Since 2010, Volunteer Airdrie has been helping people give back to the community through volunteering.
“There are over 200 non-profits here in Airdrie and our role is to help all of them,” says Melanie Taylor, Volunteer Airdrie executive director (pictured left). “But our focus is more directed at the public and helping people connect with volunteer organizations and volunteer opportunities.”
Volunteer Airdrie was originally formed as a place for volunteer management, but it has become so much more for the non-profit community in the city. The organization helps to bridge communications between the public and private sector, as well as creating resources for volunteer initiatives and helping community members find and create their own volunteer opportunities. However, though many organizations rely on help from volunteers, it can be difficult to find people willing to dedicate their time.
Dave Maffitt, chair of Volunteer Airdrie, realized this need for volunteers himself throughout his six years as an executive with the Airdrie Minor Basketball Association.
“What I found was, finding volunteers was extremely difficult,” he says, adding that he joined Volunteer Airdrie in 2013 in the hopes of encouraging more volunteerism.
“Every sports organization, every non-profit group – everyone is faced with the same problem of tracking down volunteers, and it’s unfortunate because volunteering’s a lot of fun.”
For people looking to get involved, Volunteer Airdrie works to find them a position that interests them. Explains Taylor: “It’s not just about knowing the positions are available; it’s about finding the right fit.”
“Volunteering is not just something we do for our community; it’s something we do to build skills, it’s something we do to test out new things or to learn new things and to meet people,” she says, adding that the right match increases the benefits for the individual, the organization and the community.
“If you want to live in a great community, you have to make a great community. It doesn’t just happen by itself,” Taylor says. “The amount of people that invest their time in Airdrie – that’s what makes our community what it is.”
With school, friends and extra-curricular activities, teenagers have a lot on their plates, but Volunteer Airdrie’s LEAD program is helping teach youth the importance of leadership and community involvement.
LEAD, which stands for Leadership, Empowerment, Achieving a Difference, started in early 2017 after the organization realized Airdrie’s youth were finding it difficult to get involved in the community.
“We talked to youth about how hard it was for them to be involved in the community and to be accepted in our city,” says Melanie Taylor, executive director of Volunteer Airdrie. “We all know the stigma of being a youth today; that they’re always on their phones and they’re all selfish, it’s all just about them – and it’s really not true.”
In order to change the stigma and give youth a chance to get involved, the LEAD program provides training both in the classroom and through volunteering.
In the 20 hours of classroom training, participants learn leadership, problem solving and communication skills.
“It is in a classroom, but it is not a classroom-style training,” explains Taylor. “We really have them reflect and think and we talk about really tough subjects and there’s some emotion in the room.”
The students have a chance to listen to various speakers talk about their organizations and the important role of volunteers. At the end of the program, each student is required to give a one- to two-minute speech about their experiences.
So far, 33 students ages 12 to 18 have gone through the LEAD program. Though Taylor says many of the participants are ‘volun-told’ to come, by the end, they are always amazed at how much the program has impacted them.
“They build their confidence, they are able to challenge their perspectives and [help them] think in a way that’s elevated, and really allow them to feel free to have tough conversations in a safe environment,” says Taylor.
Dave Maffitt, chair of Volunteer Airdrie, adds that all students have shown dramatic improvements in conflict management, problem solving, planning and organizing.
Though the LEAD participants are only required to do 20 hours of volunteering to graduate, Maffitt says many of the students continue to volunteer after they finish the program.
One 15-year-old LEAD graduate says: “It didn’t make sense to me why people volunteered because I didn’t understand why people work for free. But the volunteering I did opened my eyes and became the best part of the program.”
Carolyn Geertsen, volunteer co-ordinator with the Airdrie Food Bank, says the LEAD students were a huge help.
“The kids did amazing. They are always a good group to have and very eager to help.”
LEAD is currently in its fourth session and will be offering the program again in the spring.
We asked one of the LEAD participants to share her experience with airdrielife:
This past spring, I had the opportunity to attend a new program called LEAD. The free program is designed to teach youth leadership and co-operative skills. It spans over two months, with weekly sessions for two hours, teaching teenagers to become our next community leaders. Classes focus on different things each time, with diversity and conflict management just to name a few.
The type of knowledge I learned about leadership is extremely useful to the average person to really help them stand out. After the first class, I thought what we would be taught were things like “how to make new friends” or “how to think of a good icebreaker.” What I got instead was so much more. I learned about leadership that I will be able to use in my future. When I arrived for the second class, I was surprised at how many people came back to the second session. This had really caught on. I thank the leaders for this as they made the sessions fun, relatable and educational.
There was also the volunteering component. Part of being able to graduate from the program was volunteering for 20 hours over the two months. What used to be a rare pastime has now turned into a fantastic hobby. Thanks to LEAD, my love of volunteering has come back up again.
Lastly, something that made my experience was the people. Meeting other kids from different schools was really cool. And now, we’re exchanging phone numbers and contacting each other on social media. These are people I thought I never would connect with, but now I have thanks to LEAD. This was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve ever had, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Thank you Volunteer Airdrie LEAD program leaders!
Madeline Belle, age 14, Grade 8