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Students cheer financial incentive to volunteer

The Alberta government has launched a pilot project called the Serving Communities Internship Program, offering postsecondary students a financial incentive to volunteer with a non-profit organization.

BY HILARY DUFF | SEP 12 2011

The payback: a $1,000 bursary for each internship completed, says Ellie McFarlane, the program coordinator at Volunteer Alberta, which is administering the program.

The three-year pilot project will make available up to 500 internships to students who apply this year, and up to 1,000 by the third year, says Ms. McFarlane. To participate in the program, organizations must get approval from Volunteer Alberta.

The idea for the program came from students themselves. Meghan Melnyk, president of the students’ association at Mount Royal University and a member of the Alberta Student Executive Council, was at the March lobby conference where the student reps presented the idea to Premier Ed Stelmach. The premier immediately gave the program his blessing.

Ms. Melnyk says the feedback from students also has been positive. “They love the idea. What’s awesome is that students may want to volunteer, but they can’t because they need to work to put themselves through school. This program provides a solution to that,” she says.

The time commitment and length of internship vary, but the emphasis is on giving participants experience in their field of study so they can add it to their resumé, says Ms. McFarlane.

“Involving youth in a variety of sectors will bring fresh new ideas and skills to the table,” she says. “In the long term, we want to try and encourage students to consider jobs in the non-profit sector as a career path.”

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