Meaning through Mentorship
It can be challenging as a working adult to seek out the time and motivation to volunteer.
As a young software professional, I have been known to take the ostrich approach – head in the sand, allowing very little to distract me from my work. After several years of living like this and feeling like something was missing, I began to seek out volunteer opportunities to add to my experience. This is when I came across the YWCA Welcome to My Life program.
Welcome to My Life is designed to help Grade 7 girls make smart choices as they transition to high school. The unique part about the program is the three-pronged volunteer system: each classroom of Grade 7 girls is assigned a High-School Ambassador (high school volunteer), a Facilitator (undergraduate or post-secondary volunteer) and a Wisdom Champion (someone with real-life working experience – that’s me). Together, the volunteer team takes the girls through a specific curriculum, adding a unique perspective based on their own life stage and experience.
Unfortunately, none of my family or friends will get on board with referring to me as a Wisdom Champion outside of the program. I’m still working on this one.
Going into the program, my expectations were solely focused on the target group of Grade 7 girls. I expected to form meaningful, trust-based relationships. I expected to act as a positive role model and mentor. I expected to help impart knowledge and increase awareness of the sensitive issues they face.
Were these expectations met as a volunteer? Absolutely.
But unbeknownst to me, what I would be exposed to and gain as a volunteer far surpassed my expectations.
Something that struck me in each and every session was the honesty of the program participants. It can be a challenge to get the girls to open up; it can sometimes take slightly awkward periods of silence or for you as a volunteer to share a super embarrassing story about your own grade 7 experiences. But when the discussions get going, the girls show profound thoughtfulness and trust in what they choose to share, whether it is about body image, bullying, values or any sensitive topic covered in the program.
I had not anticipated the sense of community that surrounds being a volunteer for the YWCA. For example – as a new volunteer with YWCA Youth Education Programs, you attend two days of in-person, hands-on training. Of course this includes all age brackets of volunteers. It had been longer than I’d like to admit since I was in a room full of high school students and undergrads. I had my doubts as to how effectively these people of different ages, backgrounds and experiences could come together and complete effective and collaborative training sessions. These doubts were completely unfounded. Not only was the training interesting, well-researched, open-minded and constructive, but it also acted as an important reminder to me of the power of group discussion and collaboration in diverse populations of individuals.
The sense of community among the volunteers extended past the YWCA training program and into the Welcome to My Life sessions. The comradery between the volunteers when working with the girls was infectious – not only did this lead to many open, honest and supportive conversations with the group as a whole, but it also fostered a fun and silly atmosphere where everyone, the girls and volunteers alike, could be themselves.
To any high schoolers, undergrads or young professionals out there with that nagging inkling of ‘Could I be doing more? Do I have time to give back?’ – to you I say wholeheartedly – absolutely! Not only do the YWCA Youth Education Programs allow volunteers to positively impact young peoples’ lives, but the take away is invaluable lessons in teamwork and leadership.
For me, Welcome to My Life was an opportunity to pull my head out of the sand, look around, and realize the potential for community impact and personal growth that volunteering can bestow.
Alison McKenzie is a professional services consultant in the software industry, a Wisdom Champion with YWCA Welcome to My Life program and guest blogger. Do you have what it takes to write for our blog? Contact us and find out how to get involved with the YWCA and give back to your community.
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