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The volunteer behind getting financial literacy in the classroom

Posted By Cara Eaton, September 28, 2017
Updated: August 1, 2017

Daniel Rotsztain Fake Development Proposal

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

 

Prakash Amarasooriya is a volunteer with the Toronto Youth Cabinet. He recently succeeded in campaigning to have financial literacy education added to Ontario’s Grade 10 curriculum. Prakash is one of 25 Toronto volunteers recognized with a 2017 Legacy Award for their exceptional contributions. This is his story as a volunteer.

 

Graduate in flux

In 2015, I graduated with a health sciences degree, but around the same time I decided I wanted to go in a different direction. I actually had my eye on business; I saw there was more of a need to drive meaningful change. So, I applied for 170 jobs. Without success. It was discouraging, but I kept going and trusting the process. In January 2016, I stumbled into a job opportunity at TD with no bank experience.

As the same time, I was watching HBO's TV show, The Wire. Season four was all about flaws in the education system, and I saw a lot of parallels to the real world. I had also seen the memes online joking about how young people were taught about things like parabolas but not how to do their own taxes. They felt they had missed out on learning life skills, and I did too. As my work began at TD, I also started to understand the value of financial literacy. What was a savings account? What is a TFSA? I noticed there were a lot of parents who were not financially stable—always in overdraft, or having loans rejected without knowing why. Without help, they would normalize the problem and pass these patterns onto their children. I realized things needed to change from a young age, and that is when I started to link financial literacy to education.

 Around the same time, I knew I wanted to get involved with the City of Toronto. I typed, “young people getting involved in Toronto” into Google and the Toronto Youth Cabinet showed up. The Toronto Youth Cabinet is a semi-autonomous advisory body to the City of Toronto with a space at City Hall.

 

Wheels in motion

I emailed Tom Gleason, Executive Director of the Toronto Youth Cabinet in January 2016 (also a 2017 Legacy Award recipient). I described the gap I saw in financial literacy, and said that I wanted to get involved. They did not yet have anyone for education, so Tom asked if I wanted to be that guy. A working group was then formed to respond to this need.

After joining, I began the research. What was currently being done? What were people saying regarding financial literacy in Canada? I knew that I wanted to see a tangible change, but I also wanted to identify the path of least resistance. So I developed a proposal. I had no templates or experience, just answers to questions I found along the way. Based on my research (and a couple of epiphany moments), I decided that the Grade 10 careers course would be an obtainable measure of success; a foot-in-the-door to start the financial literacy conversation. So my goal was decided—but how do I get this implemented?

 

Campaigning as a volunteer

My first step: connect with the Toronto school boards. I personally emailed each of the trustees, met with them, developed relationships, and asked them to help me advocate for financial literacy. You’d be surprised how willing people are to speak with you, especially if you reach out with respect and genuine curiosity. Eventually, I met with two Provincial curriculum advisors, but it did not go well. They said they had not heard any complaints regarding the current state of financial literacy in schools.

 

Strategy pivot

Despite the government’s discouraging initial reaction, I knew there was a need that the public would support. So I released a petition supporting the proposal on Thanksgiving 2016, gathering 100 names through my personal Facebook. The next day, I sent a press release to key media representatives. Hours later, CityTV called and wanted to interview me. This led to three weeks of media interviews, during which the petition grew and the government changed their stances, agreeing to meet with me again.

On the day of my last scheduled media interview, I was invited to meet with Mitzie Hunter, the new Minister for Education. It was November 1st (fun fact: I forgot it was my birthday that day). My aim was to approach her as cooperatively as possible, positioning a revision to the careers course as a win-win. She had a few questions, but was in full support of the proposal. The one I created—a youth volunteer—with no template. “Did we just win?” Tom and I asked each other as we left the room. We were excited, but wanted to see the results first.

 

A win, but not the end

Two days later, Minister Hunter tweeted, "We’ve heard you Toronto Youth Cabinet. We’ve accepted your proposal". We had won. And since then, the government has met with me to receive feedback on their plan moving forward. Twenty-eight Ontario schools piloted a new course this past spring. The revised course will formally begin in September 2018.

Reflecting, I am happy the government has committed, but there is still much work to be done. I did this for the people who need it, who signed that petition, and who supported the initiative from the beginning. The course is one thing, but peer-to-peer, and parent-to-child conversations are another. Ultimately, the goal was raising consciousness in having these conversations about money management. I continue to attend financial literacy events and spread the message. Last month, I even became a board member—a goal I set for myself after attending a Volunteer Toronto ‘Becoming a Board Member’ workshop—for the Canadian Foundation for Economic Education.

 

My advice to youth

My advice on work/life/volunteer balance? I only do the things that I know I would fight for when I am beyond exhausted. If you see unmet needs in your community, be agile and work with the administration to drive change. Never take no as your final answer: it's just short for “not this way.” I did not know how my proposal would end up; just that I would fight for as long as it took to succeed. When I get older, I always want to be conscious of not underestimating young people, because I have been in the position where people underestimate just how much I can do. 

 

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Tags:  40 High School Community service hours  Career  City of Toronto Volunteers  How to give back  job experience  Legacy Awards  skilled volunteering  Skilled Volunteers  Teen volunteering  Toronto volunteers  Volunteer  volunteering for youth  volunteering in Toronto  Volunteerism  What's It Like To Volunteer  Youth Support  Youth Volunteers 

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5 Ways Volunteering Can Help You Find a Job

Posted By Kelly Devries, Community Engagement Coordinator, October 7, 2015
Updated: October 5, 2015

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes 

Maya Atallah - Volunteer “When I came to the city last year, as you can expect things were not very easy: different lifestyle, different culture and most of all different weather! I was completely out of my comfort zone and wanted to quickly blend in and feel like I was part of this new community. When I started volunteering at Volunteer Toronto, it totally changed my life. I suddenly regained my passion, developed a sense of commitment and felt awesome when helping others. It has also allowed me to practice my marketing skills for a good cause and opened my eyes to how nice people are in the city and how diversity is what Toronto is all about.” 


