BY ERIN SILVER
Volunteering is a great way to contribute to the community and get invaluable life experience. And if you’re applying for scholarships, volunteering can give you an extra leg up.
“Scholarship committees look for exceptional academic credentials, but also extracurricular activities, holding a job outside of school as well as volunteerism, which is an excellent way to stand out in the crowd,” said Jenna Viera-West, a recruitment associate at Island Employment Partners.
“Volunteering, especially with community initiatives, demonstrates that you care about causes outside of yourself. It also shows that you can manage your time effectively while keeping up in school. As well, it can help you grow as an individual and develop skills,” she said.
“You will, no doubt, also have the opportunity to network and build your contacts, which can be extremely beneficial.”
Some high schools require a certain number of community involvement or volunteer hours as a prerequisite for graduation, usually in senior year. Volunteering and getting involved in the community before it is required can be an asset. The sooner the better is Ms Viera-West’s motto when it comes to volunteering. “Whenever the time is right for you to give your time, be sure that you take on the responsibility of following through on the commitment over a long period of time.”
As a bonus, volunteering can be a great way to explore your interests and help you figure out what career path you might want to pursue in the future. You never know what can come of volunteer opportunities down the road.
Plus, you might get to do something really cool. Joanne Chisnall is a volunteer officer at the Bermuda Zoological Society, a support charity for the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo (BAMZ). “Unlike other zoos and aquariums around the world, students can volunteer behind the scenes in all areas including the Aquarium, Zoo and Museum. Depending on the commitment the young person can give, students can scrub turtles, assist with special events and help with fish or animal feeding,” she said.
For young volunteers who are ready to commit or have a real interest in careers related to animal welfare, conservation, science or even teaching, BAMZ offers the Junior Volunteer Programme. A commitment of one weekend morning per week from October to June, volunteers are exposed to all areas of the facility. All volunteers are required to be a minimum of 14 years old.
So what does BAMZ look for in a volunteer? “For all volunteers, the first thing we look for is the commitment that you are willing to give. Some of our volunteer experiences require training and input from our staff, and their time is valuable,” said Ms Chisnall. “We will choose your volunteer opportunity based on that commitment level. Volunteers are asked about their skills and interests, whether they are willing to get dirty (fishy) or work outdoors. What are their expectations of the outcome of volunteering with BAMZ? We ask if they know about our conservation and education programmes and if they took part in them when they were younger.”
Taking on a volunteer job, especially at a place like BAMZ, shows you care. It also proves that you are committed, good with time management and value giving back to the community. As if that’s not enough, it helps you develop attributes such as interpersonal skills, which will be helpful throughout your life, not just during the scholarship interview process. At the end of a successful volunteer position, you can also ask for a letter of recommendation.
When deciding whether a volunteer opportunity is a good fit, students should consider whether the organisation will help give them the skills and talents that will be useful to them in the future. Be honest with yourself and the organisation you’re applying to. “Does the organisation that you are interested in fit your ideals, your possible career path or personal interests?” Ms Chisnall said. “Remember in many cases (especially ours), volunteer positions can lead to job opportunities.” n
For more information about volunteering at the Bermuda Zoological Society, call 293-2727 or e-mail [email protected]