When I first began volunteering, I was just beginning grade 12 and looking for ways to gain new experiences outside of what high school could offer. I found my first long-term volunteer experience with Catholic Social Services as a Homework Club tutor. I stayed with them for over a year.
The program was a drop-in academic help session for immigrant youth held every Saturday. It was an interesting experience because while my best subjects were Spanish and English, I began to lose my confidence in tutoring these subjects every time a question came up that I could not answer. I began to wonder about limitations in my own offered abilities and I started seeking different opportunities. Not every volunteer opportunity works out.
With the various volunteering I did in the following years, I began to ask myself some questions: “Am I really helping the people I want to help? Is it meaningful? And, meaningful to who?”
Over the years, I found myself floating between various non-profit organizations looking for a place I could click with. I have set up conferences and events, helped with youth programs that didn’t progress beyond the planning stage, mentored recent immigrants who then left Canada due to homesickness, and helped different political parties. Not many people can say they have volunteered with the Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat parties all within one year, which I did last year.
Non-profit organizations rely heavily on volunteers for many of the amazing programs they offer, but they also face a high turnover of volunteers because people get busy with life or don’t click with the organization and move on. I’ve discovered people may need to try many different volunteer experiences before finding one that works.
When you connect with an organization, volunteering becomes more meaningful. That said, I loved every volunteer experience because I met so many different people, learned more about my own community, and forged lasting relationships. When I began volunteering, I had the intention of helping people, but over time I began to see that volunteering helps me understand my own life better.
Today I volunteer with the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program as a classroom volunteer, very similar to my first volunteer experience, but with an older demographic. I help people improve their English. I have been with the program for over a year. The program clicked for me because I had a connection before coming to the school. The school was where my father, a refugee from Cambodia, took his first English as a Second Language classes.
It feels as though my volunteering has taken me full circle to a place that has a connection to my family. Now I am happily making connections with those who are in a similar place to where my father was over 30 years ago. I’ve found a place that clicks.