As a high school student, accessing opportunities in your community can be a difficult and daunting task, especially as somebody who lives in a rural area. Many clubs and organizations are located in places that are too far to travel on a regular basis, or unwelcoming to youth who are interested in joining. Additionally, the pressures of school, work, family, and friends can make it difficult to find the time to participate in activities.
In my community, I faced these same challenges and found it difficult to get involved, even though I felt like I had a lot to contribute. At first, I volunteered with the Kiwanis Club in my community to get some local experience. When I began high school, I joined the Student Parliament, Key Club, Reach for the Top team, and Music Council. If you’re looking to get involved in your community, high school clubs are a great way to start. For a long time, I had been intensely interested in politics, however, I never knew where to start. The upcoming 2018 Provincial Election and the PC Leadership Race was a great way to start. I got involved with the Christine Elliott campaign when she came to my riding of Oxford. Soon enough, I had met my local MPP and received an offer to help him in the upcoming election!
Throughout the campaign, I proved my worth to others who thought I was too young by working over 20 hours a week knocking doors and making calls. After the election, I was elected to the Oxford PC Board of Directors. I continued my involvement in the community through the Kiwanis Club and the PC Party and continued to build on my past experiences to grow as a person and help my community. I was a delegate to the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, a participant in Forum for Young Canadians, PC Party Leader at the Ontario Youth Model Parliament, and a delegate to the 2018 Ontario PC Annual Convention.
I decided to give back to my community and help other youth by cofounding the Oxford PC Youth Association, which is dedicated to helping youth learn leadership and political skills, advocate for issues they care about, and providing a safe and welcoming space for youth to be involved in politics. Additionally, I started Young Leaders Day. Beginning in 2018, it brought youth from across the province and from different political parties to Queen’s Park to learn more about provincial politics and leadership skills.
If you are a youth who is struggling to be involved in your community, you are not alone. Too often, we find ourselves sidelined or left out due to circumstances we can’t control.
However, you shouldn’t despair - here are some ways that you can join an organization in your area.
Whatever you’re thinking of doing, it’s best to begin with accessing opportunities in your own community. I understand that sometimes they can be difficult to come by, but if you take the time to look, you’d be surprised at what you will find! Even my small town has many organizations like service clubs, business groups, church organizations, conservation groups, and more. Local initiatives are often smaller and they usually will have somebody that you already know as a member or beneficiary. This is especially important if you’re trying something for the first time. It’s easier to get involved when you have a connection!
If you come to find that you don’t enjoy what you signed up for, it’s easier to back out of a small, local commitment than a large one that’s farther away. Since these opportunities are usually smaller, it will allow you to gain more experience in the field before moving up to something larger.
Your high school or university is also a great place to start if you cannot find a place in the community to be directly involved with. Often, they have service clubs like Key Club which can also provide you with a way to be involved in the community.
2. Find Something You’re Passionate About
If you’re thinking about getting involved in your community, you should begin by thinking about what you’re passionate about. Whether you’re looking to learn a new skill, make your community a better place, or just get those 40 community service hours, you should start by finding an organization that serves interests you truly believe in. It could be an animal shelter, a service club, a political party, or anything else - but it’s best if it’s something you care deeply about. The reason? Volunteering or becoming involved with an organization that you believe in, as opposed to one you don’t, generally will lead to higher motivation to continue being involved. You are also more likely to be a more successful and effective member if you believe in what you’re doing. This could be valuable - if you’re a great team member, it could lead to scholarships or references for other jobs or even university.
Additionally, being involved in an area you’re passionate about could give you some ideas as to subjects you’d like to take in high school or university, or even career choices. If you spend time working on projects or with clubs relevant to your future occupation, it could give you a leg up when it comes to job applications as you’ll have experience and connections in the industry.
3. Find an Ally
When you’re first joining an organization, especially one that is well-established, complex, or full of people you’ve never met before, it can be valuable to have an ally. An ally is anybody who can help you on your journey. It could be a longtime member who you find to be especially helpful or interesting. They could help you learn the ins and outs of your trade or give you some pointers to improve your performance. It could also be somebody who lives nearby who you could carpool to meetings or events with. Or, it could be a friend of yours who is interested in joining the organization, too. You could join together; then you have somebody to learn along with and who can be a familiar face in an otherwise unfamiliar setting. Getting involved in your local community first makes it more likely that you will be able to find someone to be your ally.
When I first decided to get involved in politics, it was difficult for me to ‘break in’ to the local Party organizations as they were often frequented by people who were many decades older than I and who had been working on campaigns for longer than I’d been alive. I chose an ally who had been volunteering for a long time so I could access her wisdom and knowledge. She also lived near me, so we could carpool together and become even better friends. This wasn’t difficult - she always took an interest in my activities - but we also had many things in common as she had grandkids my age, and she went to school with my grandmother.
It is important that you choose an ally who is reliable and trustworthy as they can have a large impact on your journey. My ally helped me grow as a person and taught me valuable lessons about life and politics. If I had chosen somebody else, my journey could have played out differently and it’s probable that I would have had less success.
