Even in a revised format, it remains a sizeable undertaking within a COVID-19 world.
A graduation requirement in Ontario mandating all high school students complete 40 hours of community service or volunteer hours was waived by the Ministry of Education last year due to pandemic-fuelled restrictions. This year, the Ministry of Education has reduced the requirement from 40 hours to 20 hours.
In a normal year, SMCS students are required to go above and beyond the provincial standard to complete:
- 40 hours of community service hours by April 1 of their grade 10 year
- A minimum of 20 hours by April 1 of their Grade 9 year
- An additional 20 hours of Christian service in Grade 11
- A combined total of 60 hours upon Grade 12 graduation, to receive a St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) diploma
"The traditional places where many students would feel comfortable devoting time in-person such as the Canadian Food for Children warehouse, the Daily Bread Food Bank, or Good Shepherd Ministries are less accessible --- or for reasons including lockdown measures --- not possible," says Dr. Robert Fantilli '94, who moderates Community Service initiatives at St. Michael's College School (SMCS).
The pandemic climate has also necessitated changes at SMCS, specifically:
- Deadline extension to May 1, 2021 for all community and Christian service hour submissions
- Christian Service requirement for Grades 11 and 12 reduced to 10 hours
"For many of our students, the pandemic has bred ingenuity and has afforded them an opportunity to showcase that necessity is truly the mother of invention," says Fantilli.
The Vesz brothers are a case in point.
"We knew from an article sent out by the school that another SMCS student had launched a successful neighbourhood food drive," says Trevor Vesz, a Grade 9 student. "Since we had already run food drives in elementary school, we decided to start with that. We also talked with our parents and brainstormed some other ideas."
Together, Trevor and his twin brother Matthew, crafted an expansive list of community and Christian service initiatives which they are undertaking, including:
- Neighbourhood food drive
- Shovelling snow for neighbours
- Running errands for neighbours who are elderly or parents with young children
- Virtual music practice buddy
- Virtual Grade 6 performance band volunteer
- Virtual JK volunteer (read stories, play games, help with experiments)
- Virtual Grade 1 volunteer
- Virtual presentation to Grade 8s about transition to high school (future initiative)
"We are volunteering weekly with a JK class at our old school," continues Trevor. "So far, we have read stories, done magic, played online games and helped with experiments. We are also helping out with Grade 6 band practice on Mondays as well as reading to Grade 1 on Thursdays. Scheduling has been pretty easy while we’ve been at home."
He adds, "Our old school was a great source of opportunities for us. We started helping one teacher and are now working with four."
Grade 9 student Maxwell Kerton is focusing his service efforts on a current, pressing societal need.
"In the past, I was always able to volunteer in-person for the Out of Cold program, for example," says Kerton, referring to an inter-faith initiative that provides food, shelter and warm clothing to those in need through more than 15 locations operating out of synagogues, mosques and parishes across the city.
"I might not be able to serve dinner at Out of the Cold anymore but I thought about what I could provide to help," he says. "People who are in vulnerable positions needing a warm meal would need masks and hand cleanser too. I spoke to my dad about getting these supplies and he was happy to help. I have made up kits in a bag with two surgical masks and a small bottle of hand cleanser."
Since January 18, Kerton has been putting together 150 kits every two weeks and delivering them to the Out of the Cold weekly program at Holy Rosary Catholic Church.
All told, Kerton has assembled 400 kits, and counting.
"I have also been writing letters and cards to the residents at Dom Lipa retirement and long-term care home where my great-grandmother lived," he says. An idea he credits to his older sister.
"I would tell other students to try to think outside the box. There are lots of ways to help that they may not have thought of."
Julien Di Lauro, a Grade 11 student, is also striving to complete his Christian service hours.
"I knew I wanted to do something with mental health in my community, but it was difficult to figure out how as we need to remember the safety restrictions and being in lockdown," he says.
Di Lauro persevered --- sharpening his focus and developing a plan.
"Once I realized a lot of people were struggling with mental health during the pandemic, it was evident that we needed to create something that can help ease the anxiety and depression they are struggling with," says Di Lauro.
"I started an initiative with my family called 'The Smile Box' where we create friendly boxes that contain items for people struggling with mental health during the pandemic. We ask the people in our community whether they be friends or family to donate/create boxes for adults, teens, and children. Some items in the boxes are stress balls, fidget toys, crosswords, bottle of water, gloves, hats, etc. These boxes are then delivered to Costi Services," he says.
So far, Di Lauro has delivered 50 Smile Boxes with an additional 70 in the works.
His advice for other students on finding safe and meaningful volunteer initiatives?
"Don't be afraid to come up with new ways to help your community or don't be afraid to ask to help organizations in your community," he says. "We're in a time where people need to help each other, whether that be lifting people's spirits or helping them in the smallest ways possible like shovelling the snow. The littlest things, go a long way."
"I am truly amazed by the double-blue ingenuity some of our young men have displayed and the creative lengths they have gone to engage meaningfully with their communities," says Dr. Fantilli. "I would like to challenge students to take time to go for a walk, get some fresh air, and to look within, at their own talents they are blessed with, and whether it be through the arts, sports, or simply the devotion of time, find a way to use what is at their disposal to give of themselves."
Community and Christian Service suggestions:
- Making milk bag mats
- Online peer tutoring
- Virtual tutoring of younger students
- Writing cards or letters to the elderly or disabled