Children’s Aid Societies are independent, community-based organizations that rely heavily on volunteers to do their work. Every year over 8,000 individuals offer kindness, talent, energy, and hundreds of thousands of hours of volunteer time to vulnerable children, youth, and families in the province. “We need to celebrate and support our volunteers because they are an essential part of the team that provides services that are going to help children and families get to a better place,” says Nicola Harris, Senior Policy Analyst at OACAS.
Meet some of the mentors, drivers, and homework club leaders who lift their CASs and communities.
OACAS Senior Policy Analyst leading provincial volunteer strategy
Our Provincial Volunteer Administrator Working Group is trying to bring a consistent approach to volunteering to Children’s Aid Societies across the province. Child welfare is bringing standardized best practices to agencies across the province and how we work with volunteers should be no different. We have so many treasures among the volunteers, and we are hoping to leverage this talent and commitment as much as we can.
Why I care:
I used to be a volunteer supervisor of over 300 volunteers at Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society and I witnessed on a daily basis how much volunteer drivers, mentors, tutors, and homework club leaders contribute to the well-being of children and families.
Getting people to understand that volunteers are part of the service team that supports families. There are 8,000 individuals who volunteer for Children’s Aid Societies in Ontario, which mirrors the number of child protection workers in the province. Because volunteers might see families on a very regular basis they get to know them well and their observations can help the agency do a better job of providing services. We need to support volunteers as much as we support anybody else on the service team.
We do not have enough men, we do not have enough racialized men, so I am hoping we can bring on more male, and black male volunteers. The need for mentors for kids is huge – many youth age out of care without ever getting a mentor. But the waiting list at Big Brothers is ten years long, so we are trying to recruit mentors directly.
I will never forget a volunteer I worked with who mentored a young woman and eventually adopted her. I am also very proud of my son who currently mentors a child who is receiving services from a Children’s Aid Society, and also runs a homework club.
Toronto, Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
Homework club volunteer coordinator. I help run a weekly after-school homework club for five children at the Children’s Aid Society with the help of five volunteer high school and university students. We prepare a meal and feed the children and then we help them do their homework. If no homework has been assigned, we will print out worksheets to help them work on core skills. We always wrap it up with a game.
Like all kids, they don’t always want to do their homework, so we try to make it collaborative, rather than having a tutor telling them what to do. We work together to make it fun.
I want to help them to succeed so they feel more confident. In one or two semesters I’ve seen some kids who were struggling make incredible progress. It makes me happy to see them advancing. I’m so proud of them.
For Black History Month we brought in an artist to work with the kids to paint a mural. It was wonderful to see them learning and to see how respectful they were with him. I am looking at the mural now – it is so pretty.
Toronto, Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
Mentor. Over the past three years I have acted as a mentor to young Black males. I take them out once or twice a month and give them an experience, some laughs, and a break from what they are dealing with.
I think it’s super important for these boys to have an older male presence – kids are like sponges. By spending time with an older black male, I am helping give them an image of what it means to be a black male teenager, so that they are not just getting it from the media. They get to see how I am and how I treat them. I feel like I am planting a seed so they have multiple options to go from and can take different paths or see themselves in different way, and maybe become mentors themselves one day.
It’s really important to form a bond or connection with your mentee. To get through to them they have to like you and respect you. It takes time and consistency and sometimes that’s hard to arrange because schedules are busy.
I hope more black males get involved in social work and volunteering. We don’t tend to boost each other up and encourage it. So, I want black males to know that being a mentor is rewarding on multiple levels. I want them to tell them, “You can do it - it’s rewarding, it’s fun, its awesome.”
That’s a hard one because there have been so many fun outings. But I’d have to say taking the ten-year old boy I am currently mentoring to Afrofest is a super fond memory for me. He’s a biracial boy living with white foster parents. I wanted to try to add some cultural aspects to his life, so he can build a sense of identity, which I think he was aware of only a little, if at all. It was a really awesome opportunity to share with him – and it was awesome for me to share his experience of it.
Haileybury, Northeastern Ontario Family and Child Services
Driver. I drive kids, teenagers, mothers and fathers, sometimes to appointments, sometimes for visits. Transportation in the north is not like in Toronto. You can’t just get on a bus. Sudbury is two and a half hour drive away, but if you did it by bus it would take all day. This weekend I am driving a youth 220 km back to the facility where he is staying in Timmins after he visits with his mother here for the weekend. The farthest I have driven as a volunteer is to Windsor.
To not give up on people. To help get people out of a cycle. To help keep families have a normal lifestyle and keep them together. Parents need a break and sometimes there is no break. Up here there are not a lot of supports.
Our area covers Timiskaming Shores, Sudbury, Timmins, a triangle with the highest unemployment rate and highest alcoholism rate in the province. This has been the case for the last thirty years, and now it’s drug use too. People are struggling, there is a lot of poverty, and people don’t have a lot of support.
I was at a playground and a kid ran over and grabbed me by the leg, gave me a big hug, and said “I miss ya.” It just touches you. He was tossed around from family to family with no support. The agency did its thing and now he is a young man and he is doing pretty good.
Hamilton, Hamilton CAS
Driver, holiday hamper volunteer
I volunteer as a driver four times a week, up to 2,200 km a month. I mostly drive children to appointments and supervised access visits. I also drive them to school, because we want them to stay in the school where they started, which may not be close to where the foster parent lives. At Christmas I help to fill holiday hampers, you know - with 60 pairs of size 6 pajamas. I’ll try to get discounts from stores. That takes a bit of courage.
Not getting too attached to the children. There are times you have to take a deep breath because some of them have real difficulties. I can’t talk to other volunteers about it because it’s private. I have to take it home.
The volunteering gives me hope. It gives me a good purpose to get out the door.
There is a parent and child who are no longer with the Children’s Aid Society who I still stop and visit when I go that way.