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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

Low Ropes Course at Alberta 4-H Centre

Member Spotlight: 4-H Alberta invite youths’ imaginations to soar

Has the belief that youth can change the world disappeared? Nowadays, people seem more pessimistic than ever towards youth – that youth today are more apathetic and consumed by their phones and social networks.

As a result, a lot of people tend to overlook how to motivate youth to participate. But, 4-H Alberta still believes that youth can change the world and they’re helping them do it with a unique approach to engaging youth.

4-H Alberta is a youth-oriented organization offering both urban and rural youth a dynamic and inspiring environment to learn and grow by doing. In their 2018 program year, 4-H had 5,885 youth members from ages 6 to 20 across Alberta. And, it’s not hard to see why youth sign up.

The 4-H approach to youth: Learn to do by doing

What 4-H does differently is that they create a safe and supportive environment that invites youth to not only govern their own clubs but also direct their own learning and skills development in any subject that interests them.

“The possibilities are endless and limited only by the imaginations of the members themselves,” says Bernadette Sereda, Leader Screening Coordinator at 4-H Council of Alberta (the nonprofit division of 4-H Alberta that handles risk management). “4-H members can pursue whatever projects they can dream up so that potential is perhaps the most appealing reason for youth to join 4-H.”

Some of the possibilities include community service, summer or winter camp, projects, clubs, conferences, travel exchanges, and so much more. In fact, community service and public speaking are member requirements while projects can range broadly from computer coding and woodworking to horticulture and other food and agriculture related projects.

Youth members also elect their own club leaders and mentors based on who they want to further their learning and growth. By providing a solid and safe framework for young people to run the show, 4-H teaches youth life-long leadership skills.

Why youth join, return and become 4-H alumni

And, 4-H’s approach is working as youth keep joining or returning. According to their 2018 youth member survey, some of main reasons youth join are because they thought the events, programs, and projects sounded interesting, they wanted to develop or learn a new skill and/or they wanted to meet new people.

Interestingly, youth’s top five reasons for why they come back to participate are similar to why they joined:

  1. It was fun.
  2. I developed friendships with other members.
  3. I want to improve my leadership skills.
  4. I enjoy project competitions/I want to go to camp.
  5. My parents have encouraged me to continue.

4-H also attracts youth by engaging entire families into the program. “4-H leaders and families are vital to the program,” says Bernadette. “We engage families as volunteer leaders, parent volunteers or some simply show up for their children to help, support, share and celebrate.”

However, it is mainly youths’ experiences within 4-H that keep bringing them back even as alumni (age 20+). Beyond their programs, 4-H rewards youth through awards, trips, scholarships, and recognition of their accomplishments.

“Many members once aged out of the program return as leaders themselves as they are inspired to provide the sort of mentorship that they enjoyed,” shares Bernadette. “One of the reasons that 4-H is great is because it can be whatever it needs to be to serve and enrich individual lives and communities at large.”

4-H Alberta’s program year for 2019/2020 opens this October.

Are you looking for more ideas to captivate youth? Check out Volunteer Canada’s youth engagement resources.

About 4-H Alberta

This Alberta institution and popular program has been around since 1917. Over the years, 4-H has quietly evolved into a dynamic program whose projects encompass everything from active living, arts, science and technology, crafts, cooking, agriculture and so much more!  Today’s exciting 4-H program gives urban and rural youth and adults life-long skills such as co-operation, leadership, interpersonal relations, critical thinking, decision making, organization, public speaking and community service.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Youth @ the Table Team

Why engaging youth in board governance is important according to the Youth @ the Table team

Launched this year, Youth @ the Table is Volunteer Alberta’s new youth engagement initiative. The program aims to create governance opportunities for young people ages 18 to 30 who are interested in the nonprofit sector.

Participants will be paired with a nonprofit board in their community and spend six months learning directly from a mentor on the nonprofit’s leadership team. Over the course of the program, they will gain the knowledge and skills necessary to influence operations and strategic directions. By sitting at the decision-making table, youth will lead the nonprofit sector into the future and create space for young people to influence social issues in Alberta.

Hear from the Youth @ the Table team about why they believe engaging youth in Alberta’s nonprofit sector is important:

What is your role at Volunteer Alberta?

Eunice: I am the Youth @ the Table Coordinator! I help figure out the logistics of our overall game plan.

Lauren: My role is the Youth @ the Table Project Manager. I lead a great team who has been working hard to develop and implement the Youth @ the Table project!

Navneet: I’m the Senior Coordinator, Marketing & Communications! I curate our social media, draft external communications, and lead strategic directions on branding.

Have you ever had any governance experience? What was it like?

Eunice: Yes! I participated in the Non-profit Board Internship, a program run by Community Service-Learning at the University of Alberta. I was paired with interVivos, a nonprofit that provides forums for emerging leaders in Edmonton. I sat on a board for 8 months as an intern it really elevated my confidence and my ability to connect with professionals.

