Let me introduce myself. It was a few months into Grade 9, and (with the help of my guidance counsellors,) I was the most involved kid in my grade. I was on student council, I was on the school radio station, I was part of the tech crew, and I was a member of quite a few charity clubs. I was loving life, and had made tons of friends. It was so cool that getting involved in these initiatives hooked me up with such cool people who I had so much in common with. But this also opened my eyes to something else. The more clubs I joined, the more I realized how few people were actually involved in anything at all.
I began to notice that too few students were interested in joining new clubs and councils. Too few students had that same readiness for new opportunities. As I began to realize how few students were actually getting involved in the school community, I began to hear words thrown around by teachers and other adults, describing not only myself and my peers, but generalizing my entire generation. I heard words like "lethargic," "lazy," and the term I heard most was "apathetic." I heard the word apathy so often, and at the time I actually didn't know exactly what it meant, only that it was negative. So, I cracked open a dictionary and I swear I legitimately laughed out loud at the definition:
lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern : widespread apathy among students.
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from French apathie, via Latin from Greek apatheia, from apathēs 'without feeling,' from a- 'without' + pathos 'suffering.'
As you may have guessed, I laughed at two parts of this dictionary definition. The first was the example they used. "Widespread apathy among students." (Coincidence -- I think not.) The second thing I found funny and ironic was the definition itself. I thought it was absurd that adults felt students "lack interest, enthusiasms or concern" because honestly, students are some of the most interested, enthusiastic and concerned people I know! We are interested in sports, and partying, and sleeping; we are enthusiastic about sales at the mall, and video game releases, and social media; we are concerned about teenage drama, and relationships.
Teenagers are some of the most interested, enthusiastic, and concerned people around. The apathy adults were talking about was very specific. It was not a general lack of enthusiasm and concern they were talking about. I had realized that lots of students failed to get involved in school activities, but I just hadn't put a name to this "lack of interest, enthusiasm and concern." I realized then that the adults around me had been referencing an apathy towards community. After realizing that, I couldn't help but agree with them. But I couldn't just sit there and accept it. I had to do something. The word apathy was like a volcanic eruption inside of me and I had to do something to change it. Somehow, I had to warp this common perception people had of me and my friends. My generation was capable of a lot more, and I knew it. Deep down I knew it. I just had to prove it.
And just like that, I had it! It was like an epiphany. The idea just came to me. I was going to plan a small school assembly to motivate students at my school to join clubs, and councils and get involved. I didn't know when, or how or where but I just knew I was going to do it. I wanted to show students how they could get involved by matching their interests to different school activities. That was when I pitched the idea of a small school assembly to my principal. He was very supportive, and as I started planning the event, the idea kept growing and growing.
Today, that "small school assembly" has transformed into "Count Me In Conference," which is the largest youth-run event in Canada! The acclaimed event promotes volunteerism, and helps connect students to community service opportunities that match their interest, passions and lifestyle.
From my experience of organizing the conference, which to date has impacted over a million people across the country, it's clear that students want to volunteer, but often they're not sure how to get started, or where they might find volunteer opportunities. So here is my list of top five volunteer activities that teenagers can take part in to make the world a better place in 2013:
1. Feed the homeless; volunteer at a local soup kitchen!
2. Are you a pet lover? Volunteer at an animal shelter!
3. Create your own movement by partnering with youth focused NGO's like www.worldvision.ca
4. Outdoorsy? Organize a community park clean-up!
5. Love books? Become a tutor at your school or local library!
These are just a few ideas, and the conference on April 17 will be a great opportunity to connect with students from across Ontario about the ways in which they're making an impact in their local communities.