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Giving back: The benefits of getting involved with nonprofits during your post-secondary education

“What do you want to do when you graduate?”

September means a few things: green leaves and grass begin turning yellow and gold, the wind is a little crisper, pumpkin-spiced drinks are back, and of course, students are back in school.

As a recent grad, I reflect on my post-secondary and employment journey often. The truth is, I didn’t always know I would be working in the nonprofit sector. That’s because I had no idea what it was, and the important role it plays in civil society.

When I graduated in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, I was unsure of where and how to apply the important theories I learned. And once I left the campus environment, it felt like there were no options.

So, I went back to school and finished another Bachelor’s degree in 2018 following a failed attempt at being a barista along with a string of other odd jobs.

Praxis makes perfect

In the last year of my first degree, I enrolled in a course with a Community Service-Learning component, which paired me with a nonprofit organization for a 20 hour volunteer placement.

During my placement, I had to reflect on my volunteer experiences, and draw connections from course materials and content. As a post-secondary student, this was exactly what I was looking for – a way to apply concepts and theories that appeared abstract and intangible to real life.

I also developed practical skills that expanded my interests in addition to my capabilities. The organization I was matched with was looking for someone to develop marketing materials, which I happily took on. The work I did ended up sparking an interest that I didn’t realize I had in graphic design and outreach.

I realized that Praxis, or the bridge between theory and practice, was the ‘thing’ that was missing from my education.

I continued to pursue other experiential learning opportunities, and by the end of my second degree, I accumulated over 150 volunteer hours to complete a certificate in Community Engagement and Service-Learning in addition to my degree. It also encouraged me to pursue other volunteer opportunities in areas that were relevant to my degree.

Although not every post-secondary institution has Community Service-Learning, more institutions are realizing the importance of experiential learning. Talk to your respective career centres about similar opportunities on your campus.

3 ways giving back gives you an enriched experience

So what can my story tell you? By making the extra effort to give back to your communities through volunteerism, you’ll receive an enriching experience to learn new skills and more about yourself.

A feedback loop of learning

Volunteering with nonprofits can have a tremendous impact on post-secondary students as well as the nonprofits they participate in. In my case, I had the chance to impact social issues I care about by getting involved with nonprofits that address those issues.

That is, you get to help create the change that you want to see in the world. Organizations also have a chance to be exposed to the newest forms of thinking that come out of post-secondary institutions.

Exploring untapped potential

While the possibility to work on things beyond what your volunteer job description ranges from organization to organization, being immersed in a professional setting can give you a chance to practice skills that you already have or can help you realize skills that you didn’t even know you had!

Awards for community-oriented students

While many awards exist for high GPAs and other scholarly achievements, being involved in your community through volunteerism also pays off.

For example, the Edmonton Community Foundation provides bursaries to Edmonton and/or Northern Alberta students with financial need who have a history of community involvement or leadership.

In addition to specific post-secondary institutions and awards for non-campus related activities, the Government of Alberta also has a comprehensive list of awards for community-oriented students.

For some institutions, being involved with nonprofit organizations can also give you extra credentials that will make you stand out after you graduate.

How can you get involved?

The first step to finding the right opportunity to get involved with nonprofits is a tricky task. Luckily, Volunteer Connector has made finding volunteer opportunities easy for Albertans. The opportunities posted on the site can be filtered by your interests, skills and time commitment.

Eunice Doroni

Volunteer Alberta

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NextGen City Jam recognizes Edmonton volunteers: Why they give back and stay involved

Everyone’s volunteer journey is unique. When you ask volunteers why and how they started, their stories are often different.

Recently, we interviewed two Edmonton volunteers who are attending NextGen’s volunteer recognition event City Jam to give us insight into how they started volunteering and why they give back to the Edmonton community.

How long have you been volunteering for?

Maddy Shevchuk: I’ve been volunteering for different groups and organizations since I started university in September 2012.

Jim Walsh: I started volunteering in 2012 when I met a wonderful lady I now proudly call my wife. I got involved here in Edmonton in January 2019 with the Deep Freeze.

Why did you start volunteering?

