I first attended the Vitalize conference in 2012. I was 22 at the time and while I had been working and volunteering in nonprofits for a few years, Vitalize was my first opportunity to connect with a larger community of colleagues from across Alberta. I was lucky enough to participate in the conference both as an attendee, as well as a speaker on the youth engagement panel. Between sharing my experience and listening to others, it was a wonderful opportunity to exchange knowledge while learning new things.
The youth engagement panel offered many lessons about engaging youth as volunteers, but overall, we gave the following general advice:
We need to start treating youth more like any other age group, and, at the same time, we need to start treating youth differently.
Just like with everyone else, youth engagement only works well when good recruitment, retention, and recognition practices are in place. And, just like everyone else, if these processes aren’t in place (and even if they are) sometimes youth won’t show up, or won’t stay on long term. As Ralamy [Kneeshaw] reminded those at the session, you have likely had an absentee board member or a problem with high volunteer turn-over – even when it isn’t youth that you are engaging! Blaming either of these problems on age is a failed opportunity to improve your volunteer program and increase youth engagement at your organization.
At the same time though, it is important to recognize that ‘youth’ is a relevant category insofar as it tends to describe shared experiences. For example, many young people have a schedule quite different from other age groups: they have school 8:30-4:30 if they are still in grade school, or they have school all the time if they are attending post-secondary. In other words, a 15-year-old is never going to be able to attend your lunch meeting, and a university student will have a hard time committing themselves to an organization that can’t work around their exam schedule.
Youth might have a curfew or need parental permission, they might rely on public transit or rides from relatives, and many of them, students and older youth in particular, are low-income, have entry-level positions, poor job security, and are in debt or have lots of expenses like tuition. Recognizing these needs and challenges will help to inform more successful ways of recruiting, retaining, and recognizing youth volunteers.
This year’s Vitalize, running June 18-20 in Edmonton, once again promises engaging sessions for participants of all ages. It will be my fourth time attending, and I’d love to see more youth in particular get involved!
Young people can attend either the main Vitalize conference or participate in the Vitalize Youth/Mentor Program for youth aged 15-22. The program offers a specific stream, and price point, to ensure youth can get involved – Vitalize registration is free* for youth participating in the program!
Through the Youth/Mentor Program, participants attend youth-focused nonprofit workshops led this year by Andrew Fung and his team from Youth Central. Participants will,
- Connect with other engaged youth from across Alberta
- Develop new skills that will help them make an impact
- Learn how to build on their unique strengths and interests to make their communities better
- Put theory into practice before the conference is over!
Encourage young people in your organization and community to consider registering for Vitalize, and tell them about the Youth/Mentor Program option. There are only 100 spots available for the program, and with Vitalize less than a month away, now is the time to register!
Find out more about Vitalize and the Youth Mentor/Program on the Alberta Culture and Tourism website.
*Youth under 18 must be accompanied by a mentor. Mentors must purchase their own registration.