By volunteering, students support their own education and career development

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Students Offering Support (SOS) raises money through chapters at post-secondary schools across Canada to create sustainable education projects in developing nations on annual outreach trips. Since 2005, over 200 SOS volunteers have tutored more than 3,000 students and raised over $160,000 for various communities in Africa and Latin America.

In Part 2 of my interview with Greg Overholt, executive director of Students Offering Support, (check out Part 1 here) he explains how SOS is thriving thanks to student volunteers, why students should volunteer to help their careers, and why SOS is the ideal place for students to volunteer.

Q. Why did you decide to be involved in the physical building of the sustainable development projects that SOS supports?

A. We decided to take this part of our mission in order to have input in the direction of the projects we were supporting. Also, since we’re funding the projects, we wanted to be able to ensure the efficiency of the project and to ensure that our money is being used in the best way possible.

Another important reason we did this was because we really wanted to provide the opportunity for SOS student volunteers to travel and take part in the seeing the impact they can have. By being actively involved in the projects we fund, there is more accountability to ensure our projects will be sustainable and supported in the communities.

Q. Why is volunteering while in school so important?
A. University classes are the perfect place to learn theory, critical thinking, and the fundamental principals of your discipline. However, students can gain equal or potentially even more valuable experiences outside the classroom.

If you volunteer for a cause you support, the experience gives you context out of the classroom where you get the chance to apply your skills as well as learn new ones.

Volunteering is also an arena for you to see what you are capable of doing, and a medium to show employers/graduate programs what you are capable of doing. Saying you can achieve your goals means nothing to an interviewer unless you have things to back that claim up with.

Q. Why have you chosen to work with student volunteers?
A. Students are bright, socially engaged, and highly motivated. Gen Y students are also known for our results-driven and short-term mindset, as well as our stereotypically larger egos. Catering to all the qualities of Gen Y is something the SOS model strives to do in order to provide the best experience for our Gen Y volunteers.

Q. How does SOS provide the ideal volunteer experience for a student?
A. SOS provides the opportunity for students to be involved in social initiatives, allowing them to support their peers as well as communities in Latin America. In the life of a university student, extra-curriculars are easily added and dropped. SOS allows results to be seen quickly and by your own eyes, something which is rare in the non-profit and corporate world.

For example, if you help run a tutoring session, you will see the feedback from the students the next day and know how much money you raised. You can then go and build the project you helped to fund or at least see what was done with the money from pictures/videos on the trip that your peers went on. At SOS, we support the Gen Y desire to see change and make an impact, as well as allow them to gain valuable experience to obtain their future goals.

Q. What were your favorite experiences with SOS, both in the classroom and on outreach trips?
A. My favorite experience in the classroom was in 2006. This was the third year of SOS, and our growth hit its ‘hockey stick’ point. For Laurier’s first-year economics Exam-AID session that I was tutoring, 150 students showed up in a classroom meant for 120. There were people sitting on the floor in the aisles, and the room was fully engaged throughout the session. In those two hours, we were able to raise $3000 from each student’s $20 donation.

After the Exam-AID, at least 20 students came up to me saying thank-you and other positive comments about how their involvement with SOS helped them do better in school. Seeing the model in full swing, helping hundreds and raising thousands of dollars in only two hours is an impact I wanted to replicate.

One of my favourite outreach experiences was from our first outreach trip to Belize. It involved myself and Junior, a construction worker from Belize, while we worked in a 15 foot deep hole which was to be the washroom’s septic tank. It was our third day of building and Junior and I spent nine hours in the hole laying brick after brick, speaking broken English to each other and learning about each other’s lives.

Understanding the fact that although we live in different countries with very different situations, we both led very happy lives. He did not know what an iPod was and he never used a computer, but had a job he liked. The one thing he did wish he had when he was younger, however, was a better education.

Q. What are your hopes for SOS in the future?
A. My hope for the future of SOS is to continue to grow and support more students, either academically through our Exam-AIDs or personally as an SOS volunteer. With more students involved in SOS, we can help more students at home as well as support more communities in Latin America.

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About the author

Nicole Gutowski is the the communications director at Students Offering Support (SOS), a national charitable organization that raises money to raise roofs by raising marks during our ‘Exam-AID’ review sessions. The money raised is spent creating sustainable education projects in Latin American communities. SOS is a network of over 500 student volunteers across Canada who have taught 4000 students and raised $240,000 for development projects over the last five years.