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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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Celebrating Our 60+ Volunteers on International Volunteer Day

Posted By Roxanne English, Community Engagement Assistant, December 5, 2016
Updated: December 2, 2016
 International Volunteer Day 2016

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Volunteers are the roots of strong communities. Just like roots are essential for trees to bloom, volunteers are essential for communities to boom. The United Nation’s International Volunteer Day, started in 1985, is a global celebration of volunteers.

Locally, nationally and internationally, volunteers are leaders in social change everyday. At Volunteer Toronto our work varies, from being a face in the community engaging Torontonians to volunteer, to organizing and facilitating conferences and training session for various organizations. Yes, we do a lot! But we must give our 60+ volunteers a round of applause. Without them working relentlessly we couldn’t be what we are today.

Here's a sampling of some of our amazing volunteers:

 

Tal

Tal joined the Community Engagement team in September, and provides a key role in helping us compile our evaluation stats, conducting research for our programs, and providing administrative support for events. A key project he has been working on is inputting data from recent workshops which we then analyze to determine how we can amend them to better help the communities we serve. He always has an enthusiastic, friendly, warm demeanour and is a welcome addition to our team.



Cathy

Cathy has been an Outreach Volunteer with us at Volunteer Toronto since September 2015. In her role, Cathy uses her fantastic interpersonal skills and presentation experience to inform and inspire people across the city to volunteer. Cathy attends volunteer fairs, job fairs, and special events and gives presentations to various members of the public. With Cathy’s assistance Volunteer Toronto is able to outreach to more than 8,000 people every year.  

 


Seher


Seher holds a variety of volunteer roles at Volunteer Toronto. As our Youth Social Media Coordinator, she manages our Volunteer Toronto Youth social media accounts, updating them regularly with new volunteer opportunities available to youth all over Toronto. In her role as a Youth Auditor she works in a team to go into non-profits and assess how well they work with high school volunteers. They then write a report that gives the organizations feedback on their volunteer program, and provide recommendations for improvement. She, also, has been instrumental in the planning of our Youth Expo. .  

 

A big shout out to all the amazing volunteers around the world. We want to thank you all for your time, dedication and willing spirits. 

 

Roxanne EnglishRoxanne English supports Volunteer Toronto’s community outreach by coordinating events, delivering presentations on how to volunteer, and representing Volunteer Toronto at events across this city. With Roxanne’s help, we’ll be able to provide more people with information about volunteering in Toronto.

Tags:  High School Volunteers  International Volunteer Day  Office Volunteer  Outreach Volunteer  Volunteer  Volunteer at Volunteer Toronto  Volunteer Toronto  Youth Volunteers 

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The How-To for a First-Time Volunteer: Ace it, Enjoy it.

Posted By Helen Lin, Youth Auditor, October 23, 2016
Updated: October 22, 2016
Teens heart shape 

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes 

 

Once I was a shy, naive, volunteering newbie…

But since then I’ve woken up at 5am for shifts, dedicated hundreds of hours of service, experienced volunteering at a handful of nonprofit organizations...and made every mistake in the book.

Now that you’ve been to the Youth Expo and gotten a good sense of what nonprofits and roles are out there, the time has come to volunteer. Volunteering is so different from going to school, because now you’re actually faced with real world challenges!

Here are 6 tips to help reduce the challenges, so you’re just left with facing the real world. (Sorry, there’s nothing I can do about that; you’ll have to face it sooner or later.)

 

1. Pre-Shift Reflection: Did You Pick the Right Volunteer Position?

There’s nothing worse than not enjoying your first shift, especially since volunteering is supposed to be both fun and meaningful. Before you agree to volunteer with an organization long-term or even short-term, make sure it fits you!

 

 

 

2. Be Prepared and Be On Time.

So you’ve decided to commit to an organization? Great! The best way to show your commitment is by reading up on that volunteer manual (if available) as well as arriving on time or earlier. Don’t be that one volunteer who runs in panting and sweating because they’re 10 minutes late.

 

 

3. Make a Good Impression

First step to first impressions is following #2: Be Prepared, Be On Time. The most impressive first-time volunteers I’ve seen are the ones who walk in already knowing what to expect. Also, do your best to be enthusiastic and follow your supervisor’s directions. If you can do that, you’ll look super dedicated, the volunteer manager will love you, and you might even be asked to help other volunteers who might be experiencing difficulties.

 

4. Don’t Be Shy

Spark conversations. Ask questions. Make friends. Volunteering is so much more enjoyable when you’re with people you’re comfortable with. Being friendly plays a big part in making a good first impression. It may be awkward at first, but trust me, try your best to step out of your comfort zone and initiate a conversation with a fellow volunteer or the manager.
Don’t be shy, Awesome > Comfort Zone.

 

 

5.You Did It, Be Proud!

Has it been three hours already? I hope it was a good experience. Whether you’re doing this for your community service hours, or because your parents made you, pat yourself on the back. You have just taken a big step into the world of social responsibility. It also doesn't hurt to talk about it on social media, the organization you volunteer with would greatly appreciate the exposure especially if you tag them! 

 

 

6. Post-Shift Reflection: Again, Did You Pick the Right Position?

Time for a metacognitive analysis! I mean, self-reflection. How do you feel? If you liked it, hooray! If you didn’t, no problem. Not everything is going to be all rainbows and sunshine, so if this wasn’t the right organization/position for you, don’t worry. Let your volunteer manager know and give as much notice as possible. Hopefully you signed up for more than one organization at the Youth Expo though… if not, Volunteer Toronto has your back.

 

On behalf of staff at Volunteer Toronto, the Youth Advisory Committee, the volunteers who helped put on the event, and the organizations that attended, thanks for coming to the 2016 Youth Expo!

 


Helen Lin is a Grade 10 student at Marc Garneau Collegiate and she is a Youth Auditor at Volunteer Toronto. She started formally volunteering at age 12, and hasn't stopped her community involvement since. Helen has also volunteered for SickKids Foundation, TEDxYouth@Toronto, Ladies Learning Code, and Baycrest Hospital. Her passions include gender rights, sustainable development, global health, social innovation, engineering, and entrepreneurship.


 

Tags:  40 High School Community service hours  40 hours  getting your 40 hours  How to get your 40 hours  volunteer in Toronto  Volunteering  Youth volunteers 

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