While the Fillmore Youth Volunteer Bursary program is unique to the community of Fillmore, it could inspire other rural communities to create a similar path for their young adults. Through volunteering and engaging with the public, the program provides opportunities to enhance their resumes and open doors for their futures.
Facilitator Jenna Wasylkowski said the program is open to all students in Grade 11 and Grade 12, with a $1,000 bursary being awarded to one of the graduates of 33 Central School who participate in the program.
"There are hours towards volunteering, we have different classes every year," she explained. "We learn about basic life skills, we do budgeting with experts. This year, we're also adding a tax expert, which is really going to be super valuable to these kids."
The bursary is not about grades and there is no application. If they show up to the monthly meetings and participate in the volunteerism, each of the students' attitude and accountability will determine who will be chosen for the bursary, which is funded by the village of Fillmore Council, with Wasylkowski's role being supported by the Community Enhancement Committee.
"So no matter what path they're going to take, they're going to be able to take that $1,000 and put it towards whatever their needs are for the future."
The free program begins on February 6th, runs to the end of the school year, and is in its fifth year.
"It is groundbreaking. I don't see this happening in very many places at all. Some of the volunteering things that they have done that have been really impactful in our community is just bridging those gaps," she shared. "They supply muscle to the Health Centre, they come down and they've decorated the outside of the Health Center for Nurses Week, which really picked up a lot of spirits during COVID. They were nationally recognized a few times for little things that they've done that are just impactful. They've taken down the siding off of sheds. They've picked up garbage and stuff throughout the community. They've just really engaged themselves and plopped themselves into something uncomfortable to gain those skills. We've even been discussing supplying certain courses like CPR, work readiness, and things like that."
"We've been working on zoom meetings, on etiquette, on environment, work rights. It's just been something that has flourished because they get to ask these questions that they didn't know about."
"It's a really win-win-win situation, because as we know with smaller rural places you wear many hats in volunteering and it is difficult to get them involved. So what we've done was we've bridged that gap. These kids needed skills that they didn't even realize that they naturally have been given through volunteering. So not only are they building all their networks and their confidence in talking to people, but they see what they do and what they don't like. So that's really important just to kind of give them the experience. We love teamwork and collaboration."
She noted that while this type of experience looks great on a resume, it is also great for the students' mental health.
"We also super encourage them to go out and get those individual hours as well, because that's really important for them to discover who they are," she noted. "The workforce is changing. They no longer just want somebody who can come in and do the job. They want to hire who's inside. They want to see what makes this person tick, and that's something that we're discovering with this new generation coming up and every year, it gets a little harder to find jobs out there. But we're finding that the ones who are participating in this program are getting successful."
"It really shakes them and gets them uncomfortable. It's a different opportunity because they are amongst their peers and it's not that they're competing because $1,000 is nothing to sneeze at, it's an amazing opportunity to go towards your own future on what you want to do, but what's super valuable is what they're learning monthly, when we're bringing in the expertise and we're bringing in the people that they can safely ask questions to. They don't know those questions until there's an expert in front of them. So it's super, super valuable."
Working together and building confidence enhances the growth of both shy students and those who aren't so shy.
"All of a sudden, they blossom into this very confident person who's not afraid of walking through those doors and getting that opportunity for themselves, and that's what's counting right now is you might be the best person for that job, but can you speak up about yourself to get that? We definitely treat them like adults. They come in on their own time. This is not their parents saying, 'you're signed up, here you go', then drop them off, and pick them up. It's very individualized. You have to be accountable for coming in. You have to be accountable for your attitude. Come, be prepared, and ask those questions while you have those experts in front of you. It's a safe learning environment because in the rural settings. These are the people that you've grown up with your entire life and you're very comfortable with everybody. But when you are put into different situations where you can grow."
Wasylkowski said they are raising future volunteers.
"My ultimate goal honestly, is to just let this light a fire because we've seen so much success in in our small rural community," she commented.
When it comes to rural kids who may already have a lot of job experience at their family farms, volunteerism rounds out their experiences in ways that can prepare them for life.
"We have a gap. We have children who don't have the opportunity to go to work and find jobs that prepare them and inspire them. So we had to create those opportunities for our children, and it has been so successful that we would love for other places to do that, too."
"Our rural kids are just as hard-working, and they have natural abilities. They are volunteers through and through. They wear many, many hats, and we're just so proud to be able to endorse what they're already doing, so we would love it if more communities did this because we could also really roll off of that too."
"You really get to see what makes them each tick because at the beginning we do brand them. We say 'this is your brand. You have to be really responsible about what you put out there to the world and you have to connect with them'."
"We've made a lot of connections with networking," she explained. "These guys work day and night and they have passion for farming almost their entire lives since probably before they could crawl. But you can't put that on a resume, because that's family. So now they're able to connect with other people and say, like, 'yeah, I've worked with them. They work really hard'. So that's a network, that's a connection. So it's not just so-and-so is living down the street and they've known me for my whole life and I've watched their cat. This is an actual viable connection that you can put on your resume and people can talk well about you."
She added that this program's purpose is to build confidence for the students in any path they choose.