Volunteer Airdrie’s 2016 Annual Report was released Oct. 8, and points to the organization’s development of the LEAD Youth Leadership Development Program as one of its most significant strategic breakthroughs of the year.
“We’re the first agency outside of Calgary to be trained and licensed to use the LEAD program,” said Dave Maffitt, board chair with Volunteer Airdrie.
“We’re really excited about it – it ties in really well with the City of Airdrie’s social planning, community development and the youth strategy they’ve been working on over the past few years.”
The LEAD program was established in Calgary more than a decade ago, and provides opportunities to get 12- to 15-year-olds engaged with the community through volunteerism and leadership development. In Airdrie, the program is into its fourth session since it was launched last August. Already, more than 40 kids have gotten involved.
“The demographic of youth that are in Grade 7 to 9, they’re at a point in their development where they’re not too sure what they’re interested in yet,” Maffitt said. “This gives them an opportunity to try things out without making a long-term commitment or spending a lot of money.”
Free of charge and only about ten weeks long, Maffitt said the LEAD program provides kids with insight into leadership, life skills and building connections within the community. Each youth is required to complete a minimum of 20 hours of community volunteering in order to graduate from the program – valuable experience that Maffitt said will pay off when they start looking for work or applying to post-secondary institutions.
“We have heard that youth do have difficulty finding these volunteer opportunities, since a lot of non-profits are reluctant to engage with youth,” he said. “But this model works really well and we’ve gotten a great response from the non-profit community. They love what the kids have done.”
The young volunteers in the LEAD program work in supervised groups to tackle various projects – including the construction of a new Canada 150 display that will be featured in this year’s Airdrie Festival of Lights. According to Moffitt, the format allows for the youth to build camaraderie and takes some of the pressure off non-profits in terms of liability.
“Youth today want to be engaged, they want to feel like they can make an impact on the world,” he said. “We’re showing them what it takes, through volunteering and building up a resilient support network – going back to the roots of small towns.”
So far, he said the LEAD program has been a great success – with many parents already asking for a “LEAD 2.0” for older kids, that picks up where the first program leaves off. Maffitt said Volunteer Airdrie plans to use the program as a foundation for a variety of new initiatives, moving forward.
“It’s a good start, and we’re very excited about expanding it,” he said. “It falls right in our wheelhouse as an organization, in terms of promoting volunteerism throughout the community.”