The Grade 11 student heads up the volunteer team at Calgary Christian School’s Secondary Campus, which on this day meant helping out with the annual InspirAct youth volunteer fair. Now in its fifth year, the event provided about 800 students from six schools and three different school divisions with volunteer opportunities at more than 40 Calgary organizations.

Kline was inspired to join the school’s volunteer team last year after attending a WE Day event. She has come to realize that volunteering provides some great rewards.

“It’s just really interesting how volunteering can impact you, how it can give you so many good life experiences, and how it can help you get a good glimpse of the world before you go into it,” says Kline, who was greeting volunteer organizations as they arrived for InspirAct.

While she has a passion to work with young children – perhaps in a summer camp setting – volunteering at the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre provided Kline with a perspective she wouldn’t otherwise have.

“You might think homeless people are kind of scary or mean but they’re so nice and so incredibly thankful for the volunteers and just want to talk and stuff,” says Kline. “Everyone has a story and of course, they just didn’t become homeless.”

Cara Milne has been a parent-volunteer every year since the inception of the event. She has two daughters attending Calgary Christian Secondary and says the whole family makes a point of volunteering, including time at the Sonshine Centre women’s shelter.

“They very quickly learned those women looked just like their neighbours,” says Milne. “They don’t personally have a lot of those adversities, so how do you help your kids understand what is out there in the bigger world and how they can contribute?”

Every Grade 9 student at Calgary Christian Secondary must put together a Passion Project. With no burning desire yet to tackle a particular cause, Gus Bradford was steered towards InspirAct. He helped set up the registration process, supervised set up, made sure lunches were supplied for each booth and picked up litter around the school gym.

Bradford says the fair inspired him to check out the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award program and he definitely see the upside of volunteering now.

“Like one of the Animal Rescue Foundation ladies said, all of her friends she made from volunteering. People who volunteer are typically nice people that you can get to know easily, and they want to make a difference in the world,” he says, adding volunteering teaches life skills and looks great on a job resume or university application.

The InspirAct youth volunteer fair was set up in a trade show fashion. After hearing first from fellow students about their previous volunteer work, participating schools were each given a block of time to check out the agencies of their choice.

While much of Milne’s volunteer work with InspirAct involves signing up other schools to participate, she’s impressed with the reputation the event has with volunteer agencies.

“They are such fans. When one of the organizations asked where my daughters went to school and I told them, they said ‘oh my gosh, you guys put on the best youth volunteer fair’ and that it was the only event they do all year,” says Milne.

As a parent, she hopes InspirAct helps students realize the vast array of volunteer opportunities available to them, and that their help is invaluable whether it is a few hours or a matter of days. Milne notes organizers also look for opportunities to step back and let students take greater responsibility for the youth fair.

“I think our school tries very hard to help kids grow up thinking this is part of their role in the community; that you contribute in whatever way makes sense for you,” she says. “I’m proud of our school.”