Student Volunteer Connection’s annual workshop encourages civic engagement
Building relationships within the community, gaining practical knowledge, and inspiring youth volunteerism—these were the goals of the Do So Much Day conference that was held on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016 at city hall. The Do So Much Day conference is an annual event organized by Student Volunteer Connections, as a way of immersing Guelph students in the community and inspiring them to become engaged citizens, both locally and globally.
The first half of the day featured a thought-provoking keynote presentation and networking activities. This year’s presenter was a young writer, entrepreneur, and university student herself, Pippa Biddle. Biddle is known for her critical views of the “voluntourism” industry, as well as for her diverse work with development organizations around the world.
In her presentation, Biddle pointed out that we, in the West, are often trained to look for the volunteer opportunities that will look the most impressive on our resumé or will make us feel the best. This has led to an overflow of young people searching for volunteer trips abroad. [pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]…inspiring them to become engaged citizens…[/pullquote]
Unfortunately, these kinds of activities are not always what is best for the community we are entering. Biddle warned participants that taking on tasks we are not trained to do, and sweeping in and out of a community can sometimes do more harm than good. She encouraged us to do our research and take part in projects that promote sustainability and focus on the needs of the community—not the volunteers.
Although her presentation focused mostly on volunteer travel, Biddle also emphasized the importance of looking for volunteer opportunities in your own community.
“Volunteering builds bridges across dividers of privilege, class, race, and religion, that will help a community grow and improve in a healthy and sustainable way,” Biddle said to The Ontarion. “Rather than looking outside of your community to do good, look in your city, neighborhood, or even on your block, for opportunities to assist and engage with those in need.”
After a quick lunch, the volunteers signed up with their organization of choice, and set off for a few hours of hard work. In the past, the Do So Much Day event has been a series of inspiring guest-speakers and workshops, aimed at getting students excited about volunteering. This year, the team at Student Volunteer Connections decided to try a new approach, and added an afternoon of hands-on volunteering to the mix. Participants were split up between The Canadian Cancer Society, The Guelph Food Bank, 10 Carden, and the West Willow Village where they worked with the organizations on small projects. Some of these organizations only have one or two regular volunteers, so having 10 students for a few hours can be a huge help.
As a participant in the conference, I spent my afternoon with the West Willow Village community program. We painted bulletin boards, organized storage and helped set up computers. This may seem insignificant, but for a group that provides services to over 40 children and their families every day, getting these jobs done properly was essential.
Linda Busuttil—one of the program leaders for West Willow Village—told The Ontarion, “For our neighbourhood the impact is always measured in the benefit to and relationships with people! Setting up a computer for a two hour volunteer commitment translates into access to technology; a family can independently complete their taxes, connect with family on Facebook or access online school information.”
Speaking with Ms. Busuttil and taking part in this volunteer conference, reminded me that you don’t need a weekly commitment to lend a hand. As students, we’re often busy with school, work and friends, but just a few hours here and there can make such a difference for say, 43 children with a refreshed place to hang out after school.
When the painting was done, we returned to city hall once again. We ended the day with a sidesplitting improv workshop from the Making Box, and the feeling that we had put our Saturday to good use.