- Maya Atallah

 

Maya moved to Canada from Egypt over 12 months ago. She was an ace volunteer at Volunteer Toronto working as a Referral Councellor, Outreach Presenter and Social Media Advisor helping individuals connect to meaningful volunteer opportunities. After a few months on the job hunt, this fall, she was able to land a new job in Corporate Marketing. 

Maya’s story isn’t unique. Many people turn to volunteering when looking for work. As Maya’s story outlines, volunteering can help job-seekers regain passion, connect with others and become familiar with a new city. It can also help you in other ways.

 

Here are 5 ways volunteering can help you find a job:

 

Helps Develop Your Skills

When thinking about the job you would like, reflect on what skills are necessary for the position. Think about hard skills, like IT knowledge or nursing experience, and soft skills, like leadership, managing multiple priorities and research. What skills would you like to develop? Search for volunteer opportunities that suite the hard or soft skills you’d like to improve.

 

Allows You To Network

Volunteering allows you the opportunity to meet many new people. Reflect on who you would like to make connections with and look for volunteer opportunities that will allow you to make some of those connections.

 

Gives You Interview Practice

The application process for volunteer positions often mirrors looking for work. Usually, you will be asked for a cover letter and resume and need to participate in interviews, whether by phone or in-person.  This is an awesome opportunity to practice adapting cover letters and resumes for specific roles and to practice answering questions in an interview.

 

Provides You With Constructive Feedback

In general, volunteer coordinators want to see their volunteers thrive in their role and in life more generally. When volunteering, feel free to ask for feedback from your supervisor about your performance in the role. This will help you identify your strengths and work on your areas of improvement. If you don’t get the volunteer position you were hoping for, ask how you could have improved in the application process.

 

Helps You Earn Great References

Many volunteer coordinators will provide references for your service. If this is important to you, make sure to ask the Volunteer Manager if they give references before you start in the position. Of course getting a great reference will depend on you doing your volunteer service well: arrive on time, do the tasks to the best of your ability and ask questions if you don’t understand something.        

 

And remember, volunteering won’t only benefit you as a job-seeker, but it can be an incredibly fun and engaging way to get involved in your community and better our city!

 

 
 Kelly Devries, Community Engagement Coordinator Kelly Devries is Volunteer Toronto's Community Engagement Coordinator. She coordinates a team
of hardworking volunteers who represent Volunteer Toronto at community events. She is the voice
of our Volunteer Times newsletter and assists the many events and programs we organize
to inspire people in Toronto to volunteer.
 

Tags:  Career  Finding a Job  How to get a job  Job Hunt  volunteer engagement  Volunteering  Work  Work Experience 

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Finding Your Sense of Fulfillment

Posted By Samantha Glave, September 21, 2015
Updated: September 21, 2015

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Does your job provide you with a sense of fulfillment? Or, do you feel invisible in your workplace? No one epitomizes this feeling better than Milton Waddams, the silent, disgruntled employee from the hilarious 1999 comedy 
Office Space. 

 

Milton had been laid off for years but was so ignored and unnoticed by his colleagues and superiors that no one saw fit to inform him. The only reason he continued to show up at work was because he still got paid, thanks to a glitch in the payroll system! 

Now, Milton is an extreme example, but he does illustrate how negatively the work we do on a daily basis can make us feel if it’s not gratifying.  He demonstrates what can result when your skills or potential are underused, go unnoticed and when your work doesn’t allow you to feed your passions. Not everyone has the luxury of finding that perfect job or career, the one that checks all the boxes and fulfills your passions and goals. Fortunately, there is something you can do to rid yourself of this drudgery. It’s not found in a magic pill, nor will it be found in an eBook at the affordable cost of only $19.99! The solution to finding work you enjoy that gives you a sense of purpose is through volunteering. There are hundreds of organizations seeking individuals to contribute their time and efforts in a variety of ways. When you volunteer, it’s not only the organization and the population it serves who profit; it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Heidi Tsao is a volunteer with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), The Santa Claus Parade and Not Far From The Tree.  She has come to realize that “just as with personal relationships, where you can't be all things to one person, you can't expect all your work fulfillment from one position either.”  Her various volunteer positions allow her to express her creativity, something she’s unable to do in her day job. Her volunteer work allows her to think of new ways to bring organizational goals and ideas to life.

Volunteering has been a part of Jennifer Hingston’s life from an early age. She explains that being part of the National Ballet of Canada’s volunteer committee “provides me with a different outlet for my creativity.” This position also allows her to satisfy her interest for this beautiful art form.

You too can find opportunities that make you happy, giving you the chance to showcase your skills and allowing you to reach your full potential. All that’s required on your part is a bit of reflection and some effort. Here are 3 steps to help you in your search.

Another chance to find your perfect opportunity is happening on September 24, 2015. Attend Craft Your Change, a one-night event that brings together good beer, good people and great causes. Aimed at Toronto professionals, it allows people to create their own opportunity by offering their skills and strengths to non-profits looking for volunteers.

 

 
 

Samantha Glave is a writer and editor whose work is regularly published on the Ontario Public Service’s intranet.
When she’s not writing, you can find her watching science-fiction, doing kettle bell workouts or reading the
latest research on raising the ‘strong-willed’ child. She lives in Toronto with her husband and their six-year old son. 
You can find her on LinkedIn

 

Tags:  Career  Happiness  Life  Volunteering  Work 

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