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The volunteer behind getting financial literacy in the classroom

Posted By Cara Eaton, August 1, 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 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.

At 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. 

At that point 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). 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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4 Ways Volunteering Changed My Life

Posted By Colin J. Rainsbury, Outreach Volunteer, February 21, 2017
Updated: February 13, 2017

 Collin J. Rainsbury planting a tree in Mumbai, India during a field trip with UNICEF

Colin J. Rainsbury planting a tree in Mumbai, India while on a field trip with UNICEF

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

I was first introduced to volunteering at the age of six. In London, England during World War II, my parents volunteered by helping to organize community events on weekends in the local school. My sisters and I used to help by serving tea or collecting tickets.

Little did I know how being a volunteer would evolve into such an important and integral part of my life. Over the years, volunteering has helped me develop new skills that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to experience in my day-to-day work.

Here are four ways volunteering changed my life:

 

I Became A Leader

As a young adult, I volunteered as a youth leader in the Boys' Brigade and was also Cadet Officer. This involved program planning and teaching such things as communications, first aid, military skills, as well as organizing gymnastics, games and events. I also served as a Board Member and Secretary for the international youth organization.

 

Collin meeting The Queen & Duke of Edinburgh

Colin meeting Her Majesty the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh as a Cadet Officer (1967)

 

I Got Organized

I chaired, planned, and attended local, provincial, national and international conventions and training conferences. As Board Secretary, I also perfected the art of note-taking.

 Colin Rainsbury with fellows from the Electrical Engineering Apprenticeship Association

Colin (front right) as Secretary for the Electrical Engineering Apprenticeship Association meeting with members from around the Commonwealth (1953)

 

I Got Out Of My Bubble

Being a volunteer gave me the opportunity to meet and learn from people at all levels of society including those from other countries. This was especially true when I emigrated to Canada in 1957.

 Colin Rainsbury talking to local village chief in Kenya

Colin (left) speaking with a local village chief in Kenya while evaluating a UNICEF/Canada project (1975)

 

I Became A Better Public Speaker

All of the above gave me the necessary experiences to improve on my public speaking skills. I learned how to properly speak with the media, as well as develop my presentation abilities on varied subjects to different audiences.

 Colin Rainsbury making a speech

Colin making a speech as Secretary for the Electrical Engineering Apprenticeship Association

 

In 1963, after a two-year working vacation, during which I visited Australia and hitch-hiked from Cape Town to Cairo, I finally returned to Canada after renewing many of my international association friendships along the way.

In Ottawa, I became the Executive Assistant to the General Manager/Chief Engineer of a Crown corporation responsible for public utilities across northern Canada. While my training as an electrical engineer helped, it was due to the additional skills I learned as a volunteer that made me stand out. After receiving the position, I later learned they had had difficulty filling it for some time.

In the following years, because of my new administrative work and continued volunteer experiences, I began to consider switching to non-profit work.

In 1970, UNICEF was looking for its first Canadian Field Director. From the job-description I had the qualifications they were looking for; administrative and public speaking skills, volunteering, plus international experience. I obtained the position and what followed was 26 years of a very satisfying career change.

The work was both challenging and varied. It took me across Canada and eventually, UNICEF Canada became known around the world for its success in developing a national volunteer network of all ages.

It has been a long journey since I was a boy serving tea in 1940 to representing Canada on the international stage, including various disaster zones, but it is a journey that has been well worth it!

 

Collin J. Rainsbury

Colin J. Rainsbury has a wealth of experience not only as a volunteer for over 70 years, but also as the Executive Director for a number of non-profit organizations, both large and small. A number of months ago he changed his focus and joined Volunteer Toronto as a member of the outreach team and enjoys sharing his experiences from both sides of the “volunteer fence” with potential new and returning volunteers. As a "foodie", in his spare time, he updates his own unique “Wine & Dine the Subway” website and assists his partner in running a small but successful business.


Tags:  City of Toronto Volunteers  Toronto  Toronto volunteers  Volunteer  Volunteer in Toronto  Volunteer questions  Volunteering  volunteering for youth  volunteering in Toronto  Volunteerism  What's It Like To Volunteer  Youth Support 

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5 People Who Changed Toronto For The Better In 2015

Posted By Camara Chambers, Director of Community Engagement, January 11, 2016
Group photo of award winners
Winners of the 2015 Legacy Awards

Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

At Volunteer Toronto, every day we hear tidbits about the incredible work being done by volunteers to make Toronto a city we’re proud to live in. Whether they are advocating for the rights of those less privileged, making it easier for people in low-income neighbourhoods to access food, or providing a home for the many abandoned cats in the city, Toronto wouldn’t be the same without the contribution of its volunteers.

