Youth Volunteering Forum: here, now, why…and why it will always matter

I attended the Youth Volunteering Forum organised jointly by BVRC, South Eastern Volunteers and Eastern Volunteers, held at Boroondara on 6 August. Following Mayor Coral Ross’ opening address, we were introduced to the keynote speaker, Viv Benjamin who is CEO of Oaktree Foundation. Oaktree is an Australian-based youth run organisation which aims to end extreme poverty in the world.

Viv spoke of her experience as a youth volunteer from the age of 13, and her life changing moment in Manila when she was faced with a young girl of her own age dressed in rags, and realised she could be her and, that through nothing she had done, she had been lucky enough to be born in Australia whereas this young girl, through no fault of her own, had been born into extreme poverty. Viv started out working in soup kitchens, volunteering whenever she could, fitting it in around school. Because of her age she was often helping out behind the scenes, but at 17 she found an opportunity in Oaktree to lead. In 2006 she organised the The Make Poverty History concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, and today at 25 she is the CEO of Oaktree. Speaking of young volunteers Viv mentioned that ‘To know you have an impact early on is a powerful thing for a young person’ and that it is important to remember why we do what we do; before the how comes the WHY. It is about human connection and human empathy.

Viv then went on to explain the model of Oaktree – it is comprised of young people aged 16-26. Their mission is to see the end of extreme poverty in the world, they lobby for social change, and they equip and empower young people and then send them out into the world to continue to make a difference. Viv added that young people are joining social movements on issues they care about rather than traditional political parties, and that there are many benefits to the young people themselves, such as learning valuable life skills.

Panel discussion

The next segment of the forum was led by Alissa Holton who works for the Foundation for Young Australians and who began the project S.P.A.C.E. – Specialised Programs And Community Endeavours – at age 21. The project utilises volunteers to create a space that is socially inclusive and provides services for, but not limited to, community members who have a disability. Alissa spoke briefly about what young volunteers need: the motivation, the chance to do something and the knowledge of how to do something (they have the enthusiasm but not necessarily the knowledge). She also spoke about FYA and the youth initiatives it sponsors – young people as learners, young people and their contribution to society and young people who want to make a difference in their world through leadership.

Alissa led a panel discussion about youth volunteering, the panel being comprised of young volunteers and those working in organisations or clubs which utilise volunteers or are totally volunteer run. From questions posed to the 5 panel members some very salient points were made:

· If your organisation gives them the opportunity, young people will come to you

· What sort of sense of belonging does your agency provide for youth – how can you make them feel connected with older people in the organisation?

· Short term focus or framework is beneficial to young people – maybe cannot commit to long term.

· These young people who are coming into the workforce and volunteering are knowledge boundless. They know how to do things; you just need to tell them what outcomes you want.

· Need to allow school students (community service etc.) to have an ongoing role in the organisation if you want them to continue to be involved and to have enthusiasm during the placement. Also, provide some skill building for students – a lot of people want to be able to get something out of it.

· Early wins is really important to young people – to be able to see an outcome or achievement.

· Stop the barriers – work out how you can make it happen (allowing students under 15 to volunteer in your organisation)

· Young volunteers respond best when people in responsible positions give them a sense of trust and let them be responsible. They want to please and do their best.

· Find out what young people are passionate about.

· Young people are keen to be involved. Reflect on the values of your organisation and how, through those values, young people can make a change.

This was a worthwhile forum and will be a useful starting point to the YS team when considering how we can engage young people in the planning development of the library service.

Sue S

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