Prabhdeep Khokhar 'co-op'ted by Volunteer MBC

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As has happened to quite a few secondary school students, my initial indifference to compliance with Ontario’s mandatory ’40 volunteer hours graduation requirement’ gave way to an increasing curiosity about Canada’s volunteering community. The requirement necessarily places teenagers in close proximity to many charities, not-for-profits, and public service volunteer programs, and upon reflection, that’s a very good thing.

I’ll admit, though, that I’m still pretty much a ‘rookie’ at volunteering, yet with the proliferation of ‘co-op’ and ‘internship’ programs in community colleges and universities, I grew to realize in short order that the volunteering sector could be a viable area for gaining work experience in a co-op setting.

My post-secondary journey, even in early stages, has been nothing less than an adventure so far. I selected the Environment and Business Honours Co-op Degree program at Waterloo, and am almost done my second year. Two reasons for that Degree: a passion for the environment and its protection and management, plus recognition that to be effective about that, one should be extremely high functioning in the business world. The ‘adventure’ is that for the most part, everything I learn every day is virtually brand new, at least to me.

My Waterloo program prescribes 5 ‘co-op terms’! The challenge is,  … where to apply and where to start?

Environmental affairs, definitely a global concern, involves responsible interaction with our habitat, a complex undertaking that entails significant social responsibility and persuasive, hopefully effective management skills and  interaction with, even regulation of, the business world.  Volunteering is a good ‘fit’, because it combines social responsibility and commitment (to people, animals, and indeed the environment itself) with business practices that should meet my requirements. And my ’40 hours’ experience contributed to my search for a ‘co-op’ with a not-for-profit.

Volunteer MBC came to my attention. Typical of application for any ‘co-op’, there was a screening process that included an interview and preliminary orientation. Early on, I confirmed my notion that not-for-profit organizations tend to place people, notably  employees and volunteers, first. Volunteer MBC’s work environment is a welcome example of just that. There is an abundance of transparency, communication, and collaboration in an ‘open concept’ office. Add to that, a general feeling of warmth and consideration about those whom Volunteer MBC serves, an attitude that positively influences its staff and volunteers.

At the moment, I’m just about a month into my ‘co-op’ as a Youth Program Assistant, and already the experience has influenced my personal perspective. Self-appraisals often are difficult, yet I have grown to have a more humane outlook towards my family, friends and people in general, and I feel more compassionate. Maybe that’s due to the fact that I see concern and compassion when I’m at Volunteer MBC’s main office. Already, I feel as though I’m a better citizen, and this ought to serve me well in environmental affairs.

Any ‘co-op’ should be more than exposure to a successful ‘corporate culture’, as I have been told, which allows me to observe also that from a practical point of view, I’m learning a lot of transferrable skills: improved writing capability; confident one-to-one personal interaction with staff and volunteers; effective time management, such that deadlines are being met; recognition and increasing appreciation of the ‘public interest’, as reflected by Volunteer MBC’s mission, and the benefits of courteous, thoughtful ‘customer service’.

All this combines to make for a pretty complete and well-rounded ‘co-op’ experience.

There’s a not so hidden bonus here, I think. Almost on a daily basis, I’m witness to and a part of volunteers making all sorts of real differences in Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon.

I emphasize the word ‘volunteers’. It seems like only yesterday that I was indifferent about volunteering, but that’s given way to a fresh, enduring perspective. I will carry the spirit of volunteering (and all its positives) to my remaining co-ops and into my career, and I will be a much better person, and citizen, for it.