4. Prove Your Worth
Unfortunately, many people harbor misconceptions or stereotypes about youth and our abilities. We know that we are strong, resilient, knowledgeable, and responsible, but even today, many will dismiss the value of youth being involved in their communities. When you are new in an organization, you should make a special effort to show those who are already members that you take your commitment seriously. You should show up to as many events and meetings as possible, be active and engaged when working, and always be respectful to your peers. By doing so, you can demonstrate that you have value and that you’re an asset to the team. If you cannot be a part of a group activity, it should be communicated in clear terms - why are you not able to help out? - and within a reasonable timeframe. When somebody doesn’t communicate about their commitments clearly or cancels on short notice, it can make them appear like they cannot be trusted or don’t value those who are trying to organize an initiative.
Whenever possible, you should try to move up within your organization. Now, I’m not saying you should immediately run for Club President or anything. But running for something as simple as a member of the Board of your club or a member of a committee can demonstrate to others that you are serious about your involvement. It can also be an opportunity to get to know more people in your organization and learn new skills that will be useful in everyday situations.
As you practice this section more and more, you will gain more experience volunteering, and over time, become more comfortable with being involved.
5. Spread Your Wings
By now, you should be comfortable in whatever organization you have chosen. Now that you have demonstrated commitment to your duties and fellow members, you may be approached about further opportunities. This could include spearheading a project, traveling to a convention, or attending a seminar. You should take every opportunity possible to do this to further your skills and demonstrate your dedication.
These opportunities are also a great way to grow as a person. Many teach leadership and organizational skills that will be useful to you in different circumstances. Additionally, some are dedicated exclusively for youth, which makes them easy to attend as they are frequented by people of a similar age and they’re geared towards our interests. A good example of this is the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Seminar, which I was encouraged to attend by my Student Parliament advisor. Not only do they provide skills to take back to your community, but they’re also a great way to make friends! I still have many friends that I talk to on a daily basis that I’ve met through conferences and seminars. They are also a way of unlocking further opportunities. For example, the idea for Young Leaders Day came about at the PC Convention I attended.
It’s also possible now that you could choose more opportunities to be involved in if you feel you are ready.
6. Cash In
As you become more involved in your community, it may be difficult to balance your commitments at school with your existing commitments at work and your new ones in the community. It may also be difficult to finance your community involvement - activities in other cities require you to pay for transportation, lodging, food, and other expenses, which can be difficult to afford on a student budget. This may act as a roadblock on your journey to success.
In the community, however, there are many grants and awards you can access to help you with this. For instance, I was awarded the Women’s Canadian Club Scholarship for Emerging Leaders. This gift helped me finance my travels to the Ontario Youth Model Parliament in Toronto. Your local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs may offer grants to assist you, or the organizations you are a part of may be willing to help pay for the costs of activities that they run. For instance, my local PC Party paid for the cost of my admission as a Delegate at the 2018 Ontario PC Convention. All you have to do is ask! Many service clubs are willing to help somebody out as long as they are respectful and write an eloquent letter or give a good presentation to make their case.
Additionally, you could be able to cash in on your relationships with other members. By now, it should be apparent that you are a serious member; somebody who cares about their work and the club. They may be willing to help you since you are an asset to their organization. This could include doing things like carpooling, sharing hotel rooms, or even just directing you to scholarships that they know of in the community.
Finally, it may be difficult to balance your new responsibilities with school and work. In my opinion, here’s what you should prioritize, in order:
My reasoning behind this is due to the amount of money and opportunities you can provide yourself with through these activities. Through excellence in school, you can make more money via scholarships than any student job you could find in your area. You can also get yourself into a good university or college, and eventually, find a great-paying job afterwards. There are also many scholarships available to involved students, and having community service experience on your resume is something that many schools and employers will value. However, those years spent flipping burgers at Wendy’s, although valuable in the short-term due to the immediate pay that they provided, won’t make the difference when it comes time to apply to university. Hour-by-hour, it is more valuable to excel at school and in your community than to work 30 hours a week at a part-time job, even though you might not feel that effect immediately. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a part-time job, as I do believe that they’re valuable, however, don’t invest too much time into them. If you’re looking for something that blends pay and work experience with community service, try applying at your local library, vet service, or childcare centre.
7. Give Back
The last step in the process is to Give Back. By now, you should have lots of experience with whatever you’ve decided to do and you should be relatively comfortable volunteering and being involved in your community. Now, it’s your turn to use your experience to give back to your community and be an ally to others. Many community groups lack a youth outreach programme, which is why it was so difficult for you to get involved in the first place. Why should everybody have to have the same difficulties you had? Use your expertise to change your club for the better. If you chose the Kiwanis Club, well, then start a Key Club (Kiwanis Youth) in your school! Many political parties offer youth branches - you could start a chapter in your riding like I did in mine. This will give you even more experience working with others in your community, and over time, it will prove to be beneficial to many other youth in your area who had the same difficulties getting involved that you did.
Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck. With hard work and determination, I know that you will do great things in your community. If you would like to contact me and continue this discussion further, my email is:
I can’t wait to see what you will accomplish!