The school year is well in hand and the holiday season is coming up, have you start to engage your kids in activities throughout the year?
One such activity that should be at the forefront of our youth should be community engagement but this is definitely not something that they are thinking about now.
As the new grade nines are excited about their next phase in life and the grade 12’s are recognizing that they are at the edge of their high school life, now is the time to start thinking about and searching for a place in their community that they can both make a difference and gain some experience.
The traditional youth volunteering lifecycle tends to be focused on fulfilling the 40 hour requirements set out by the school board, and though many schools both expect and encourage a longer commitment to volunteering, this is not the norm.
So the questions to be asked here is:
Who is responsible for getting our youth engaged early?
Is it the responsibility solely on the parents recognizing that their children need to give something back, or gain some experience or is it on the youth? Is it the schools responsibility to teach and expose their students to community engagement in a way that makes it meaningful to the students as well as emphasizing the importance of getting involved early on in their secondary school career, or finally is it the responsibility of the hundreds of not for profit organizations that need to reach out early in the school year to excite and educate youth as to how they can get involved?
The answer is all of the above.
Yes, it is the parents that need to instill that sense of community and have discussions with their children about what would spark their interests, which in turn will encourage the youth to start focusing on looking at where they see themselves volunteering. Interestingly, we are starting to ask these questions when it comes to career paths. As the youth of today are challenged with making choices early in life on school paths, volunteering can be an important tool to help them make these choices.
Volunteering can give youth an opportunity to see into a career path by exposing them to a variety of community program and activities that they would normally not get. Just like when we wanted our children to try music, dance and sports to see if they would like it, we should be exposing them to a variety of volunteer work, and the 40 hours is just the tip of the iceberg.
But we cannot forget the important responsibilities that both the schools and the organizations play in helping youth take this important step.
Schools have the resources and support to help youth make decisions, they are the core of the students learning centre, and they can expose youth to the importance of volunteering through the educational path. Schools would be a great tool to teach youth how to find volunteer opportunities, what to ask, what to look for and how to take the next step. This could be part of a curriculum in a variety of subject areas including career studies and civic engagement and even physical education to name a few but the schools cannot do this alone. They need to know what the nonprofit organizations are and they needs need to build these partnerships so that they can guide youth in the right direction.
The organizations need to recognize that thousands of youth are out there trying to get involved and they need to look at their volunteer programs and if they have not done so yet, develop a youth stream of volunteer opportunities that can support the specific needs of the youth and play an instrumental role in the youth engagement path.
So what does this mean?
As a team we are the circle of influence for the youth of today and tomorrow. Parents can encourage, expose and support their youth. Schools can teach, provide resources and celebrate volunteerism in their schools and organizations can open up their programs to embrace, support and expose youth to their mission and finally youth can feel confident that volunteering will be as satisfying and exciting joining the hockey team, learning a new instrument or just meeting new people.
Here are a few tips to get you started?
Look at websites that may be of interest to your kids?
Expose them to new and interesting activities through volunteering?
Talk about what others are doing to give back?
Write down three areas of general interest to you?
Write down three skills that you think you are good at?
Research three organizations that you want to learn about?
Make a call
Teach student how to find volunteer work by offering workshops through your career studies or student services
Have conversations with your students about broadening their experiences as they head out of high school
Develop youth friendly volunteer opportunities and customize your processes to engage youth
Add a youth friendly layer to your already existing volunteer program and encourage youth participation through your website
Remember there is no time like the present to expose our youth to the wonders of volunteering.