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Helpers: Training for a unique kind of community involvement

The United Way’s Young Leaders on Board program trains people on how to sit on boards of directors

Eleven young "helpers" between the ages of 20 and 39 recently completed the Young Leaders on Board program sponsored by United Way/Centraide North East Ontario (UWCNEO).

The Young Leaders program is aimed at developing young professionals into engaged citizens.

After finishing the six-month program, they were congratulated by Mayor Paul Lefebvre at a reception at Tom Davies Square in June.

"I joined the Young Leaders on Board program because my goal was to get involved in the local community," said Emma Munro. 

"I felt that joining a board would be a good way to utilize the skills I’d learned as an accountant to help and be more involved. The program was a great first step in reaching this goal." 

United Way reintroduced the board training program in January after a hiatus of several years.

The Sudbury-based agency, which now oversees the districts of Sudbury, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Manitoulin, Cochrane, and Timiskaming, hopes to expand the program this fall and introduce it in North Bay and Timmins.

Linda Dupuis, governance and partnership manager, developed the leadership program for post-secondary school students in 2004.

"When I started to work as program manager and was doing a lot of training, I noticed just about everyone coming to the training had white hair. In those days, board members were mostly middle-aged to older men. There were very few women or young people."

The program was originally designed to get students interested in contributing to the city's volunteer boards that do so much good work.

"We were putting a lot of resources into students but the vast majority left the community (when they graduated). So the target audience became the young professionals who were living here and had an attachment to the community," says Dupuis.

"My goal is to get them to understand what is going on in their community, to see what the needs are, and to see how they can become engaged."

The Young Leaders on Board program offers virtual classes on board governance and participants join a community board of directors as an intern. 

"For the virtual piece (on Zoom), we invited professionals to give presentations. A lawyer spoke on duties and responsibilities, and an accountant spoke on how to read a financial statement … many of the presenters were Young Leader graduates from previous years."

Lora Wright, executive director of Northern Services North, is the volunteer co-ordinator for the program. 

She is a graduate of the board intern program and a success story, said Dupuis.

Munro, who interned with the Sudbury Arts Council and has decided to become a board member this fall, said, "I was surprised, when talking to friends, how  many people are interested in potentially being board members but don’t feel like they have the skill/experience to do it.

"The program does a really good job of teaching you the basics that every board member should know. We learned the duties and responsibilities of board members, how to read financial reports, meeting management, policy development, community relations and risk management. 

"All of these topics provided us with a good base and understanding of what a board does, how to be a good board member and how we as individuals can use our skills to contribute to the board," saidMunro

Many employers encourage their young staffers to get involved with the board training program, said Mary Lou Hussak, United Way executive director. 

She noted the fringe benefits of volunteering on a community board and networking are the opportunities to learn skills and have experiences that can help one achieve their career goals.

The deadline for agencies and interns to apply to participate in the Young Leaders on Board program is Sept. 15.

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer. Helpers is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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