Forced Volunteerism – is that an Oxymoron?

It’s impossible to overstate the important role volunteers play in our communities. They shovel our outdoor rinks, coach our kids’ soccer teams and, of course, lead Girl Guide Units. Basically, I think it’s safe to say that volunteers make our world go round.

But if you force someone to volunteer, is it really volunteering? Many provinces, including Ontario and B.C., require high school students to complete a set number of volunteer or community involvement hours in order to graduate. The idea is to encourage students to develop an awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and the role they can play. But if you force someone to volunteer, will their heart be in it? Are they doing it for the ‘ right ‘ reasons?

Maybe it doesn’t matter why teens are volunteering – whether it’s because they have to or because they want to. We definitely don’t want to a generation who’ve been ‘volun-told’ to help out. But ultimately, the goal of these high school volunteer requirements is to turn I have to volunteer into I want to volunteer.

For some high schoolers, these volunteer involvement hours may be their first experience with rolling up their sleeves and lending a hand in their community. If these forced volunteer hours help a young person discover a new career path, feel a new connection to their community (you know, other than texting), then that’s all good to me.

(Bloggy confession – my own family is benefiting from high school volunteerism. A grade 10 student comes over once a week to parlez français with my son while building Lego or playing board games, helping my little Grade 1 guy  improve his French conversation skills.)

There are 12.5 million volunteers in Canada, giving some 2.1 billion hours annually to their communities. And when the baby boomers retire from volunteerism, who will take their place? Starting the next generation on a journey to a life-long culture of volunteerism – even if some may need a little nudge – can’t be that bad.

So having said all that, I’m not really sure how I feel about mandatory volunteer hours. What do you think?

By Mary, GGC staff
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10 Responses to Forced Volunteerism – is that an Oxymoron?

  1. Norine Jones says:

    I feel very strongly about young people being REQUIRED to volunteer. I think it is a fabulous part of our education system. Many young people don’t have the luxury of having great role models around them. Some don’t live a life where their parents are giving back to their community.

    Many kids volunteer anyhow. If we’re getting to those that wouldn’t normally volunteer, I think that is great. They will have the opportunity to see that YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE. Volunteering builds connections with others in business who provide professional opportunities as well. I don’t see any down side to ensuring all youth learn how to give back to their community. You don’t have to call it volunteering if you don’t want to. Just call it community service. I definitely believe in a child learning how to give back to a community that just helped make his or her education possible.

  2. Papillon says:

    I’m a Coordinator of Volunteers in my agency as well as a Girl Guide Leader and I find that forcing young people to volunteer may not be a good idea. If they are forced to volunteer when they don’t want to, they my associate volunteering with negative feelings and may not want to volunteer later. I think the solution is to perhaps give students who complete a certain number of hours a credit.

  3. Allison says:

    I did the International Baccalaureate program in high school (grade 11 and 12), and we were required to do 320 hours of CAS (Creative, Athletic and Service) hours in my last 2 years of high school. I did things I never thought I would do because I was required to do them to graduate. I did enjoy it though, and I don’t think we give teenagers enough responsibility or enough accountability to be HUMAN. I don’t think the 40 hours of service is enough, I think it should be much more. I truly believe that our society fosters a culture of “you can’t do it, you’re only a teenager”, and so they develop this feeling of helplessness, which unfortunately continues on as they get older, until suddenly they’re 25 and expected to behave like an adult with little or no preparation (I was grateful to turn 25 because suddenly people started treating me like I was an adult, which I had felt like since I was a teenager).

    This is why GGC is *so* important, because it forces teenagers into situations where they have to make decisions and suffer the consequences in a safe way (i.e., suggesting to Pathfinders they may want to put on their rain jacket when it starts raining, but accepting their decision to NOT do so if they choose, and letting them sort out the natural consequences of choosing not to wear a waterproof layer in the midst of a downpour. They won’t die, but they might be wet and cold and make a better decision next time. Or not). Forced volunteer-ism is part of the GGC program though, there is always a service component in all levels, and you’re not saying anything about that.

    As my wife has chimed in, they will learn to appreciate the value of their own work, even if they hate it. Growing up is a formative experience, it’s not supposed to be cushy or always fun and fancy free. I think volunteering needs to be part of university education too (a lot of programs will accept you based on your volunteering record, that’s one of the reasons I’ve succeeded so well in my career, is thanks to Girl Guides!).

  4. GuiderChris81 says:

    I remember having to do 40 hours of volunteers back in high school my OAC (grade 13) year. It wasn’t a problem for me, I was already in Guiding. A friend of mine volunteered with a church youth group and it actually renewed her faith.

    I think letting teens choose how they volunteer is very important. Everybody is good at and/or passionate about something, whether it be sports, academics, arts or environmentalism. If a teen is given the opportunity to do something they are passionate about while helping the community it is more likely to foster a sense of community responsibility. If a teen is not comfortable volunteering with other people or with kids they could always do an environment project like tree planting or helping to renew the local park.

    I think perhaps 40 hours is a little much to expect (that’s an hour a week of the school year) but I think giving teens a taste of volunteerism through the school is certainly a good initiative.

