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Nonprofit Experiences: A Lifetime of Involvement

Our experiences with nonprofits are varied: we may work or volunteer in the sector, or donate to our favourite organizations. We are also personally impacted through school, religion, community, sports, recreation, and support. Regardless, the nonprofit sector is central to many of our lives.

A couple years ago, Sam shared five of her personal experiences with the nonprofit sector. We are continuing to share Volunteer Alberta staff experiences, turning this into an ongoing series. Up next is Cindy!

Cindy has shared some of the key moments from her life as she has engaged with nonprofits and become the volunteer she is today. Here are her 5 key personal experiences (and a step-by-step guide for a lifetime of involvement!):

1. Start with Family: The County Clothes-Line Store was where I first formally volunteered! The organization receives donations of clothes to sell to the public (specifically offering affordable pricing to those unable to spend a lot) and the money goes into the CCL Foundation. The Foundation funds various programs and scholarships in Strathcona County. My mom volunteered there and brought me along. I was fairly young, so folding clothes, ragging, and tidying up was often what I was asked to do.

Jazz2. Benefit from Nonprofits: I was a band girl growing up. I enjoyed music, I was good at it (or so I heard!), and I had a great time hanging out with my friends. One year, I happened to be the right age to play with a number of amazing musicians. Between my school’s jazz band, jazz combo, and concert band, we were often entered into band competitions and sometimes lucky enough to go to MusicFest Canada, a national competition. It was great fun! At that time, I didn’t realize it was a nonprofit – now I can recognize the amount of work that went into organizing it all. Some of my band friends continue to play, while others, like me, have taken different paths, but still appreciate what music has brought to my life.

3. Fulfill a Passion and Get Inspired: My friend’s son is a virtuoso cello player (check out his YouTube channel!) and has received support from the Anne Burrows Music Foundation. I have volunteered for their casino several times. I choose to support them because I believe in their mission of supporting upcoming musicians, I have a direct connection to someone benefiting from their work, and I actually met the very inspiring namesake, Anne Burrows, through my piano teacher many years ago.

4. Have Fun: At Fort Edmonton Park I was fortunate to volunteer for an organization I love, while supporting local tourism. My role was scaring people. To be clear, this was in costume during their Halloween event: Spooktacular. We had the opportunity to build the scenarios and create the scenes ourselves, and then the fun of entertaining guests throughout the event. I am definitely hoping to volunteer with them again in the future.

5. Be Recognized: Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival has such a wide variety of positions open that there is something for everyone! I worked with the finance team and we had a lot of fun, including daily team challenges from the Festival. The Fringe also has good processes in place for volunteer orientation and recognition – including Fringe Bucks for hours volunteered (to purchase show tickets). It’s fun, I get to see a few shows and participate in the festival, and support the organization’s due diligence!

Stay tuned for more Volunteer Alberta staff experiences with amazing nonprofit organizations, and please share your own experiences in the comment section!

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Leadership, Respect, and Innovation – Notes from the Action Generation Residency

Drew Noiles, Volunteer Alberta Learning and Technology Coordinator, attended the Alberta Youth VOLUNTEER! Action Generation Residency in Banff in August, a leadership learning opportunity for young people.

Forest2We live in a world progressively captivated by what it means to truly lead. The leadership residency assembled about 25 of us for a unique, hands-on learning opportunity with the ultimate purpose of developing our individual and collective leadership skills, all while savoring a humbling dose of mountain culture.

Our residency took place at the breathtakingly beautiful Banff Centre. Alliteration aside, it began with a simple introduction, an ice-breaker, and a quote:

“One of the challenges of being a leader is mastering the shift from having others define your goals to being the architect of the organization’s purposes and objectives” (Mary Parker Follett, 1919)

Taped on the wall were group guidelines and reference points on how to get the most out of our leadership residency. One of these guiding messages stood out to me; in a dark blue sharpie it simply stated: Be Fit & Well.

It’s a statement that I have now come to understand to be synonymous with stepping outside of your fears, and allowing yourself to be open and in the moment. There is a very welcomed perspective change – an epiphany if you will – that takes place when everyone in a room begins from a place of equality and respect. This was a delightful transition to which our group was receptive and enthusiastic.

Over the course of the next three and a half days we were fed. We were fed well, and we were fed often. Looking back, having that amount of delectable treats available to you at all times really does enhance the entire experience. Keeping spirits high and eagerness abundant.

There were many topics discussed throughout our stay. Starting with collaboration and coaching, leading into goal setting, and understanding the importance of prototyping. The leadership residency provided us all the opportunity to not only identify challenges, but to address them in a safe space.

The lessons from the leadership residency that I am going to incorporate into my daily work:

  • Listening is something you are accountable for; listening is a responsibility.
  • Fail. We should be encouraged to fail, but to fail fast.  Creativity comes from allowing yourself to make mistakes.
  • The truth: great leaders are needed to shape a better world; and that type of leadership is rooted in the understanding of both wise practices and creative new approaches.

