During my time at St. Alban’s I have been very fortunate to have lots of quality volunteers helping out in our programs, fundraising and mentoring. I was really excited when we first launched our Youth Volunteer Program (YVP), because I knew it could provide young people with practical experience in the workplace and it also gives youth the chance to see what it’s like at St. Alban’s from a different perspective – one of authority and responsibility. Throughout that first year of YVP, the echoing sentiment from the youth volunteers was something along the lines of “Now I see what you went through with me and my friends. This job is actually much harder than it looks. I have a newfound respect for the staff at St. Alban’s.”
One of the more memorable graduates of the YVP was Zachary Alfano, a kid who went from attending Summer Camp, onto STARS programming, then became a Youth member, which led to the volunteer program – which eventually led to Zach becoming a STARS staff member. 10 years of being a participant in St. Alban’s programs means Zachary has seen his fair share of staff turnover, pilot programs and of course, volunteers. Zachary was always an active participant in multiple programs, and he expected the best from his program leaders and volunteers. Let’s just say he was… Feisty. He tested boundaries. He kept staff on their toes, which is all part of the job, but recently he admitted that sometimes he stirred the pot just to get a reaction. And now, of course, he sees things from the other side.
I sat down with Zachary and attempted to pick his brain. Here’s what I learned;
Zach: “I remember being a brat a lot of the time. I mean, depending on which staff was leading my group, I was either very into the activities, or not at all. I also remember Shawn giving prizes for birthdays and Asset of the Month, etc. Youth Exchange is the thing that I’ll always remember from my time in the youth programs. We travelled to Nanaimo, BC. It was actually so awesome. I wasn’t expecting to have such an amazing experience, but I’m glad it turned out the way it did.”
Q: As a kid, did you think being a staff member would be difficult or challenging?
Z: “Honestly, I thought it was all fun and games. I didn’t think working with kids took a lot of skill, and I thought I could do the job with my eyes closed.”
Q: When did you first have the thought of potentially working/volunteering at St. Alban’s?
Z: “I didn’t really think about it until Laurie talked to me about the Youth Volunteer Program. I was still pretty active in youth programming at the time, so I wasn’t looking to work/volunteer.”
Q: Take me through the process of becoming an YVP participant.
Z: ”I’m not sure what other applicants had to go through, but after Laurie talked to me about it, she gave me a date to have an interview with her. I thought having an interview would make me nervous, but Laurie was very casual and cheerful so I didn’t feel nervous at all. After the interview Laurie emailed me to let me know I got the position, and I started volunteering about a month later.”
Q: What was the first day of volunteering like for you? Were you nervous, at all?
Z: “I wasn’t nervous. I was actually pretty excited to finally be on the other side! No more sitting in the circle, I was helping RUN the circle. I had freedom! I do remember that it was kind of tough not knowing kids’ names, but I got to know them pretty quickly.”
Q: What are some things you learned about being a staff member during your time volunteering?
Z: “Program planning is harder than I thought. I had to learn how to be organized. Leading the group is difficult because not every kid likes the same things, and when a kid doesn’t want to do something, it’s pretty hard to convince them to join in.”
Q: How did the YVP help you on your way to becoming a STARS staff?
Z: “I got to see how staff reacted to certain situations, and how I should handle myself if it happened to me. I also learned how important being on time is because if one staff is late, it really messes up everything.”
Q: Considering what you were like as a kid, how do you deal with a ‘feisty’ child?
Z: “One-on-one. Always. I try my best to talk about things the kid likes. Ask them about school. Distract them from the ‘problem.’ Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. After I’ve calmed the kid down, or gotten their full attention, I have a private conversation with them and try to explain the importance of listening and giving new things a try. I tell them if they try the activity we’re doing now, we can look at maybe doing something they want to do later.”
Q: Seeing what volunteering at St. Alban’s has done for you (getting employment here), would you consider volunteering at another organization you hope to work for one day?
Z: “For sure. My dream is to work at TSN and talk about sports all day, so I’d love to volunteer there. Hopefully they hire me after volunteering, just like St. Alban’s did!”
Z: “Very differently. I would have much more respect. I know now how hard it is to work with kids, especially kids like me. Volunteers get the ultimate respect because they aren’t even getting paid!”
Q: Do you have any advice for young people in terms of volunteering?
Z: “Do it! It looks great on your resume and could land you a job at that place. Understand the organization as well as you can. Their policies/procedures are important to know. Volunteering at somewhere like St. Alban’s will let you understand a kids strengths/weaknesses/emotions, which will prepare you for when/if you get a job there.”