  5. I agree that students should volunteer. In the Yukon we are also required to volunteer for 30 hours to graduate. For me it wasn’t an issue because in my family if you don’t volunteer for something then you must not be in the family. Everyone from my grandparents and parents to aunts and uncles volunteer their time with something. But not all familes are like this.

    These hours provide students an opportunity to try something they never thought they would. One example is with my other hat Special Olympics, we have one coach that started volunteering in order to get her hours to graduate, 3 years later she is still a coach and loves the program. I think the key for these voluntold students is to ensure that they are having a good time so that when there hours are up they don’t want to leave.

  6. Alana says:

    In Ontario, you are required to do 40 hours of volunteering in 4 years – that works out to be 1 hour a month (sure doesn ‘t seem like so much when put that way, does it?). I personally think that getting teens to volunteer is a good idea. Back when I was in my teens, the only volunteering we really heard about was Candystripers. And if working around sick people wasn’t your thing, then there was a huge “ewww” factor. Because so many now have to volunteer, they are being shown that there are a lot of ways you can make a difference. And that some (or one) might even prove to be what leads you to your life’s work.

  7. Elaun / Barn Owl says:

    I believe the way to change “I have to” to “I want to” is to provide some level of choice in the program. There are a wide range of volunteer jobs out there from the physical (like snow shoveling) to the personal (one-on- one mentoring computer skills to a senior). There is something for everybody – offer a wide variety of choice and let the young person choose where he or she would like to work. It will be more rewarding for everyone.

  8. Anonymous says:

    40 hours in 4 years equal 1 hour a month per school year… 1 hour out of 5208 hours in a month… teens have time to text, hang out with their friends, facebook/Twitter, go shopping.. yet many complain they “have to” spend 1 hour a month volunteering. In my experience, the children who have more than 40 hours are the ones who ‘get it’. They choose to volunteer beyond what is required of them. The grade 12’s who are in danger of not graduating because they don’t have 40 hours, don’t get it. Unfortunately, these kids also haven’t grown up understanding that volunteering is a positive thing. It can lead to friendships, career paths, contacts, jobs, and most importantly.. a feeling of self worth. There are many, many places that need volunteers to operate.. arenas, sports facilities, libraries, senior snow shovelling, events, working a sound board at a school concert, reading with children,parade marshalls, ‘working’ at an art show, …. the lists go on and on. Volunteering can be alot of fun!
    I am proud to say that as a mom to 5 kids, my 4th is heading off to high school in September. My 3 older ones had their 40 hours completed before the end of September of their grade 9.. My oldest daughter won a scholarship from her school for having the most volunteering hours(468) by end of grade 12,. and my son who is finishing grade 12 right now, will surpass her number. My son in grade 10 has over 150… It is what you make of it. If a parent thinks it is a big hassle… so will the kids. Make it a part of your life early on, and they will always!
    By the way, volunteering in school leads to better things also. My daughter also won a full scholarship to university… 1/2 of the application was marks, and the other 1/2 was based on volunteerism.
    Oh, and before you think we live in a large city where there is tons of volunteering possibilities? We live in a small town of less than 7,000 people, and our high school has 600 kids. Every child finds a way to get their hours!!

  9. Germaine Fisher says:

    Hmmm perhaps it really should be called community service, that way they get exposed to the agencies in their community that need help but if they don’t enjoy the particular agency or aspect of work they will not associate it with “volunteering” in general.
    However this raises the bigger question about volunteerism, which is “Who will volunteer when the baby boomers get too tired or infirm to carry on?” I attended a workshop on volunteerism 6 or 7 years ago and it was stated that volunteers are changing and that they do not necessarily have the time or desire to put into volunteerism as was once the case; and that the onus was on the volunteer boards to recognize this. We have to realize this and take action and not just give lip service to the notion that “We will take the time you have to offer.” I feel we are in a transition between the volunteer who will sacrifice every other aspect in their life to volunteer and people who want more life balance. Neither group is wrong they just look differently at volunteering. It is no good trying to shame a new generation of volunteers into behaving like we baby boomers have. Perhaps retention of volunteers would be a bit easier if we were emore honest about the time commitment needed for a certain position or we really did embrace “shared leadership” or shared positions” and not just say that we do. I just turned 60 and consider myself a liftetime volunteer but I really admire our younger women; in general they are busy, active women who
    give everything they have while they are on a project and seek balance in their work, family, and volunteer lives. It is up to us seasoned Guiders to re-think our notions of volunteerism and welcome those who either cannot or just do not want to volunteer in the same manner that we have.

  10. Ashes says:

    I’m all for mandatory volunteer hours.

    The important thing here is the concept of giving high school student and opportunity to try something new. Here you have an age group at the height of social pressure; young people who might want to volunteer may be too shy or self-conscious to get involved on their own. By requiring them to *try* it, they can get their feet wet without having to standout.

    My three year old daughter loves the television show Yo Gabba Gabba. One of the repetitive songs they sing goes: “Try it, you might like it! Try it, you might like it!” It’s a rare instance where I hope what seems like brainwashing might actually take. It’s a shame to be afraid to try new things. High school students should be required to try volunteerism. Who knows, they might like it.

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