In the past year, over 900 people volunteered their time to support Pathways students’ academic, professional, and personal growth in their high school journeys.

For National Volunteer Week, we sat down with Camila Fisher, Volunteer Coordinator at Pathways Spryfield, to delve into the profound impact of volunteerism—both on the community and for each individual volunteer, as well as learn about the team’s volunteer initiatives and plans to celebrate program volunteers.


The impact of Pathways volunteers in Spryfield

At Pathways Spryfield, Volunteer Coordinator Camila Fisher creates opportunities where program volunteers can share their expertise and connect with students on various levels, from academic tutoring to mentoring and career guidance.

There are many reasons why volunteers dedicate their time to supporting Pathways students. As Camila shares, “We have a lot of people coming in to say, ‘I know what it’s like to struggle in high school and be behind my peers, so I want to provide students with the extra support that I didn’t have when I was younger.’ It can even be simpler—one of my favourite answers ever was from a volunteer who has a busy career and a family, but in his application, he wrote, ‘Every day after work, I come home and watch TV, and I just know I need to do better things with my time.’ And he found that the better thing to improve himself would be coming here to help students in his community.”

By bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences, Pathways Spryfield is building a stronger, more inclusive community. Pathways Spryfield’s volunteer base includes university students looking to build experience, retired community members who want to share their skills, and newcomers to Canada where volunteering is more than just a way to give back—it’s a pathway to deepen their community connections.

Many newcomers who volunteer at Pathways Spryfield are highly experienced professionals in their home country, but their qualifications may not be recognized in Canada. By volunteering, they are able to contribute to the community that welcomed them, but also gain Canadian work experience and expand their professional networks. Moreover, by connecting with newcomer volunteers, Pathways Spryfield can better provide tailored support for newcomer students in overcoming language barriers in school.

With 15 per cent of Spryfield’s population having recently immigrated to Canada, volunteers who can speak students’ primary language help bridge communication gaps for newcomer youth so they can succeed in even the most challenging classes. “It’s the biggest barrier for folks to come to a new place and not speak the language; it prevents you from getting a job, integrating with the community, and continuing your education,” Camila explains. “Newcomer youth often must navigate challenges alone because their family members also struggle with language barriers. Some of our students speak the best English in their family, so they may miss school to handle all these things that parents would normally take on because they need to be there to translate.”

That’s why increasing access to language supports is a crucial part of how Pathways Spryfield is instilling a sense of belonging for youth in the local community. Throughout last summer and the fall semester, Camila worked together with volunteer teachers to provide English as an Additional Language (EAL) courses. Additionally, Pathways’ Program Partner in Spryfield, Chebucto Connections, has recently secured a grant to hire a part-time EAL teacher to provide beginner and intermediate classes every Saturday for students.

For students at Pathways Spryfield, the impact of volunteers means more than just academic support, but having an encouraging environment where they feel motivated to succeed in school, despite any challenges they may face. “I always tell volunteers that they don’t need to be an expert in any subject area in order to help students.  It’s just about sitting with the student and doing everything that you would do in your life to figure it out, so they learn not to give up,” Camila explains. “For the students we work with, having someone be invested in your success and who you know cares about your journey really builds confidence as young people go out into the world.”

To thank Pathways Spryfield volunteers who go above and beyond to support students, Camila created a photo wall of their volunteers to celebrate National Volunteer Week. Set up within Pathways Spryfield’s program space, students and staff are invited to add thank you notes and personal messages of what they appreciate about the volunteers.

Additionally, Camila organized a volunteer appreciation event, hosted during the March break to accommodate the schedules of volunteers who are still in school. Held within the program space, volunteers shared tips with each other, and were engaged in discussions to gather their insights on volunteer challenges and what Pathways Spryfield students need more of.

It was a rare opportunity for volunteers to connect with one another outside of supporting students. To help break the ice, Camila planned a series of team-building activities during the event:

A tutoring challenge: volunteers worked together to answer a series of difficult questions covering various topics, including algebra, Canadian history, and cell biology.

A scavenger hunt around the program space: Volunteers collected pieces of paper, each containing a word, and were tasked to arrange the pieces into the Pathways vision, “Breaking the cycle of poverty through education”.

Team relay challenge: Volunteer teams competed to toss balls into an empty Kleenex container, and would then tie the box around the waist and dance to get all the balls out of the Kleenex box.

The event ended with a gift bag for each volunteer, including a notebook and pen for them to use when tutoring students to record their progress and reflect on their volunteering session.

Overall, the combination of the day’s structured activities, along with open time to chat over food and reflect on their Pathways experiences helped strengthen collaboration between volunteers and the Pathway Spryfield team—all of which will build toward stronger and more effective supports for students in Spryfield in the year ahead.