A rapidly expanding student volunteering initiative has seen its latest installment provide close to 10,000 hours of local volunteer efforts from teenagers across Hamilton in a matter of weeks.

ChangeTheWorld: Ontario Youth Volunteer Challenge is an annual three-week campaign with one goal: “to get local high school students to volunteer in their community.” The challenge is a mutually beneficial initiative: communities profit from an abundance of volunteer efforts by local high schoolers, while the students themselves receive a portion of the community involvement hours they require to graduate.

ChangeTheWorld has come a long way. Four years ago, few would have guessed that a test project expecting to attract 300 participants would, by 2011, swell to include 15,000 participants contributing 70,000 volunteer hours with the help of 21 volunteer centres organizing events in more than 250 communities across the province.

The organizers of the 2012 edition set out to continue the trend, targeting a mark of 25,000 students volunteering in 450 communities across Ontario. While the results are still being tallied and will be made public within a fortnight, the challenge’s encouraging advancement looks set to continue.

Bishop Tonnos students display their ChangeTheWorld participation certificates

On 15 May at an afterschool presentation celebrating students’ participation with ChangeTheWorld at Ancaster’s Bishop Tonnos Catholic Secondary School, Kim Dunlop, the youth challenge coordinator at Volunteer Hamilton revealed the figures for Hamilton’s participation in the 2012 campaign. “The target for Hamilton this year was to achieve 3,000 volunteer hours,” announced Dunlop, “but right now we’re over 9,000 hours, so we’ve actually tripled our goal for the city already.” Hamilton, it would appear, is at the forefront of ChangeTheWorld’s expansion across Ontario.

And while many students might view the opportunity as merely a chance to get their compulsory volunteer hours out of the way, guest speaker Alex Ramirez outlined the initiative as much more than that, insisting that these kinds of volunteering challenges offer students the opportunity to “pursue and explore passions that you have or don’t even know about yet.” He should know: the guest speaker credits his own experiences in volunteering with leading him to his own passions for community involvement. Currently, he serves as a member of the volunteer groups on the city’s Food & Shelter as well as Youth Advisory committees. Just this year, Ramirez also launched a volunteering project in partnership with Volunteer Hamilton, McMaster University, and several local high schools.

Relating to the difficulties of choosing a career path at a young age, Ramirez encouraged the students to embrace the Ontario Youth Volunteer Challenge as an arena in which they can “discover interests” and learn to “immediately interact with people, build networks and anticipate obstacles” associated with those interests. The guest speaker also emphasized the initiative’s potential to provide genuine engagements for students via firsthand involvement, remarking that “it’s often through lived experience that we really learn the most.” For Ramirez, this proved to be the case.

“You’ll be really astonished,” enthused Ramirez “at how just simply starting small programs and ideas that you’re passionate about will go such a long way, not only for your community but the networks that you establish.”

I am currently entering my third year at McMaster University as an Honours English Major; previously, I attended Victoria College in the University of Toronto. Considering my inquisitive tendencies and my delight in communicating to audiences, I can hardly feign surprise at having found myself in the enterprise of media work. In terms of writing, I abhor the boring and I delight in the dynamic; I try my best to correspond these principles into expression that is both clear and engaging. My areas of contribution to the Bay Observer span many topics and most notably focus on technology, health, art, culture, soccer, and local news.

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