As a young person trying to navigate what comes next in a fast-paced world, developing communication, leadership, critical thinking and decision-making skills are crucial. I am now a more well-rounded community member. I know what goes on at the decision-making level of groups who shape our community to be better and more livable and I can ask meaningful questions, and really understand the avenues where real change can happen.

Lauren: I am relatively new to governance! During my first year at the University of Alberta, I served a term on the Alberta Mentorship Program (AMP)’s Executive Committee. It gave me the opportunity to volunteer with various organizations like the Mustard Seed and local initiatives like The Youth Restorative Justice Project.

Before and after AMP, I’ve asked myself “how do I get more involved in nonprofit organizations?”. I didn’t know how or where to seek out governance opportunities. Looking back, I think to have a program like Youth @ the Table would have really benefited me because Youth @ the Table bridges that gap between nonprofits who are looking to engage youth and youth who are looking to take action and get involved.

Navneet: During my time as a student at the University of Alberta, I was involved in a wide range of board and governance roles. I served as a Team Leader at the Campus Food Bank for a couple years then as a Member at Large on The Gateway Student Journalism Society’s board. I loved these roles because I got to go beyond the day to day operations and be part of major decisions such as which fundraisers to approve and how to transition the newspaper into a magazine.

Currently, I sit on the Winspear’s Young Leadership Council and get to do similar work. I provide input on how to make guest experiences more youth-friendly and engage young people in musical endeavours. This work is incredibly rewarding because I get to express my ideas and watch them get implemented to improve an organization that I care deeply about.

Why is getting youth (18-30 years old) involved in governance so important?

Eunice: This age group makes up the biggest chunk of Canada, I think finding opportunities for people in this age bracket to exercise their passions and channel their energy would only benefit society as a whole. It’s about time that folks who fall in this age bracket are recognized as important knowledge keepers, not just receivers.

Lauren: We are experiencing so much change in our world right now, I think there has never been a more important time for young people to get involved in decision-making, not only in the nonprofit sector but in every sector. I think as we continue to make space for them in these conversations, we will begin to recognize how much knowledge they have to contribute and how passionate they are about social issues.

Navneet: Young people are our future leaders. This fact, though obvious, is all too often overlooked in many sectors. By failing to include this age group at decision-making tables, we fail to prepare for the future and lose opportunities for growth in our sector. For young people to gain the skills necessary to tackle the world’s most complex social issues, we must break down the barriers that prevent them from being heard. Young people bring diverse perspectives and innovative ideas to the table — it’s important that they are taken seriously!

Do you have any last thoughts about engaging youth in the nonprofit sector?

Navneet: Governance can often be an intimidating concept that seems reserved for those who are interested in politics or traditional leadership roles. With Youth @ the Table, we want to break down this perception of governance and push decision-making spaces to be more open and inclusive. For progress to happen in our sector, we have to make sure young people have access to the board rooms in which decisions are made.

Are you between the ages of 18-30 and interested in making a difference in your community? Apply for Volunteer Alberta’s Youth @ the Table program by June 15th, 2019! Learn more.

Vegreville Pic 1

Member Spotlight: Vegreville & District FCSS inspire youth to engage in board governance and nonprofit part 2

Youth engagement has been a hot topic in the nonprofit sector and community for the last several years. Nonprofits want to know how to reach young people and keep them engaged. Especially when it comes to getting young people at decision-making tables to support succession planning for the nonprofit sector.

But, youth engagement goes beyond describing and understanding millennials or generation Z. It’s about creating unique opportunities for youth to have a voice and bring fresh perspectives that fill existing gaps for nonprofits and your community.

This is exactly what Vegreville and District FCSS is doing with their Youth Making A Change program. Youth Making A Change (YMAC) successfully engages students in grades 10 to 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Last year, we covered how Vegreville and District FCSS engages youth in board governance through this program, so we decided to provide an update of how their program is making a difference in their community.

Inspiring youth to get involved in governance and nonprofit

YMAC inspires, equips and mobilizes youth to take action to make changes in their community and learn new skills through service. When Vegreville & District first created YMAC, there were no programs in which youth were taught about leadership and community engagement, and also given a first-hand board and community project experience.

While most youths have the opportunity to join in sports, or other after-school activities, there was not a space for youth who possessed an interest in volunteerism and leadership skills in a more formal setting. YMAC was able to fill that void by creating a safe space for the students to come once a week and take action in bettering themselves and their community.

“The program has been effective for the youth,” says Julie Gottselig, Manager at Vegreville and District FCSS. “When going through their evaluations, 8 out of the 10-youth said that they feel that because of YMAC, they can make a difference in their community. Having this program available in the community is vital to help inspire youth and show them that they can make a difference.”

As a result, many young people that participated in YMAC now volunteer in the Vegreville community. A few students even mentioned that they want to work in human services after they graduate thanks to the program. That is, YMAC inspires young people with a hands-on opportunity to learn and understand the value and impact of the nonprofit sector.