By the end I was left feeling very much a part of a community that inspires one another to take risks, to develop new ideas, and to find solutions for the present and future. Because in the end, that’s what learning is: understanding something you’ve understood before but in a new way.

Drew Noiles
Volunteer Alberta

Nonprofits + Students = Great Success!

SCIP-logo-greenThe Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) was launched by Volunteer Alberta in partnership with the Government of Alberta in 2011. The goal – connect Alberta’s post-secondary students and organizations to create great results for participants and communities.

The concept is simple:

  1. Nonprofit organizations register for the program at www.joinscip.ca, then post a meaningful, skill-based, part-time internship that would make a big difference for their organization, and offer a great learning opportunity for a student.
  2. Then students browse the internship listing and apply directly to the organization. When the internship is are all done, students get a $1000 bursary from the Government of Alberta!

Now nearing the end of its fourth year, SCiP has had its most successful year yet with 1000 internships filled – our maximum available for the year. That is $1 million in bursaries for interns making a vital difference for organizations in their communities:

“This is a tremendous program; we were able to accomplish things I could only dream about with the help of these SCiP students!”
– SCiP Organization

“If we tell our future leaders how to be good they may forget. If we teach them how to be better they may remember. But if we involve them then they will learn to be the best. That is the reward of a SCiP internship.”
– L’Association Multiculturelle Francophone de L’Alberta (AMFA)

Thank you Alberta nonprofits and students – you have been and will continue to be what makes SCiP a great success!

As SCiP has reached this year’s internship maximum, we cannot accept any next internships for the remainder of the program year. Don’t worry – the next program year begins soon: August 1st, 2015! If you think your organization has the perfect project for a SCiP intern, now is a great time to start registering and planning for August. Just visit www.joinscip.ca to get started.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

Vitalize-ing Youth in Alberta

francisco_osorio  photo on flickrI 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.

Print​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.

Sam Kriviak
Volunteer Alberta

Apathy is Boring’s Strategies to Get Out the Youth Vote

Guest blog by Apathy is Boringaib

Youth voter turnout is on the decline across the country. In the 2011 federal election, only 38.8 per cent of Canadians aged 18-24 voted. This trend is especially worrisome for the upcoming provincial election, given that Alberta is the province with the largest demographic of young people in Canada.

For the nonprofit sector, young people represent our future leaders, volunteers, advocates, and funders. Encouraging community and civic engagement is imperative in nurturing the future of this sector. And for nonprofits working with youth, this election may be the opportunity to encourage and empower youth to cast their ballots.

So, what can we as citizens and community organizations do?

  1. Provide choices and information

Lack of knowledge about how, when and where to vote can be a major deterrent for young voters. Providing information in an accessible way to educate and inform youth is the first step to increasing youth voter turnout.

We created a How-to-Vote guide and Infographic that are available online and that we are sending to Albertan youth in the weeks leading up to the election. Given that the primary news source for youth is social networks and mainstream online media, we encourage you to spread voting information using your social media accounts.

  1. Engage youth as decision-makers

Young Canadians feel ignored. Politicians, political strategists and election campaigns organizers typically ignore youth issues because they don’t expect a meaningful turnout from young voters. This causes a negative cycle; campaigns ignore youth, so youth ignore elections.

 That being said, by creating spaces for dialogue and decision-making opportunities for youth, we can empower them to join the political conversation. That’s why our campaign in Alberta focuses on engaging youth in peer-to-peer conversation about democracy and civic engagement.

  1. Identify low-risk entry points

If youth aren’t making it out to the polls, we shouldn’t expect them to come to us, but instead we should go to them. Meeting youth on their turf is important (be it in the streets or online). If you hope to access youth, we encourage you to do the same.

Our Street Teams programming, which consists of 3 to 4 young volunteers sharing voter information, will be targeting low-risk entry points like concerts, festivals and cultural events in both Calgary and Edmonton.

  1. Cultivate intergenerational partnerships

By sharing our collective knowledge we can affect far more youth than any one organization could ever reach directly.

The strength of Apathy Is Boring’s programming comes from the partnerships we’ve developed across the country with elected officials, community organizations and concerned citizens. Thanks to partners like Elections Alberta, Volunteer Alberta, the Calgary Underground Film Festival and Timber Concerts we’ll be able to maximize our impact in across the province.

Positive actions and practical information that are shared today will lead to an engaged, involved and informed youth. The health of our democracy and communities relies on it.

A little bit about Apathy is Boring

Apathy is Boring is a youth-led, non-partisan, national non-profit organization that uses art and technology to educate youth about democracy.

Find out more about us here: apathyisboring.com

Follow us for the latest updates about our projects in Alberta: @apathyisboring

Show us some love by liking our Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/apathyisboring

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