With school, friends and extracurricular 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 younger residents were looking for ways to become more involved.
“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.”
The LEAD program provides training both in class 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,” “We really have them reflect and think; 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.
In 2017, 45 students ages 12 to 18 completed four sessions of the LEAD program, contributing more than 900 volunteer hours. 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.
Volunteer Airdrie chair Dave Maffitt says program graduates have shown dramatic improvements in conflict management, problem solving, planning and organizing.
Though LEAD participants are only required to do 20 hours of volunteering to graduate, he 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.”
According to Volunteer Airdrie board member Dorothy May, LEAD youth have been involved with a variety of local community programs and events, such as Airdrie Food Bank, community beautification projects, Airdrie Festival of Lights, Genesis Place summer camps, AirdrieFEST, Unmask Mental Health, AIRscares and more.
LEAD students have been a huge help, says Carolyn Geertsen, volunteer co-ordinator with Airdrie Food Bank. “The kids did amazing. They are always a good group to have and very eager to help.”
The program’s future looks bright. “We now have a partnership agreement in place with RVS to use W.H. Croxford as our facility for the LEAD classroom sessions,” says Maffitt.
“There has been a lot of interest from people wanting to help as facilitators and we now have a pool of about 8-10 trained facilitators who volunteer their time over the 11-week-long program, including tagging along for many of the group volunteering practicum sessions.”
“In a time where it seems a lot of relationship are virtual, there is something magical in facilitating youth to engage in fun activities that involve socializing and problem solving through interactive activities,” adds May.
To find out more about how to register for LEAD, visit vounteerairdrie.ca; to inquire about becoming a program facilitator, contact firstname.lastname@example.org