Impact on Vegreville nonprofits

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, YMAC Board Mentors appreciate and see the value of having a youth member on their board as it brings in a fresh face and new ideas. One Board Mentor said this about their experience:

“It’s inspiring to have young people be interested in not only being a part of their community but also giving back to it. It’s great to see them being involved in such an impactful way.” – Joanna Karczmarek, Board Mentor at Vegreville Food Bank

Because of these positive experiences through YMAC, many Vegreville nonprofit boards request to have youth join them for the next YMAC intake. Other Vegreville nonprofit boards even get a second youth member to join them in the following years!

How nonprofits can engage youth in board governance

To engage youth in board governance in your community, Vegreville and District FCSS recommends providing appropriate training for your board. The training must teach board members on how to be mentors for youth.

More specifically, being a mentor means knowing the different ways to make sure youth are comfortable and have an enjoyable experience as a board member themselves.

“This can include not putting the youth on the spot or forcing them to participate in a conversation, warning them when a topic may become intense, and offering them words of encouragement throughout the meetings,” says Emma Murray, FCSS Child Youth and Family Programmer.

According to Vegreville and District FCSS, providing this training is what makes YMAC possible and successful. Beyond training, they also recommend getting youth involved in being a part of events and planning. They find YMAC students enjoy boards more when there are specific events that give them an opportunity to show their more creative side during board meetings.

Vegreville and District FCSS is a nonprofit organization that prevents crisis and takes care of the social well-being of the community by offering low/no cost programs and services to the Town of Vegreville and the western portion of the County of Minburn.

Do you want to learn how to get youth to join your board? Contact Vegreville & District FCSS for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Airdrie LEAD Graduation Group 1

Member Spotlight: Volunteer Airdrie breaks down barriers to volunteerism in their community

Finding solutions that suit your community may not be easy. But, when you approach solving complex issues with a mindset of abundance versus scarcity, multiple solutions tend to present themselves.

This is how Volunteer Airdrie approached redesigning their programs and services within the past few years. By looking at what opportunities were available and identifying gaps in their community, Volunteer Airdrie realized they needed to shift their focus to serving Airdrie residents.

“We really started focusing on where can we fit in and came to the conclusion that a lot of residents struggle to find the right volunteer opportunity quickly and efficiently,” says Dave Maffitt, Chair of Volunteer Airdrie’s Board of Directors. “So, we redesigned our focus to help our residents to break down barriers.”

Creating a user-friendly way to find volunteer opportunities

One way Volunteer Airdrie is helping residents break down barriers to volunteering is through the development of the Better Impact MVP Software; a free online tool that allows residents to create a profile on the website based on their age, availability, interests, qualifications and much more.

“The system allows Airdrie residents to do searches based on those criteria. For youth, somebody under 18, the system isn’t going to show them volunteer opportunities that are restricted to adults,” says Dave. “It’s growing rapidly and it’s starting to get additional members on a daily basis.”

Engaging youth in Airdrie’s nonprofit community with LEAD

In their community, Volunteer Airdrie is also breaking down barriers for youth engagement through the Leadership Empowerment and Achieving a Difference (LEAD) program. LEAD is a ten-week program that is free of charge for youth grades 7-12 with ten in-class sessions and 20 hours of community service or volunteering.

In LEAD’s in-class sessions, young people learn about topics like problem-solving, organizing and planning, teamwork, conflict management skills and personal wellbeing to help them develop youth leadership skills to use while volunteering or out in their community in other ways.

“Kids often get exposure to a number of different opportunities and causes, and start to get an appreciation for the needs in Airdrie and some of the causes that are may be more meaningful to them,” says Dave. “In the long term, it attracts them to come back and continue to volunteer with that organization after they have finished LEAD. It’s been a big, big success!”

Overcoming volunteer age restrictions for youth

Despite nonprofits’ minimum age requirement policies, Volunteer Airdrie has also been able to match young teens with group volunteer opportunities successfully at local nonprofits by providing appropriate adult supervision.

“So, that’s where we step in because we can open a lot of doors for these youth, especially the 12-14 year age group,” says Dave. “It’s really difficult for them to find meaningful volunteer opportunities since most nonprofit organizations have policies in minimum age requirements that are in that 15-16 year range.”

Volunteer Airdrie will continue their youth engagement initiative by opening a youth volunteer centre next year. They hope the centre creates a caring environment for kids that provides them with community service opportunities that are meaningful to them.

Located in Airdrie, Alberta, Volunteer Airdrie is the recognized volunteer centre for the City of Airdrie and the immediate surrounding area of Rocky View County, Alberta. Volunteer Airdrie’s mission is to empower Airdrie residents to invest in themselves and their community through volunteerism.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

Special thanks to our summer intern, Navi Bhullar, for sourcing and helping to storyboard this Member Spotlight.

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