June 24, 2015

Why it's a good idea to volunteer and how to find a volunteer position

If you're currently a student enrolled in an Ontario high school, you know (or should know) that you must complete 40 hours of community service in order to graduate.

Back when I was in high school, many of my friends forgot about this requirement and had to scramble to find a placement before graduation. To ensure this doesn't happen to you, I recommend completing your community service as soon as possible. And there's no better time than the summer break to get your volunteer hours completed.

There are numerous benefits to volunteering, including:

- You will gain valuable work experience
- You will develop and hone your skills
- You might be inspired to consider a different career path
- You can contribute to causes and organizations that you support
- You will expand your network of contacts and potential references
- You will have a chance to practice your resume writing, cover letter writing, and interview skills
- You will complete your 40-hour community service graduation requirement

In addition, some organizations might let you set your own schedule and hours while others might offer travel/meal reimbursements, stipends, or other unique perks (e.g. admission to a festival, free promotional items, etc.).

If volunteering this summer is something that interests you, speak with your school guidance department to find out what you need to do before you begin volunteering. For example, if attend a Toronto District School Board (TDSB) school, you need to read the Community Involvement Manual to learn about the types of placements you can and cannot complete.

Once you've spoken to your guidance department, start looking for a volunteer placement. Some great websites to check out include:

Alternatively, you can also contact a non-profit or community organization directly - for example, your local United Way chapter. Often, they have a volunteer coordinator who can answer your questions about volunteer opportunities and accept/process your application.

Once you have a list of volunteer opportunities you would like to pursue, add the opportunities (including contact details, web links, and notes) to your 2015 Volunteer Application Tracking Sheet. Ensure you have a well-written resume and cover letter tailored for each specific role. And expect to have an interview - or at the very least, an informal chat - and be prepared for other special requirements (e.g. a police reference check if you will be volunteering with vulnerable persons).

And at the end of your placement, be sure to ask for a reference letter with details about your placement, duties, and hours completed. And ask your supervisor to complete any relevant forms required by your school and/or school board (e.g. the TDSB's Community Activity Involvement Form). That way you get credited with completing the requirement and also have a reference letter that you can use when looking for other volunteer and employment opportunities.

Good luck!