New tools aim to bridge the gap between what young Canadians want out of volunteering, and what opportunities exist

Canadian youth feel discriminated against because of their age while seeking, and being assigned, volunteer responsibilities, according to a landmark voluntary sector research study. This key insight prompted leaders from the non – profit and private sectors to collaborate and launch a new suite of tools to address the issue.

“Our research reveals many young Canadians perceive a lack of respect when being assigned volunteer duties,” said Ruth MacKenzie, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada. “ T hey feel discounted by other volunteers, and say they are given the simpler types o f tasks that nobody else would want to do.”

Despite the fact that youth continue to have the highest volunteer rates, are more open-minded, and have superior social media skills, they are often left out of the strategic decision – making in organizations and are sidelined to menial tasks.

These core findings about youth, 15- 24, were identified in Bridging the Gap, a report produced by Volunteer Canada in collaboration wit h Manulife Financial. While some organizations have developed innovative strategies to engage youth, many youth and organizations indicated that they needed some practical support.

The two partners teamed up with th e Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener- Waterloo to produce the tools, available now on www.GetVolunteering.ca . These products are designed to support organizations in their efforts to effectively engage today’s youth volunteers, as well as young Canadians seeking meaningful community involvement.

MTV’s Aliya-Jasmine Sovani and a number of other special guests joined more than 100 high schools students at a youth career fair in Kitchener- Waterloo this morning to support the launch .

Common themes emerged from focus group participants during the research phase of the campaign. One young Canadian said: “Sometimes or ganizations don’t look at you as an individual, but just as a volunteer number. ” Another recommended: “Getting to know volunteers personally, and learning about their skill sets, will improve long-term engagement with us.”

The Youth Involvement Model is a lead product among the suite of tools, and is based on a pilot project undertaken in the Kitchener-Waterloo area. It is intended for use by community – based volunteer centres. The model outlines the key relationships needed to develop a robust youth engagement program.

“These tools support youth and help to build a strong foundation for long – term volunteer involvement,” said Jane Hennig, Executive Director of the Volunteer Action Centre of Kitchener- Waterloo. “ There are many partners and allies who play essential development and mentoring roles in order to engage youth in community throughout their lifetimes. We teamed with a number of these individuals and groups, and their efforts were fundamental to the success of this pilot project.”

Building Blocks for Youth Volunteering is an interactive document geared toward parents, teachers, and youth, which identifies how adults can support young Canadians in their search for volunteer opportunities. It includes a self- assessment tool, which youth can use to identify their skills and interests, as well as how they may apply while volunteering.

“As Canada’s veteran volunteers retire from community involvement activities, it’s essential that we effectively engage our next generation of volunteers with opportunities that utilize their skills in meaningful ways,” said Nicole Boivin , Senior Vice President and Chief Branding and Communications Officer at Manulife Financial.

A third youth tool – a tip sheet outlining how volunteer- involving organizations can become more “youth-friendly” – is currently being developed in conjunction with Apathy is Boring, and is set for release in late March, 2012.

On Thursday, March 1, Justin Trudeau (Member of Parliament representing Papineau, Québec) will moderate an interactive conversation on the “Get Volunteering” Facebook page around youth community involvement. A variety of youth influencers will contribute to the conversation. The general public can access the conversation on March 1 or anytime thereafter.

“Young people are highly committed and more tech – savvy than other generations, ” said MacKenzie. “There’s a real opportunity here to take them seriously and offer them real responsibility in volunteer roles.”

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