Many parents of adolescents and soon-to-be adolescents have heard of the mandatory community service model for engaging high school students in volunteering. The program adds as a graduation requirement, in some provinces and territories, that students complete a minimum amount of volunteering hours within their high-school career. It's a good thing! If viewed (and used!) as the opportunity for growth that it is.
The idea of the program, in theory, has the capacity to be quite powerful. However, its success and positive impact on the student ultimately falls on the shoulders of the students themselves, community organizations, teachers and, yes, parents. Filling the hours required is one thing. Simply finding volunteering gigs that offer students a one-shot, “let get this over with” attitude defeats the entire purpose of the program and can have a lasting negative impact on the student’s view of what the volunteering experience offers.
Volunteering allows students to learn outside the realm of textbooks and tests. It has the capacity to change youth’s understanding of the world around them, and help them identify the causes and community issues that drive their social conscience. It provides them with experiences that can shape their career path and act as the first bullet points on their resume.
Volunteering can be a life-changing experience for youth. That is if it is a positive experience. Are you a parent investigating the program’s potential? Then, let’s start with the basics.
Many feel the program’s name disconnects the student from the broader definition of volunteering, on the very first mention of it. Volunteering is about being an engaged citizen and making the decision to give and donate your time and skills of your own free will.
Parents can play a role in harmonizing their child’s interests together with community causes and volunteering opportunities. There are more than 160,000 not-for-profit organizations across the country looking to engage Canadians. And most can be found online. Try getinvolved.ca, an online social media community that helps individuals, especially youth, build their own sense of community involvement through stories of star volunteers and the impact they make on the organizations that engage them. Here, you can connect with youth-driven organizations such as Apathy is Boring, a group that propels youth to be engaged decision-makers in the democratic process.
Research has shown that children and youth are more likely to become engaged citizens if they have seen someone they admire helping others. Help youth understand the impact one person can make on the world around them and let them explore the impact that volunteering can have on them personally.