There is seldom a day when I don’t see one or more youth come through the doors of the Saskatoon Food Bank & Learning Centre (SFBLC) to engage with us on some level. During my time here, I have seen dozens of children walk up to the front reception declaring proudly, rightfully so, that they collected items of food or money at their birthday parties instead of gifts, or that they sold homemade braided bracelets or other items to their friends, all in an effort to raise money for the SFBLC.
Other youth give up their free time to come in and volunteer with us, sorting food, putting together hamper bundles in our Warehouse, or even to help sort clothing donations at our Clothing Depot. These youth are here for many different reasons – some as a result of course requirements, others with classmates and teachers in classes that build regular volunteer work with us into their studies, and many that come in independently out of interest and passion for the work we do.
I am always impressed to see youth getting involved in the community, immersing themselves in activities that vary widely - from volunteering at various organizations across the city, to joining global citizen or eco clubs at school, or spending time with seniors at a local care home. These are youth that know that this work is key to community cohesion, to breaking down barriers between various members of the community with different life experiences and backgrounds. Importantly, their perspective on the more disadvantaged members of our community might have changed. Where misunderstandings may have previously existed, empathy and a more complex perspective could flourish. This kind of attitude shift is a critical one – and one that is difficult to teach without direct experience.
They know, or will learn, that the more they get involved, the more everyone benefits. The youth themselves broaden their horizons, are empowered to take initiative to get involved, and the community is strengthened through every hour of their volunteer work or engagement with relevant clubs/groups. However it happens, youth engagement on issues of social justice is immensely important; there is no shortage of suffering and disadvantage in our community and elsewhere.
These youth are current or future community leaders. They will continue to grow into adults that are aware of the importance of community engagement. Many will become unofficial advocates for disadvantaged populations as a result of their increased knowledge, or will spread important information about the work of various community organizations. Their involvement may light a spark, one that will continue to burn and grow within them throughout their lives.
When I see this perspective growing amongst youth, right in front of my eyes, I am very excited. I know that I will see some of the students that pass through the SFBLC in the future, acting as community leaders, influencers, and long-term, dedicated volunteers and ambassadors. I am honoured to play a part in encouraging their growth. As adults, that is our role in this, to support youth in the causes they choose to take on and encourage them to get involved.