Volunteering a win-win for all

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School News

The Animal Rescue Foundation booth was a popular one at the InspirAct Volunteer Youth Fair at Calgary Christian School Secondary Campus.

CALGARY – No one would blame Nicholas Ocon if he begged off on adding to a jammed calendar which already includes schoolwork, student leadership initiatives, band on occasion and soon, badminton.

It’s important, however, that the Grade 12 student from Calgary Christian School Secondary Campus, finds time to volunteer.

“I’ve been so privileged in my life – been given so many opportunities – that it’s important for me to give back to others, and I think this is a way for me to do it,” says Ocon, who most recently volunteered at the Calgary Drop-In Centre.

He was among some 600 students who recently took part in the school’s youth volunteer fair, InspirAct. The event, now in its fourth year, provided secondary school students from Palliser and other Calgary-area schools with access to more than 40 agencies looking for volunteers.

The volunteer fair was born out of the school’s vision, “God’s children making the world a better place.” While many students were already volunteering on their own initiative, school administration saw an opportunity to make such connections even easier to arrange.

“We’re not just in front of students to teach them the core classes, but also give them an opportunity to develop elsewhere,” says Vice Principal Jaden Barthel. “In this particular case, it’s an opportunity to think about someone else, instead of themselves, and realize there are so many opportunities out there both large and small to develop those characteristics that might not be developed in math class.”

The downturn in the economy has seen Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids go from feeding an average of 2,500 school students a day, to about 3,200. Although Jessica Zutz says the community has stepped up to meet that increased demand, it does her heart good to see kids helping other kids.

The special projects co-ordinator, who manned the agency‘s booth at InspirAct, says she volunteered “a ton” from elementary school days through high school, and continues today.

“I think for me – being a young person who had opportunities to volunteer, and who had people open their doors and say ‘come, you are welcome here. You can make a difference. Look at what you are capable of’ – it’s been wonderful to see how that can grow into a career,” says Zutz.

The benefits of volunteering are many, says Charlene Foster, especially for students.

“When students volunteer they are acquiring new skills, and they are also learning about themselves in a new context,” says Foster, a career and academic counsellor with Palliser Regional Schools. “The more students have those opportunities, the more information they have to make decisions going forward.”

Not only can volunteer work provide students with possible career choices down the road, she says it can help when applying for scholarships or looking for paid work.

“An employer that sees a diversity and breadth of experience; someone with a track record of being committed and following through; and with skills they developed during those experiences, that is a benefit,” says Foster.

Volunteering is also a great way to make connections that can lead to further opportunities in the future, and provides students with the work experience most employers are looking for.

“It’s hard to get experience, without experience. But volunteering is one way you can get experience,” she says.

InspirAct was set up in trade show fashion. After first hearing from classmates  on some of their previous volunteer work, participating schools were each given a block of time for students to check out the agencies of their choice.

Foster says the school tries to invite a varied group of agencies, with this year’s participants ranging from summer camps to food banks, and those providing assistance to refugees.

“We want them to catch the idea that there is something for everybody,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what you are interested in. It doesn’t matter what your skills are or even how much time you have. There is something for everybody.”

Barthel says in many cases it’s not that students don’t want to volunteer, they just  need help in making those connections.

Orcon agrees. He started the school’s student volunteer team about a year and a half ago to help introduce students to the various opportunities around Calgary.

“Often times volunteer work can seem intimidating or frightening when you are doing it alone,” he says. “I think the school environment is a great place to start. When you go with a group of fiends it seems easier that way, and then hopefully it is something they can carry on for the rest of their lives.”