Collage of volunteer examples

Illustration by Katy Dockrill

Where teens can get volunteer hours in Toronto and the GTA

These community service opportunities can satisfy grad requirements and ignite a passion for volunteering

You don’t always hear about high school students interning—that’s usually more of a college or university thing—but over March break, 17-year-old Emma Seaton tested the waters of non-profit life by putting her Gen Z skills to work in the marketing department at the Daily Bread Food Bank. During Seaton’s stint, she helped out by optimizing their social media and doing behind-the-scenes tasks at their massive warehouse.

Since 1999, the Government of Ontario has required students across the province to complete 40 hours of volunteer work in order to graduate. To a student unweathered by the grind of a 40-hour workweek, that marching order might seem aggressive, but spread out over four years, the ask isn’t too tall.

Rather than tick the hours off last-minute, doing whatever falls in their lap, Seaton recommends students plan ahead and do something meaningful, because it feels more rewarding. “It’s definitely nice to help out and know that you’re making a difference,” she says. “A few hours add up. This is a great way to reach out to the community, and it’s best to get a head start.”

Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank is walking proof of what can come of a volunteer position like Seaton’s. “Twenty-five years ago, I had no idea that volunteering at a non-profit would result in a career that I adore and that makes me bounce out of bed every day,” he says.

We’ve rounded up five spots in Toronto and the GTA where high school students can meet their 40-hour requirement and learn about community in ways that are more enriching than just punching a time card.

Youth Without Shelter

Where: Various locations across Toronto
What you can do: For confidentiality and security reasons, this youth-based shelter can’t accept high school helpers within their facility. Instead, every year this United Way partner agency runs a large campaign called Time4Change, which recruits students to raise money and awareness for youth homelessness. The one-day youth-helping-youth initiative has seen more than 600 student volunteers citywide, collecting change at TTC stations and other high-traffic areas. Using theatre, dance, song and spoken word to help inspire donations, it’s a fun way to lend a hand. Happening on February 21, 2020, students are encouraged to sign up early to secure a spot. It’s a full-day event broken into three shifts (7 to 11 a.m., 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 3 to 7 p.m.) and includes an orientation session, which can be done online and also counts toward volunteer hours.

How to apply: Email communications@yws.on.ca and a staff member will help get you sorted.

Furniture Bank

Where: 25 Connell Ct., Unit 1, Etobicoke
What you can do: This United Way partner agency is a community staple, helping people get back on their feet. It isn’t just a spot to donate your good-quality used items, either; there’s a slew of options for eager, hard-working student volunteers, like helping in the warehouse moving furniture, accepting drop-offs, and loading and unloading trucks (bring your own steel-toed safety shoes for warehouse work). If schlepping is less your speed, there is office work that teens can help with, including departmental support and data entry. Sometimes marketing needs a hand, which could see volunteers going door-to-door with promotional flyers or making thank-you calls. Because Furniture Bank operates weekdays during school hours (8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.), toss your hat in the ring early to get in for summer, March break or PA days. Volunteers must be 16 or older.

How to apply: Visit their website and fill out an application form.

Human Endeavour

Where: 439 Glenkindie Ave., Vaughan
What you can do: Serving the residents of Vaughan and Markham, Human Endeavour (another United Way partner agency) aims to create an economically viable and socially inclusive community. They work hard helping kids, seniors and newcomers alike, and have seen a lot of high school volunteers come through their doors. Their website has a list of programs, and, in the past, students have helped with arts and crafts, making posters and videos.

How to apply: Call 905-553-9291 or email info@humanendeavor.org.

Daily Bread Food Bank

Where: 191 New Toronto St., Etobicoke
What you can do: This well-known food bank is no stranger to volunteers. They have regulars and a constant flow of corporate and school groups rolling up their sleeves at their massive warehouse. “There’s a number of things that students can do to get involved,” says Hetherington. “The most popular is coming in to sort food. So that could be bagging veggies, putting milk in cartons or categorizing shelf-stable food and perishables.” The warehouse has an industrial kitchen, so volunteers can try their hand at food prep and meal packaging (Daily Bread offers a food-handling course for participants). “We want to make volunteering here as easy as possible,” adds Hetherington. “People who are tenacious about volunteering will always find a home here.”

How to apply: Visit their website or email volunteer@dailybread.ca for more information.

Toronto Public Library (TPL)

Where: Various locations across Toronto
What you can do: Of course, the library is your go-to for checking out bestsellers or tucking into a quiet spot to work, but it’s also a volunteer hotspot, with programs designed to enhance the community. TPL’s website lists their abundant volunteer programs and the requirements for participants. Two high school–specific programs are Leading to Reading, a very rewarding job helping kids in grades 1 through 6 boost their literacy skills, and the library’s Youth Advisory Groups, a meeting of the minds with regular gatherings to plan and improve library services.

How to apply: Hop on the website to peruse TPL’s programs and download an application.

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