Gaining work experience and accumulating the voluntary community hours necessary for high school graduation can be a challenge for many students. As a young newcomer to Canada, struggling with a different culture and language, the challenge can be even greater. Having run a local youth volunteer initiative program for a number of years, Kingston Employment Services (KEYS) became aware of the need for a similar program that would focus on the specific needs of young newcomers to Canada. From this vision grew the Global Youth Volunteer Initiative Program (Global VIP); a project launched in summer 2008 and funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The mandate of the Global VIP is simple: to help young newcomers between 13 and 24 fulfil their mandatory high school community hours, bridge the gap between school and work, or prepare for the Canadian job market, while simultaneously fostering within the students an understanding of, and appreciation for, the benefits of volunteering in their local community.
Carol Roberts came on board as Project Coordinator just before the first Global VIP session launched in August 2008. Since then she has seen students from countries as diverse as Kenya, China, Jordan, Malawi, India, Korea, Burma, and Cuba benefit from the Global VIP. ‘As a young newcomer you can be faced with a new culture, new language, and the responsibilities of schoolwork and family life, as well as the added component of volunteering. The Global VIP can help make your community hours count towards your passion, and towards who you are.’ She points out that while many high schools offer career advice and programs, the Global VIP offers the advantages of a ready-made community network, and an opportunity to work on exciting group projects, as well as a smaller group size in which one-to-one attention is frequent.
The Global VIP runs four times a year: twice during the summer, and once in both the fall and winter. The summer program is ideal for students who may be trying to bridge the gap between school and work or post-secondary education, and involves a week of workshops exploring topics such as networking, resume writing, job searching, and interview techniques, followed by one or two 40-hour week work placements. The fall and winter programs, in contrast, have been developed with more rigid high school schedules in mind, and are designed to intersperse after-school workshops with a community-based group project.
The young newcomers who took part in last winter’s Global VIP program were involved in developing a sound production project in collaboration with CFRC 101.9 Queen’s Radio. The resulting broadcast gave the students a chance to discuss topics as diverse as global youth pop culture and the politics of immigration, as well having the opportunity to tell some of their own stories.
Carol’s plans for future community-based Global VIP projects don’t stop at sound production. The next group will work on a video project during which newcomer youth could tell their stories. Current students have suggested future media projects that include working on publications, using social networking sites such as Facebook, or even making a short film.
Carol’s enthusiasm for the program is infectious; her commitment to the students and the volunteering projects clear. ‘We try to get young people set in a direction, help them with their goals, and in doing so hopefully really ignite a love for being involved in both the community and volunteering.’ With a successful first year under its belt, the Global Youth Volunteer Initiative Program is well on its way to becoming a vital part of Kingston’s programs and services for young newcomers to Canada.