OTTAWA – The federal government launched the much-anticipated Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) last Thursday, June 25, a program that partners post-secondary students with non-profits to earn a grant based on the number of hours each student volunteers at participating organizations this summer.
“It’s really an amazing opportunity for students, not only within their own communities but because some experiences are virtual, they’re able to help other communities across the country. That can help students broaden their scope,” said Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger in a Friday interview with The Expositor.
The CSSG allows post-secondary students and recent graduates to “pursue a variety of volunteer opportunities that put their interests and abilities to work for a not-for-profit cause this summer,” reads a handout from the ‘I Want To Help’ portal, a website created for the partnership between the Government of Canada and WE Charity.
Canada worked with WE to deliver this program because of its past working relationship, WE’s reach to 2.4 million young Canadians and connections to 7,000 schools. WE will be processing the applications and helping to match students with opportunities.
Manitoulin Secondary School is a WE School and teacher Yana Bauer became a volunteer manager at WE’s request.
“When I got the call from Me to WE to help out, I thought ‘this is a win-win-win in all directions.’ It’s an opportunity and something for the kids in our community who are passionate or underemployed who need extra help with post-secondary,” said Ms. Bauer. “As educators, we know that youth will reach higher levels of achievement if they are supported.”
Ms. Bauer’s role includes creating awareness of the program and supporting students from finding placements to periodic check-ins and facilitating training opportunities. She is also working with local non-profits to create eligible volunteer opportunities.
Interest has been strong. In the first five hours of the platform’s launch, 3,000 Canadians applied to take advantage of some 23,000 opportunities posted there. By the end of the next day, 15,000 students had applied.
Ms. Bauer has been speaking with former students who have further spread the program to their friends. She has been inundated with requests from students she knows and others she has never taught but said it isn’t in her nature to turn anyone away.
The program addresses two present needs. Students are lacking things to do during the summer months when many seasonal jobs have disappeared during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, many not-for-profit groups are transitioning their offerings to virtual delivery, a task that may be aided by younger individuals who tend to be most familiar with modern technology.
How the CSSG works
Volunteers register through the I Want To Help portal (IWantToHelp.org). High schools that are part of the WE Schools program may have a school contact to help co-ordinate this process.
All eligible youth must be 30 years old or younger by the end of 2020 and must have attended post-secondary school in 2020 or be preparing to start in the fall. Those who graduated in December 2019 or later are welcome to apply but foreign students studying in Canada are ineligible. Applications close on August 21.
Anyone who has claimed the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is ineligible for the CSSG but students getting the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) can join the volunteer program. Volunteer hours completed between June 25 and October 31 this year are considered valid for the grant.
The grant works in a threshold scale up to $5,000, which will be paid directly to the volunteer. For every 100 hours volunteered at eligible placements, a student will earn $1,000. CSSG earnings are taxable.
The volunteer hours are rewarded in multiples of 100 and are rounded down to the last-reached milestone. For instance, if a student were to complete 180 volunteer hours by the end of the program, they would only be eligible for the 100-hour $1,000 payout.
Island initiatives part of CSSG
Many of the volunteer opportunities as part of the CSSG can be completed online from home. This lets participants observe physical distancing measures and follow public health best practices.
Not all opportunities require internet access and participants can take part in more than one opportunity to increase their hours earning potential.
Opportunities range from tutoring younger students to helping with technological support to interviewing people about their COVID-19 experience and chronicling those realities of the pandemic.
Increasing numbers of non-profits have stepped forward to become service partners with WE, including local groups such as the Providence Bay Agricultural Society.
“We’re hoping we can take advantage of their time and knowledge of technology and be able to share it with the other generations that might not have the same skills. At the same time, we’re hoping the young people can glean a little history as well,” said the society’s secretary-treasurer Dawn Dawson.
The 136-year-old Providence Bay Fair will be hosted virtually for the first time ever this summer. CSSG volunteers will travel to capture photos of exhibit hall competition entries and other efforts include compiling a video of historic fair photos for social media.
Virtual restructuring has been so successful for the small fair that the Canadian Association of Festivals and Exhibitions has turned the Providence Bay Agricultural Society into a model for others to follow across the country. Ms. Dawson said she has been approached by fairs from as far afield as Nova Scotia.
The CSSG program has supports available for the non-profits hosting youth volunteers. They can apply for funds of between $10 and $25 thousand to cover personal protective equipment and other needed supplies to accommodate volunteers.
Youth who register for CSSG will also receive up to 25 hours of access to LinkedIn Learning, an online training portal that includes modules on personal, professional and technical skills development. This training time can be logged as part of a student’s volunteer hours.
Critics such as the Canadian Federation of Students and opposition parties have slagged the program for excluding foreign students and those older than 30, as well as for the two-month delay between its announcement and its launch and that students are unlikely to be able to earn the full grant.
To complete 500 hours at 40 hours per week would take 12-and-a-half weeks, or just over three months. Students may be able to put in that level of time over the summer months but as classes resume in some format this fall, opportunities to spend time volunteering will be curtailed.
Assuming a student began volunteering this week at 40 hours per week, they would only amass about 300 hours by September, leaving them far short of securing the full grant.
Minister Chagger acknowledged that logging 500 hours by the deadline would be a considerable undertaking but said the new models of virtual education coming in the fall may make it easier to make time for volunteerism.
“Is it possible to get 500 hours? Very much so, but it’ll be challenging for sure. But the CSSG is part of a suite of programs we’re offering to youth; if a student is eligible for the CESB then they can also receive the CSSG—it’s a stackable program,” she said.
As to the two-month delay between the program’s announcement and its launch, Minister Chagger said the government took time to make sure the program would be safe and meaningful for young Canadians.
The program has been built to be bilingual and accessible to Canadians with disabilities, something Ms. Bauer said was an important aspect to have from an educator’s perspective.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that eligible volunteer hours could be logged between June 15 and October 31. The eligibility window for volunteer hours in fact starts on June 25.