By: Katie V.
Have you ever volunteered at an older age for the first time and felt a sense of self-worth? Have you wondered why you haven’t offered more to the community? Volunteering at any age has many positive outcomes for an individual. In our youth development class, we discussed the values youth can gain by volunteering. For the youth who volunteer, they can attain a wide variety of values. Improving various skills, positivity, and academic performance, and connecting with their community. Feeling a sense of giving at a young age, in my opinion, can help a child grow and can develop behaviours, attitudes and skills that will be useful for a child’s future.
I come from a small town in Nova Scotia and had not even been introduced to volunteering or encouraged to volunteer for events or activities at a young age. The first time I had volunteered for anything was not until my first year in university. It was for the New Brunswick Special Olympics. After experiencing how good that made me feel, a sense of inner peace, I wondered to myself why I hadn’t done more for people at a younger age. If experiencing mental and spiritual benefits from volunteering at an older age, I can only imagine how the knowledge, growth, and outcomes youth can experience from volunteering when they are younger. Therefore, I wanted to see if there were more opportunities in other places in Canada for youth to experience these positive effects from volunteering.
I had found an interesting initiative by the Government of Ontario that started in 1999. They began requiring all high school students to complete 40 hours of community involvement in order to graduate. Students were informed of the community involvement requirements while in grades 7 and 8, however, they were not able to start completing the hours for credit until their grade 9 year.
In the article titled, “Mandated Community Involvement: A Question of Equity,” it states that this was primarily designed to build students’ personal responsibility and to strengthen the qualities assumed to drive individual success: “the requirement will benefit communities, but its primary purpose is to contribute to students’ development” (Toronto, ON: MET, 1999).
Debates went on about whether students should be forced to volunteer as mandated community involvement. Research conducted since 1999 found that early involvement in community service helps students build a spirit of civic responsibility which can then be expanded as they move throughout high school. This led to a minor change in the community involvement graduation requirement. Beginning July 1st, 2011, students were then allowed to start accumulating their community involvement hours in the summer before they entered grade 9.
As we talked about in class, I think this volunteer requirement supports youth acquiring a few of the developmental assets: young people recognizing that adults value them, youth being seen and utilized as resources to the community, youth performing service to others and also caring for others. I found this case to be very interesting in the fact that, I would have liked my high school to have had such a requirement. Ontario’s Minister of Education, in my opinion, did a great job in providing opportunities for the youth to volunteer. Research states that in 2007, the students who had recently graduated found that the requirement did not harbor negative attitudes about the enforced nature of the community involvement, and that the program had been successful in mobilizing students who otherwise would not have volunteered (Henderson, Brown, Pancer, & Ellis-Hale, 2007).
As well, this article reflects on “Youth Voice”. We discussed this topic in our youth development class. Youth voice a process which provides youth the opportunity to communicate, and be considered in the implementation of programs and services. Volunteering and being involved in community gives youth a chance to have different levels of voice leading to positive development. Youth also learn how to work with adults. Additionally, the students in the high schools of Ontario were asked, in class, to write reflections about their community involvement in short papers or journal form. This allowed the students to explore their thoughts on volunteering, social problems within their community, and contributed to further strengthen the developmental outcomes of their involvement.
I found this case study to be engaging. Mandatory community involvement should be implemented in more high schools today. The government of Ontario operates through the Student Success strategy which helps strengthen student’s engagement in education and learning through programs and policies (e.g., through cooperative education and community involvement). Such involvement may increase the relevance of learning and encourage students to develop closer links to their community (Costante, 2011). Lastly, I think the positive effects of volunteering in high school gives youth more opportunity to find what they might pursue in the future and help in career decision making.
Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, Ontario Secondary Schools Grades 9 to 12 Program and Diploma Requirements (Toronto, ON: MET, 1999).
Henderson, A, Brown, S. D., Pancer, S. M., & Ellis-Hale, K. (2007). Mandated Community Service in High School and Subsequent Civic Engagement: The Case of the “Double Cohort” in Ontario.