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Province looks to increase youth volunteers


“Ontario’s Promise,” a youth volunteer-orientated initiative, began to take shape as representatives and the Fort Frances Volunteer Bureau hosted a series of presentations and workshops here last Thursday.

A luncheon for representatives from district communities and businesses also was held at La Place Rendez-Vous in hopes of attracting support from the private sector.

Workshops, or summits, were done afterwards to lend tools on how to spark volunteer interest on the community level.

“Ontario’s Promise,” based on then Gen. Colin Powell’s 1998 “America’s Promise,” was announced in November by Premier Mike Harris. It helps bring together local businesses, non-profit agencies serving children, community leaders, parents, and individuals together to make and keep five promises to the province’s young people.

The basic outline included a healthy start, an adult who cares, safe places to learn and grow, tools to succeed, and a chance to make a difference.

It is the first such initiative in Canada.

Speakers at Thursday’s luncheon included Mayor Glenn Witherspoon, Ken Koprowski representing the Trillium Foundation, and Alex Matiece of the Fort Frances Rotary Club.

Carla Peacock, “Ontario’s Promise” development representative from Toronto, said the workshops across the province have been a success. She added going from town to town has helped give the program a firsthand glimpse of what’s needed to make it a success.

“One of the things that’s vital is it being a community initiative. And that they will take up the banner,” Peacock stressed. “So we’re hoping the next step is they look to their volunteer bureaus and see how they can get involved.”

Joan Pearson, executive director of the local volunteer bureau, noted Fort Frances and Rainy River District already have a good reputation for lending a hand--one that extends beyond what her bureau has accomplished.

“We haven’t cornered the market,” she said. “This community is fantastic when it comes to volunteerism. A wonderful community spirit in this area.”

Emo residents Simone Leblanc and Linda Zimmerman, two active members of the district’s 4-H club, also made a presentation on the values of youth volunteerism.

“I think if everyone pitches in, it’ll be awesome. All they need are volunteers to jump out and say ‘I’ll do it,’” said Zimmerman, echoing the theme of the afternoon.

This year, they are looking to the private sector to help increase resources provided to agencies serving children and youth in three major ways--financial contributions, in-kind resources, and employee volunteer time.

The provincial government is providing $700,000 to 57 community organizations to host these Community Volunteer Summits. The summits will let them mark the International Year of Volunteers, engage in volunteer fairs, provide information on the province’s volunteer programs, and celebrate “Ontario’s Promise.”

Pearson added the workshops were well-attended by the district, initial interest she said will make or break “Ontario’s Promise.”

“It’s quite a challenge being two hours each way from here,” she noted. “I was pleased with the representation from the district.”

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