I am inspired every day by the positive change that is being led by students -- even some who are still in grade school. It reminds me that anyone at any age has the power to spark change. Just look at Nobel Peace Prize Winner Malala Yousafzai, or the Kielburger brothers, as amazing examples.
Today's young people are giving their time to the social causes they care most about -- be it the environment, education or access to clean drinking water -- and whatever the cause, they are vocal about it. For them, especially, social media has served as a great platform to make this happen.
At any age, giving back to your community is rewarding, but for students looking to make their mark on the world, getting engaged in a cause that matters can be a defining point in your life. Here are just a few reasons why.
You can make a difference: Whether you're volunteering, raising money or helping to spread the word about an important cause, giving back to your community will make you realize how much impact one person can make. It's a good reminder that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve great things.
You'll gain great experience: Often, volunteer organizations need people to help out on all aspects of the operation, providing many opportunities to get well-rounded experience that you wouldn't necessarily get elsewhere. On the flip-side, it's a great way to hone your own unique skills and share your experiences with others.
You'll build confidence: Sometimes, being dedicated to a cause means you have to put yourself out there. Maybe you're raising funds and need to reach out to your contacts, or you're trying new channels to get a message out. Taking small, controlled risks to try new things gives you the chance to build your confidence, and gain a sense of achievement, while exploring what works and what doesn't. These skills become great building blocks as you enter the workforce.
It looks great on a resume: There's no doubt -- if you want to set yourself apart from other job applicants, having robust volunteer experience is appealing to a prospective employer. In addition to showing your dedication and work ethic, it also demonstrates your core values, who you are as a person and a passion for causes you believe in.
It expands your network: Working alongside seasoned professionals or just others with a similar passion will be key in making lasting and valuable connections. These individuals can provide strong references for you in the future, become your mentors or even life long friends.
During my time at RBC, I've had the opportunity to see first hand how students can make a difference in their communities. Through the #Make150Count intiative, thousands of students from coast to coast are working to do something good -- from starting a clothing drive for new Canadians and dropping off toys to a children's hospital, to delivering hot cups of tea while chatting with those living in poverty. What I've learned most is how the simplest ideas, and the smallest gestures, can really go a long way in brightening someone's day and show what it means (in my opinion) to be Canadian.
As a student, and even now in adulthood, I've always found it rewarding to get involved in something I feel passionate about and do something really impactful. It's such a great way to have a deeper connection to your community and the enrichment you get from giving back -- however you can -- is truly invaluable.
Let us know what you would do with $150 to make the world a better place.
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Introduce your children to books that encourage compassion and generosity toward others. Try “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss for its message about the environment, “The Legend of Bluebonnet” by Tomie De Paola for its focus on sacrificing for others, and “Something Beautiful” by Sharon Wyeth, which is about seeing beauty in the unlikeliest places. Biographies about inspiring figures (“Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport) can also spark important conversations on how they can pitch in.
A great way to get your family invested in volunteering is to use it as a way to explore their interests and talents. Are they into sports? Volunteer to coach a youth league or help them start a collection of unused gear to donate to a school or organization in need. Are they crazy about animals? Pitch in at a pet shelter or with an animal welfare organization. To foster an even deeper sense of togetherness, participate in activities that explore your family’s heritage, whether it’s volunteering at a museum or reading stories at your local community center.
What sparks excitement in a teenager may provoke boredom or confusion in your grade-school child. Try to turn younger children on to volunteering by starting with simple visit to a food bank or clothing drive where they can sort items. Alternatively, you can help them start an ongoing collection (glasses, old cell phones, etc.) to donate. For older children, activities that connect to their interests and skills will help them develop their talents, stay out of trouble and serve others.
It’s too easy to lose out on the real spirit of the holidays when you’re caught in a whirlwhind of materialism. How about finding a way to make your holiday about slowing down and spending time with your family? There are plenty of food banks, hospitals, homeless shelters and retirement homes that welcome volunteers on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s a great way to establish a ritual of volunteering with your kids that could well extend through the rest of the year.
Even if your family can’t devote a whole day to volunteering, incorporate giving as a routine. Make service both a long-term commitment and an everyday occurrence. And the benefits are long-lasting: According to Tanisha Smith, a national director of volunteer services for Volunteers of America: "Two-thirds of youths who volunteer become active adults who volunteer."
We admit that it’s a hard sell to get your kid to sacrifice the allure of the traditional birthday party, but Volunteer Guide has some great pointers for making volunteering -- and fun! -- the main attraction. Encourage guests to donate a small sum to a charity of your family’s choice in lieu of an extravagant gift. And instead of useless party favors, kids can leave knowing that they’ve made the world a little brighter, whether they’ve written a letter to a sick kid or planted a tree.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to model good values and have important conversations with your kids. Make it meaningful by asking them questions before, during and after: What do they hope to get out of this day of service? What did they learn? Go to DoingGoodTogether.org for more great discussion-starters.
Follow Laura Plant on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RBC_Canada