Maddy: I love working with kids and helping kids makes me feel good! I love the feeling of volunteering.

Jim: My wife was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in 2011, a year before we met. Seeing her get involved to help support and educate others, and to witness her be an inspiration to so many others who were going through the same disease, made me want to get involved to support her and her cause.

Since then, I have discovered there are many wonderful things that can come from lending your time and talents to assist others. For example, it is a fantastic way to give back to your community. Here in Edmonton, I have a great friend of mine who asked me if I was interested in helping out at the Deep Freeze this year. It was a great way for me to find out more about what my new home city has to offer me. I have also felt a great sense of purpose and it helps me to reduce stress when I get involved in other activities.

Why do you think volunteering/volunteerism is important?

Maddy: I think that volunteering is important because everybody could use a helping hand every once in a while. And the few spare hours you have to volunteer can make a world of difference for somebody else.

I think that other people should get involved with their communities through volunteering so they can see what else is out there. See how other people live and see the impact that different organizations have on their community.

Jim: Volunteering helps bring people together. Getting involved in volunteerism provides you a greater appreciation for where you live, helps foster a greater sense of pride in our neighborhood/town/city, etc. It gives you a chance to grow as a person. It’s also a fantastic way to relieve stress; you take the focus off yourself for a little while and focus on others. So get out there. Get involved in something, anything.

From your perspective as a volunteer, why do you think NextGen City Jam is important to your community? 

Maddy: I think NextGen City Jam is very important in our community because it encourages people to step out of their comfort zone, doing things that they would not normally do, it also helps out the communities that we live in and makes such a positive impact in so many different areas!

Jim: As a volunteer and as a NEW volunteer here in the Edmonton area, for me, NextGen City Jam is a way for organizers of the volunteer community to show their appreciation to all those who help make events and charities more successful/memorable. It is that thankful recognition that helps make the volunteers feel that their efforts are greatly respected. As people, we all like to be recognized and that makes us want to do more. This helps feed the desire to grow the volunteer community. So thank you NextGen.

Has NextGen City Jam encouraged you to volunteer more?

Maddy: It has encouraged me to keep volunteering in my community to give back.

Jim: The knowledge of NextGen City Jam has made me want to get more involved. From my view, it’s a great show of appreciation to the volunteer community for the hard work that the volunteers do.

I never realized how much work goes into creating and putting on an event. Volunteers are truly an integral part, and for an event like NextGen City Jam to honour the volunteers the way they do is amazing! People want to repeat actions that give them positive feelings, and recognition like NextGen City Jam certainly fills you with pride and appreciation.

If a friend of yours wanted to start volunteering but didn’t know where to start, what advice would you give to them?

Maddy: Look into volunteering in areas that you are passionate about. I for one love working with kids so I am always interested in opportunities in this field. If you are not sure what interests you, try volunteering for several different organizations and see how you like them. You never know what you might enjoy if you don’t try.

Jim: If someone was to ask me about volunteering I would tell them to start small. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You want the experience to be enjoyable, not a “chore”. Don’t try to be a superhero right out of the gate!  Get involved in something of interest. We all have skills/talents we can offer others. So, use those skills and compassion to help others, to bring someone else some enjoyment.

Have you or your volunteers donated at least 10 hours between May 1st and September 4th? Send in your hours to Edmonton’s NextGen and get your name on the guestlist for City Jam 2019 at Sonic Field Day!

Maddy Shevchuk is a University of Alberta elementary education student who loves volunteering with kids and making other people happy! Currently, she volunteers as a big sister mentor with the Boys & Girls Club Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton & Area. When Maddy is not in school, volunteering or working, she loves to bake cupcakes and read.  

 

Jim Walsh is originally from the east coast and recently moved to Edmonton for the second time in late 2018 with his beloved wife. He loves to volunteer to open his mind to new things and learn more about his city. Currently, Jim volunteers with Kaleido, the Deep Freeze with Arts on the Avenue, the Heart of the City, Heritage Festival and Edmonton Rock Fest. Jim and his wife are long-time breast cancer survivor advocates and dedicated volunteers who help raise funds and increase awareness.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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Skilled Volunteerism: Why I volunteer and how to find a position that suits you

When I give skilled volunteerism presentations, I feel there is always a little bit of a disparity between how we talk about conventional volunteering as opposed to “skilled volunteering”. We frame skilled volunteering as this newfangled, shiny amazing thing.

