Ottawa

Non-profits turn to teen volunteers for help

Non-profits and community organizations in need of volunteers are increasingly turning to teens to help deliver much-needed services to some of the city's most vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

Young people needed now more than ever, volunteer organizations say

Arlene Saini, a young volunteer with Cyber Seniors, takes part in a group call with some of the non-profit's clients. (CBC)

Non-profits and community organizations in need of volunteers are increasingly turning to teens to help deliver much-needed services to some of the city's most vulnerable residents during the pandemic.

Paula Speevak, president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, said many adult volunteers are now too busy taking care of children, while older ones are being encouraged to self-isolate. At the same time, many young people are without summer employment because of the pandemic.

Speevak said teens are ready, willing and able to lend a hand.

"People often make assumptions that youth are not interested in anyone but themselves, and that's definitely not the case," she said. "I think we underestimate the skill, the compassion, even the brilliance." 

Volunteers with the Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre pack food for distribution. (Rideau-Rockcliffe Community Resource Centre)

According to Statistics Canada, 15-19-year-olds already have the highest rate of volunteering, with two-thirds engaged in some kind of unpaid work in the community. (In many school boards, students must complete a certain number of volunteer hours to graduate.) 

Speevak said organizations are now reaching out to youth clubs and sports programs to match those young volunteers with organizations that need help during the current public health crisis.

Paula Speevak is president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, a non-profit agency funded by 21 member organizations across the country. (courtesy of Paula Speevak)

Many have already answered the call. Cyber Seniors, started in 2015 as a high school project by two Toronto sisters, has seen its army of teen volunteers double to 200 to meet the demand.

The non-profit matches tech-savvy young people with older adults in need of computer help. Since March, the teen volunteers have been helping seniors with such vital tasks as ordering groceries online.

A new volunteer with Ottawa Innercity Ministries undergoes training. ( Ottawa Innercity Ministries)

"Teens want to do something to help," said Cyber Seniors co-founder Macaulee Cassaday. "I think the issue a lot of the times with teens who want to step up is they don't know how."

In an attempt to harness the potential of young volunteers, the federal government is set to offer a $5,000 grant to young people who help out during the pandemic. More information about the program will soon be released, but agencies such as Volunteer Ottawa are gearing up for an influx of new interest.

Macaulee Cassaday founded Cyber Seniors with her sister when they were in high school. The free service uses teen volunteers to help older adults stay connected. (CBC)

"We expect a surge of students," said Volunteer Ottawa president Marie Eveline. "So we're trying to identify opportunities for those students who want to give back to the community." 

Eveline said volunteer organizations across the country are reaching out to young people as many adult volunteers are forced to step back. 

"We're thinking about recruiting a different demographic," Eveline said.

In Ottawa, 1,700 people answered a call from Volunteer Ottawa to help with COVID-19 relief. Eveline said the organization has been reaching out to community groups and city councillors to try to deploy those volunteers where they're needed most, but it's been challenging in the current climate.

 

"We've been finding that making the connections between individuals who want to help and the organizations or groups that need help has been a bit more challenging than we thought it would be," Eveline said.

Cyber Seniors has applied to both the provincial and federal government for grants, but so far hasn't qualified.

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