Probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life has been my experience as a volunteer for the Extra-Judicial Youth Measures and Sanctions Program form the John Howard Society of Kitchener/Waterloo. Founded on the belief that everyone deserves second chances, the John Howard Society provides counselling, support, and opportunities for people who have broken the law. In my role, I represent the Kitchener/Waterloo community and discuss the consequences and implications of crime with young offenders who have been diverted by the courts—this means that a judge or the police feel the offender deserves the opportunity to perform services in lieu of criminal charges.

Every two weeks, once around 7:00 and again around 8:00, I meet with a young offender and their parent or guardian. These young offenders have been charged with a variety of crimes, typically Theft Under $5000, Assault, or Possession of a Controlled Substance (almost always marijuana). Over the past year, I estimate I’ve met with 40 youth. But tonight, I met a really special young person. I can’t tell you anything about this individual. I can’t tell you their age, gender, appearance, or family background. That’s all confidential. What I can tell you is that this young person changed my life.

It’s funny how the world works: there are haves and there are have-nots. But I think it’s more important to focus on how the haves and have-nots behave in society. Tonight I realized how amazing it is that some people are born with every opportunity presented to them, and they’ll never amount to anythingVolunteering; others are born ‘doomed from the womb,’ but go on to positively change many lives.

So this brings me back to central point of this post: do you volunteer? If you don’t, I really recommend that you do. Sure, it’s kind of a pain to ‘donate’ your time when you have a million other things to do. You work hard, study hard, raise your kids, etc. The last thing you want to do at the end of the day is offer your time to someone for free. Or maybe you’ve been meaning to volunteer for a while but haven’t gotten around to it yet?

I know the feeling: before every trip the John Howard Society, I can think of ten reasons to cancel. But you want to know what keeps me going? The feeling I get when I leave. It’s not relief, like when you finish writing an exam. It’s the feeling that I made a difference in someone’s life; or, like today, the feeling that someone made a difference in mine.

In my opinion, volunteering is the most important civic service an individual can offer their community, even more important than voting. So if you know a volunteer, shake their hand; and if you’re not a volunteer, think about it.

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