By SARAH VEENSTRA
It turns out community involvement and the act of volunteering can do just as much or more for the volunteer as it does for others, and Conestoga College is showing students how.
It’s called the Get Involved Fair, where twice a year the college invites community organizations and clubs on and off campus, to showcase multiple ways students can get more involved in not just their school, but in the community.
“We have over 90 vendors coming for the week to all four campuses,” said Laura Black, Student Life programmer for community initiatives at Conestoga’s Doon campus. “They range from working with children up to seniors to business opportunities in the community or even to working at THEMUSEUM or art galleries. We also have engineering, media or religious opportunities. There really is something for everyone and it just depends on what your preference is and what you feel would best use your skills.”
Black started her position at the college three years ago after her volunteer work with the Sexual Support Centre of Kitchener-Waterloo led her to represent their booth at Conestoga’s Get Involved Fair.
“I’ve kind of come full circle,” Black said. “From being here and working with these students at the fair to now actually working here at the college. I know I wouldn’t have gotten this job if I hadn’t been volunteering. In a lot of roles in community development and social service, they’re looking for volunteering on your resume. They want to see that you’re connected in the community and that involvement in different organizations. Volunteering gives you that experience and applied learning you need. What we actually find is, the more involved you are while you’re in school, the more likely it is that you’ll be successful outside of it.”
Francesca Pedler, a fourth-year bachelor of community and criminal justice student, has been volunteering for 15 years, the past four of which were with the Get Involved Fair.
“When I came to Conestoga, I started volunteering in an attempt to fit in,” Pedler said. “I didn’t know anyone and I was alone in an unfamiliar city. I often felt like an outcast and I remember looking around the halls one day at all the people and really seeing people from all walks of life. I realized that regardless of our differences, we all struggle with the need to belong and feel connected. I wasn’t alone. I started volunteering at Student Life’s Respect Campaign because it gave me the chance to be part of a team that shares my values and interests while being able to use my skills, creativity and imagination to help encourage individual respect throughout the college.”
Currently on campus, Pedler is a Student Life leader, a leadership ambassador for Conestoga Students Inc., a member of Waterloo Interprofessional Healthcare Student Collaborative, president of SAFE (Sexual Acceptance For Everyone) House, an active agent for Conestoga In Action, a member of the Save a Life Club and is also a volunteer for the International Women’s Day committee.
Her involvement also extends beyond campus as she also volunteers for St. John Ambulance, Canadian Blood Services, the Canadian Cancer Society and more.
“To be honest, you name it and I’ve probably volunteered with it,” said Pedler. “There is something for everyone. You just have to be brave enough to put yourself out there. To get involved doesn’t mean you have to commit a lot of time either. Start with something you’re passionate about or a club that interests you and get started now because you don’t know what you’re missing out on. Volunteering is a huge part of who I am and I can’t see myself ever stopping.”
The Get Involved Fair will travel throughout Conestoga’s four campuses this week, starting today at the Cambridge campus, then to Waterloo and Guelph, finishing on Jan. 21-22 at the Doon campus in the E-wing’s Student Life Centre.
St. John Ambulance, Habitat for Humanity and the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Kitchener-Waterloo are among the listed organizations that can be found online at the college’s website, along with 40 club and volunteer opportunities on campus.
“I just found that volunteering gave me the overall confidence that I needed and a more fine-tuned career path,” said Black. “I was in a broad program that incorporated psychology, social work and sociology. Jobs and placements put a lot of pressure on you, especially when they’re tied to your program. Volunteering gave me the freedom to explore my field and find the direction I wanted my career to take.”
According to Black, the fair will also issue students a passport that once filled, can be entered into a draw for a chance to win a prize. Students will need to collect three stickers on their passport, each from a different organization, and can only be issued if the student has asked a question. The passport activity is designed to encourage students to find out more about their available options.
“The Get Involved Fair is really just about connecting students to meaningful opportunities that allow them to grow,” said Black. “Whether it’s building skills personally or if it’s making those network contacts professionally. I think volunteering is skill building, easy, fun and we have something for everyone.”