A Positive Group Volunteer Experience

multi-ethnic volunteer group hands together showing unity
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While teaching a module about working in Canada, I found my students were a bit surprised when I told them that volunteer work was not only valuable to have on a resume, but also one of the best ways to gain work experience in Canada.  For many, “paid” work experience seemed to be the only valued work experience they had known.  So, when I mentioned to my class that employers like to see volunteer experience on resumes and hear about it in job interviews, students started asking how they could do it.

Good question! How could I get a class of 20 LINC students to do volunteer work that was relevant and meaningful?  Then I heard about Hamilton Newcomer Day!

There was a brightly coloured poster on a bulletin board in our department promoting Hamilton Newcomer Day.  I asked my coordinator about this event and was told that student council reps would be sharing information with their classes soon since the organizers were looking for volunteers.  What?  They need volunteers!!!  Yes!  

What is Hamilton Newcomer Day?

Hamilton Newcomer Day (HND) is an event to welcome and celebrate newcomers to Hamilton.  It includes an information fair, live entertainment, food/drinks, and a Hamilton community member marketplace.  It also hosts a Canadian Citizenship ceremony.  However, to make the event flow smoothly for both organizers and attendees, it needs volunteers.  Lots of volunteers!

How did students get involved?

As students in the class attentively listened to their student council reps talk about HND in the computer lab and watched the promo video of the event from last year, I could see interest stirring in their eyes.  I asked the class, “Would you like to go to HND?”  Everyone said “yes”.  Then I asked, “How many people in the class would be interested in volunteering for this event?”  About two thirds of the class put up their hands excitedly.  With no time to waste, I had students locate the HND volunteer application form online which they completed as a group.  After carefully checking over spelling, grammar, and personal contact information, students sent off their applications one-by-one.

A few weeks later, 15 students from the class got confirmation emails from event organizers about their acceptance to volunteer at HND.  The email gave an orientation date for all volunteers to attend one week before the big day to find out about their roles and responsibilities.  As volunteers, students were assigned to take on one or more of the following roles for the event – translator, food server, stagehand, surveyor, game monitor, and liaison between organizers and attendees.

What about students who did not register online to volunteer?  

With the aid of my teaching partner and our department computer technician, the remainder of the students in the class got a chance to utilize their media production skills as photographers and videographers for the event.  These students conducted interviews with attendees, shot video footage of the day’s events and performers, and took live action photographs that were later used to create promotional video projects and posters of the event.

How did the class feel about volunteering?

They thoroughly enjoyed it! For many students, it was wonderful to be a part of an event with their peers working together for a common goal.  Students were excited to interact with newcomers like themselves.  They felt connected with the attendees and happy to work with members of the community.  Some expressed that this experience had taught them a lot of about the importance of being on time, committing to doing a task, and pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to try something new.  Students were delighted to use their English communication skills outside the classroom in a “real-world” setting.  Others were given an extra boost to their confidence and motivation in wanting to search for new volunteer opportunities. Moreover, students were able to use the knowledge gained at the event towards their learning in the classroom.

Why volunteer?

Volunteering has such incredible benefits:

  • Gaining work experience and knowledge
  • Developing soft skills
  • Improving and practicing communication skills
  • Becoming involved with the community
  • Networking

How are you getting your students to volunteer?

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