Ontario’s education ministry has waived the requirement for high school students graduating this year to complete 40 hours of community volunteer work.
But some advocates say that doesn’t mean they should stop volunteering — especially now.
Cara Eaton is the director of strategic communications for Volunteer Toronto, which aggregates volunteer opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area. Her organization has seen a steady flow of requests for volunteers to help with COVID-19 relief.
While the community benefits of volunteerism are obvious, volunteers have much to gain from the experience too.
“Volunteering is proven as a two-way relationship,” she said. “Not only do non-profits and communities benefit from the time that’s given, but volunteers are actually changing, they’re growing.”
Eaton said the benefits of volunteering include increased access to services volunteers might not have known about before, exposure to the non-profit sector, relevant career experience, networking opportunities and even job references, plus transferable skills like collaboration, communication, empathy, and creative and critical thinking.
“You’re learning how to empathize with others, how to be accountable, how to understand your civic role in society,” she said. Eaton knows this first-hand, having arrived at two major stops in her career, including her current role, with a boost from her own volunteer experience.
“I am the evidence, but now I get to refine the evidence for a broad population and really communicate it.”
Carrie Moodie serves as director of strategic solutions for Spark Ontario, a service that compiles volunteer opportunities in Ontario’s non-profit sector at www.sparkontario.ca.
Spark Ontario has received so many requests for help with COVID-19 relief, Moodie said, the website has been modified to prioritize COVID-19 volunteer requests over all other requests. Interest in volunteering is high now, too, and she said that while there are enough roles to go around, some are more appropriate for teenagers looking to dive into something with little, to no, prior experience.
“There are opportunities that take a little more time and need police record checks, but there are also a number that are relatively immediate,” she said. For example, she said, a group in Ottawa has put a call out for people with bicycles to deliver masks to seniors’ mailboxes.
“That would be a great one for a high school student, just getting them out on their bike and delivering something that a senior or someone who is vulnerable needs.”
Food banks across the province also need help with tasks that don’t involve directly serving the public.
There are plenty of jobs volunteers can do from home, too, like writing letters of support to seniors and front-line workers and mentoring seniors as they learn to use online applications to stay connected.
Moodie said anyone interested in a volunteer opportunity should contact the organization that posted it to ensure co-ordinators are following physical distancing guidelines in order to keep volunteers and clients safe.
The ministry said future graduates should check with their school to determine if volunteer opportunities count toward their community involvement hours.