The Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador (CSC) has been working to encourage citizen engagement and advance the distinct role of the community sector since 1976. Through dozens of initiatives, programs and services, CSC has touched organizations and individuals in just about every community in the province. No program has had more outreach in communities large and small than the Community Service Component of the Student Work and Service Program (SWASP). While not a new initiative – it has been operating since 1994 – its unique approach and continuous innovation has helped thousands of young people gain career experience in their own community, reduce their student debt load, get exposure to the community sector and learn about the important contribution of volunteers to the quality of life of communities. Organizations of all types benefit from the energy, skills and creative ideas of students.
SWASP, unlike other student summer employment programs, relies on joint applications from sponsors and students. This enables students to seek out in advance, or even help design, a potential position related to their course of study and career goals. An arms-length approvals committee of volunteers then assesses the applications, taking into consideration student information as well as job description and anticipated skills development. Not all placements are directly connected to the student’s field of study, but many positions in small communities provide a first job experience for those just graduating from high school. Students already in post-secondary studies can return home for the summer and have an impact on their communities while earning a stipend and a tuition voucher redeemable at any recognized university or college.
A very important component of SWASP is the ‘high tech – high touch’ approach that has been a hallmark of a number of CSC programs. A friendly online application allows sponsors to start an application, save it and complete it at a later time. SWASP staff are on hand to guide people through the application if necessary and available to sponsors and students throughout the summer to answer questions, help with any issues that may arise, mediate problematic situations, remind participants if forms have not been submitted in a timely fashion and check on placements through a monitoring process that includes written comments as well as onsite and telephone interviews province-wide. Normally feedback is received from all placements. Sponsors and students are very appreciative of this accessibility of staff and the interest taken in their activities. Sponsors also like the fact that the paper work is minimal. The tuition voucher is seen by the vast majority of participants as a great way to save money for post-secondary studies.
Overwhelmingly positive comments year after year, and the fact that most sponsors and many students reapply for SWASP in succeeding years, speak volumes to the popularity of this unique program, which has administered between 8,000 and 10,000 placements since its inception. A research project carried out in 2005 showed that many students who had never volunteered in their community had developed an interest through SWASP and continued to be involved after their SWASP experience. SWASP helps to develop leadership and a multitude of skills transferable to many work and life situations.Written by Fran Locke Community Sector Council Newfoundland and Labrador www.communitysector.nl.ca