And every now and again, we come across people who have gone above and beyond in their contribution and wowed us with their commitment to the community. Our annual Legacy Awards began in 2011 and shine a light on 25 special volunteers who have given an exceptional contribution to their community. Last year’s winners amazed us. Here are just five of their stories...


Photo of Khadija Aziz with Award Khadija Aziz, the youngest 2015 award winner, is an 18-year old youth leader and arts advocate in her community of Thorncliffe Park. Her belief that all youth should be encouraged to explore arts and take on leadership roles has resulted in her creating the first ever youth-led art show in East York called Thorncliffe Artscape. At school, her passion and advocacy for the arts influenced an increase in student participation and engagement  and recently, Khadija facilitated the creation of two live murals in downtown Toronto where twenty-four students put their artistic skills to use by painting two 5ft by 5ft canvasses that would be displayed at a youth shelter in Etobicoke. Go to www.khadijaaziz.ca to view her work. 
   
Photo of Yves Boucher with award  Yves Boucher was working as a fire fighter, when in 2008 he was diagnosed with a stage 3-4 brain tumour and told he only had 5 more years to live. Despite the side effects of the surgery and radiation/chemotherapy, he was still driven to help others and began volunteering his time at Gilda's Club of Greater Toronto, encouraging others to heal. Yves and his dog Betty volunteer at Bridgepoint Hospital visiting patients and providing inspiration for their rehabilitative therapy. When asked about the surgery scar on his head, he replies “Don’t worry, it’s just cancer!” He has helped raise over $25,000 for Princess Margaret Hospital where he continues to receive treatment.
   
Photo of Reesee with award Reesee survived an abusive relationship and several years later founded Reclaim Your Voice, an event series that creates a platform for survivors and those going through abuse to experience the power of sharing their stories. For many survivors of abuse, it stands as a place of solace and understanding for anyone looking to take an important step in the healing process by speaking out. The events, funded out of her own pocket, are open to men, women, survivors and supporters alike and restore survivors' faith in the opposite sex by emphasizing the compassion that exists within us all.  
   

Photo of Simon Chamberlain with Award

 

10 years ago, in an effort to revive the Mount Dennis community association, Simon Chamberlain became a strong voice actively leading community clean-ups and projects to bring people together. Over the past three winters, Simon has been the driving force behind the creation and supervision of one of the best resident-driven projects in Mount Dennis - an Outdoor Community Skating rink in Pearen Park. He spends 30-50 hours a week volunteering at the outdoor rink organizing one of Toronto's few "Learn to Skate Programs." and has been instrumental in helping hundreds of new skaters enjoy an outdoor sport they would not normally be exposed to.  

   
 Photo of Tamara Doerksen with Award

 

In 1971, Tamara Doerksen lost her brother to a congenital heart defect. In 2010, she launched Lonny’s Smile Foundation, a children's initiative to honour the memory of her brother, and help children with medical challenges to experience the typical elements of childhood such as play, friendship, laughter and adventure. Under Tamara’s leadership as CEO and Founder, Lonny’s Smile has raised over $100,000 to send more than 100 kids to Camp Oki, Canada’s first Summer Camp for children with congenital heart disease. 

   
 

Do you know someone deserving of recognition? We are accepting nominations for the 2016 Legacy Awards until 5pm on Thursday February 4th. If you know someone who deserves an award, nominate them today!

Camara Chambers manages Volunteer Toronto's public engagement strategy and team. This includes working with community partners, leading large-scale events and overseeing various programs that aim to encourage Torontonians to volunteer. In 2014, the community engagement team helped connect 550,000 people to volunteer positions in Toronto!

Tags:  Abuse Stories  Arts Advocates  Cancer  City of Toronto Volunteers  Gilda's Club of Greater Toronto  Legacy Awards  Lonny's Smile  Reclaim Your Voice  Thanking Volunteers  Toronto volunteers  Volunteer Appreciation Awards  volunteer celebration  volunteer recognition  Volunteers 

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