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Why I embraced virtual programming: How I learned and connected with peers online during Youth @ the Table

In a time where virtual volunteering is the new norm, young people looking for opportunities to give back or connect may wonder what being part of a virtual community is like. How do you keep people engaged online? What about tech issues?

In its pilot year, Youth @ the Table convened eight youth from regional communities on Zoom each month, forming Y@TT’s Virtual team. In this guest blog, Alexis Holmgren, a virtual team alumna, shares her perspectives and insights on meeting remotely.

Why I Joined Youth @ the Table

What excited me the most about Y@TT was the opportunity to partner with a nonprofit board. I was eager to learn more about how nonprofits run and what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ in boardrooms. I previously had experience serving on councils and committees, and I wanted to expand on this experience.

I was drawn to apply, additionally, by my ingrained love for volunteering and desire to make a difference. As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, I was thrilled that a program existed to prioritize youth and youth voices at the decision-making tables of Alberta’s nonprofit sector.

Being on a virtual team

When I found out that I would be on a virtual team, I was excited overall, but a few challenges came to mind. I expected that there would be technical challenges, requiring some patience and a lot of flexibility. I was worried that I couldn’t connect with my peers and learn from them if we weren’t all in the same room together physically. I also wasn’t sure how the meetings would be structured virtually.

However, I was excited that being on a virtual team meant that I could connect with people from across the province over a much wider distance than my own city. I was also excited because as a person with multiple health challenges and disabilities, the program was much more easily accessible to me since I could log on from my bedroom.

An insight to engaging remotely

The virtual meetings were excellent and exceeded all my expectations. I felt that even with the significant distance between us, we were able to connect on a meaningful level and build relationships. I also learned new pieces of technology in the process like Google Jamboard. More importantly, I learned extensively from the experiences of my peers.

There were times where people couldn’t hear me, my internet would cut out, there would be background noise from someone not muting their microphone, or a pet or family member would walk in. Still, we worked through it and shared some laughs and bonded all the while.

A lasting impact

Even though the program was virtual, I found it highly meaningful and impactful. I am proud to have contributed to the Good Practices Guide that will change the future of how youth are engaged on boards and hopefully further the presence of youth on boards.

I looked forward to the virtual meetings every month and I always felt my views were valued. I gained more confidence in sharing my ideas, experiences, and perspective with those who may have different viewpoints from mine. I also learned a considerable amount about nonprofit boards and how they operate, which is a significant reason why I was interested in the program in the first place. Y@TT gave me an invaluable opportunity to learn and grow as an individual.

The advice I would give to youth who want to participate but are worried about the virtual experience is to give the program a chance. The program is absolutely worth it, virtually or in-person. I would say to be patient and flexible but also know that everyone is there to support you. In fact, many of your peers and the facilitators face similar challenges to those you face. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or support if you need it.

Are you ready to take the plunge and be a part of this year’s Youth @ the Table cohort? Apply now! Applications close June 29, 2020.

Author Bio:

Alexis Holmgren is 19 years old and comes from Red Deer Alberta. Alexis is a dedicated volunteer and holds many accomplishments. As a lifelong Girl Guide, she’s served as part of the National Inclusion Action Group and a Youth Accessibility Leader. Currently, she serves as a Trainer Candidate and Link Member. She is also especially proud of her time as a member of the RCMP National Youth Advisory Committee. Outside of volunteering, Alexis is currently studying to become a genetic counsellor to help others like herself who have rare, genetic disorders. In her spare time, she is a published writer, a traveller filled with constant wanderlust, a knitter, and a scrapbooker.

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