And while the term is new, skilled volunteering is not a new phenomenon. So, it is important for the sustainability of organizations to look at people engagement in a new way and to understand the motivations of why skilled volunteers, volunteer.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe volunteerism is a transformative and essential part of humanity and society. We are all committed to giving back in our own ways: whether it is formal or informal, and each of us have our own preferences.

A formal way of giving back: Skilled volunteering

Personally, I like to engage in skilled volunteering which is a more formal way of giving back. I like positions where I can use my unique skills and knowledge to help a cause that I am passionate about.

I like defined parameters of a role, but something where I can put my own stamp on my work, and clearly see how I as an individual volunteer am making a difference. I also like roles that have a flexible time commitment to allow me to both work, and participate in other social activities.

How I came to self-identify as a skilled volunteer

I realized skilled volunteering is for me through a lot of introspection, trial and error, and activities that provided me with more clarity of the type of volunteer position I am suited for. For example, I completed the Window of Work, which walks you through why you want to volunteer, what you want to share with organizations, what you’d like to gain, and what you are not interested in or able to do.

Volunteer Canada has a handy quiz that I found was spot on in describing the type of volunteer I am. The quiz identified me as a “roving consultant volunteer”. The quiz described me as, “incredibly focused and intense, wants to volunteer specialized skills, but it has to be at my discretion and within my timeframe.”

The quiz further described that roving consultant volunteers gravitate towards organizations that are clear and specific about what they need. The results also identified some things I should consider before volunteering based on my type and my main passion as international development, which is definitely true for me.

Benefits of skilled volunteering

Finding skilled volunteer opportunities became easier when I found out the type of volunteer I am. I enjoy skilled volunteering because I feel like I am valued as an individual for my own unique skills, aptitudes and experiences.

I am able to give back to my community, but also receive valuable experience and training to leverage in my career that as a young professional, I value. I have been told by some supervisors that I was considered for a position based on my volunteer experience!

I see volunteering as an important part of making me a whole person, and contributing to the resilience of my community. I don’t believe there is only one right way of volunteering, but skilled volunteering is the right way for me!

Do you want more information on skilled volunteerism? We offer a webinar on skilled volunteerism which discusses volunteer trends in the sector from the data available, as well as introducing tools to use going forward to support nonprofit people engagement. Check our learning calendar for the next scheduled webinar!

 

Victoria Hinderks

Volunteer Alberta

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Annual weeks of giving: An informal volunteer story

Growing up, December was the season of giving. My family celebrated Christmas by sharing with the community. Early on, my parents instilled the lessons that Christmas was not about the presents under the tree, it was about gifting our time and creating joyful memories for those around us.

I recall many a December preparing shoeboxes for Operation Shoebox, donating our gently used toys and household items to Goodwill, or inviting those who had no one to celebrate with over for a warm meal and conversation. Regardless of my faith or the seasons I celebrate, it is the lessons about community that I carry with me throughout the year and inspires my love for informal volunteering.

Starting a tradition based on community and generosity

Annual weeks of giving is a tradition I started during post-secondary. December is a busy time for students and nonprofits. December is about fundraising campaigns, volunteer drives, and requests for donations because nonprofits rely heavily on the goodwill and charitable nature of others.

Annual weeks of giving became my way of contributing to the cause and giving back when I had limited funds and time. I was able to balance my chaotic schedule with the needs of the community by being an informal volunteer (e.g. food bank donations or gently used winter clothes).

Although I am no longer in post-secondary, my tradition continues! It has even grown over the years – from my original two weeks to six weeks. Now, I see the impact my contributions have on those around me and inspire others to volunteer. And, this year was no exception! I made connections within my neighbourhood and inspired others to keep paying it forward.

Bonding neighbours together by cleaning up shared green spaces

One of my contributions for 2018 was a commitment to clean up shared green spaces – picking up trash, upcycling plastics, and recycling reusable products. A small action had HUGE consequences. Starting with just my bags, a stick, and a wheelbarrow, my single person mission turned into a neighbourhood cleanup.

It started with children being curious about what I was doing, their curiosity gave way to a desire to help, and eventually became a family activity. By the end of the walk, we had cleared two public parks from surface litter and upcycled enough one-time use plastics that I can start my entire garden from seedlings!

This action of cleaning up shared spaces didn’t just end at the park, it allowed me to foster connections in my relatively new neighbourhood. Even though we’ve been in our current home for three years, work schedules and travel made it difficult to get to know our neighbours. Surprisingly, the fastest way to get to know people is by looking like you’re storing plastic for the end of the world. It’s a great ice breaker!

I’ve met several neighbours with an avid love of gardening. We’ve traded tips on maximizing space, what yields the best results in certain spaces, and some new ideas on how to upcycle our old plastics. I even have someone who is willing to teach me the basics of jam and jelly making this fall! I’m excited to learn from a Farmer’s Market master and to have some new friends that live close by.

I hope that I’ve inspired others to join me on the journey or create their own traditions. Supporting community through informal volunteering and random acts of kindness is a win-win. For everyone!

Do you want to spread some kindness? Check out RandomActsofKindness.org for some inspiration and get started!

 

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

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Member Spotlight: Hinton FCSS emboldens informal volunteering in community

Imagine trees wrapped in hand-knitted scarves on a cold winter’s day or children handing out lemonade on a hot summer day. In Hinton, you can easily come across informal volunteering or random acts of kindness. And, Hinton’s Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) is no different.

One of Hinton FCSS’s main goals is to foster community connection and reduce social isolation. As a result, informal giving or volunteering organically flourishes in their programs and services.

Friendly Visitor Program turns strangers into friends

Recently, Hinton FCSS launched the Friendly Visitor Program; a program made possible entirely by volunteers. The volunteer centre provides the framework, but it is brought to life by people deliberately offering their friendship to another person. Adults are welcome to apply to become a volunteer companion or a recipient.

“Friends are just strangers waiting to happen,” says Lisa Brett, Volunteer Centre Coordinator at Hinton FCSS.

Formal volunteer transforms opportunity into informal volunteering

While the program is relatively new and typically considered a formal way of volunteering, one volunteer match, Ginnie and Kim, demonstrates how formal volunteering can transform into informal volunteering.

“Ginnie and Kim visit so often that Kim has become a part of Ginnie’s family,” says Lisa. “It has helped Kim’s life and her mental health, and fulfilled the gaps in her social life. It’s exceptional.”

Instead of doing bare minimum visits, volunteer Ginnie went above and beyond in the program by simply living and expressing kindness, and in the process, turned a stranger into a life-long family friend.

“Informal volunteering is essential to individual, family, community, national, and global wellbeing,” says Lisa. “When you model kindness, you never know who you’re inspiring. Those small gestures, they add up. They are so critical to community health and wellness. You might create a ripple effect.”

How Hinton FCSS staff encourage informal volunteering

Another possible reason informal volunteering blooms in Hinton FCSS’s programs could be due in large part to its staff and their dedication to spreading kindness.

“My coworkers are mega informal volunteers! I am very inspired by their deeds all the time,” says Lisa. “Some bake and share the treats at work, some participate in every single fundraiser, some are animal advocates, and some babysit others’ children.”
“Informal volunteering is a new word, but not a new concept. To me, informal volunteering is consciously exhibiting kindness and caring. It is about performing without expectations. It is being human. It is being an active citizen,” remarks Lisa.

To learn how to encourage informal volunteering in your community, contact Lisa Brett at Hinton FCSS.

Hinton Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) focuses on “people helping people help themselves.” Hinton FCSS enhances the social well-being of individuals and families in the community through their programs and services. For over 24 years, Hinton’s Volunteer Centre has operated under Hinton FCSS, making volunteer matches and community connections as a way to sustain people as active participants in the community.

 

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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