Volunteering over 1,000 hours between the ages of 11 and 18 is a huge accomplishment. So huge that we give any YVC youth who achieve this the acclaimed World-Changer Award.
But volunteering 1,133 hours in just 3.5 years, while balancing school and other activities—that’s pretty much impossible, right?
Not according to Wentao Li.
Wentao, a volunteer with YVC of Calgary, recently took the throne as the YVC Youth Volunteer who has served the most hours with his local YVC program. Wentao served 1,133 hours with YVC of Calgary, and what’s even more amazing is that he did this in just 3.5 years.
Wentao graduated this year and is now attending the University of Calgary working toward a combined degree in Psychology and Community Rehabilitation, and of course still volunteering any way he can.
We caught up with Wentao to see how he achieved this amazing honor:
Why did you get started volunteering with YVC?
I honestly didn’t have a very specific or pronounced reason for why I started volunteering. Youth Central, the host organization for YVC of Calgary, did a presentation at my middle school on what they offered and it intrigued me. So then I signed up during the summer after my grade 9 year, being driven by curiosity and a desire to just learn about the city. In all honesty, I was a homebody at the time (and still am to this day) and I was flat out bored. I needed something to do!
You served 1,100+ hours with YVC in just 3.5 years. How did you accumulate so many hours in a relatively short amount of time?
That’s a question I would like to ask myself too. I didn’t keep on volunteering intending to reach this milestone, so it hit me as a surprise. When I first started in grade 9 and 10, my workload at school was pretty light and I didn’t have a lot going on in terms of other extracurricular activities, so I just volunteered and did YVC projects after school and on a lot of weekends. A part of it was me being ‘addicted’ of sorts to travelling to various parts of the city and to take a part in various tasks, but a lot of it was also to get to know fellow youth volunteers and just have a blast working alongside them. With more experience, I began to feel motivated to volunteer because I saw it as a hobby, passion and devotion more than ever and realized I had to seize those opportunities for my personal growth. As I got older, I had to cut back on the amount of projects I did, but I made sure I did at least a project or two a month just to keep myself engaged and committed. Regardless of how many hours I would have done, it became an integral part of my life.
What were your favorite projects with YVC of Calgary?
My all-time favourite project is working with the Food for Peace society at the Calgary Drop-In Centre to cook a vegetarian dinner for the residents. It was the closest I’ve ever gotten to becoming a chef as we cut up all the ingredients and prepared some of the courses of the meal. That vegetarian curry aroma is coming back as I write this. My second favorite one would be preparing lunch at the Salvation Army Centre of Hope as I became really familiar with the kitchen and all the tasks we had to do. The project with the most emotional value for me is one I was involved in creating – I, along with a committee of other youth, spearheaded a recreation project at Edwards Place, a low-income senior housing facility, and we eventually got to plant a garden for them. That was an amazing endeavor – sure, there were the growing pains and the fluctuating turnout – but at least I felt motivated by the fact we created a new opportunity for involvement.
Why do you think it’s important to volunteer?
I believe it’s important to volunteer because it will transform you. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to meet other youth in your area and absorb all their insights and talents. Volunteering gives you the chance to provide input into your community, even if you are just planning to do one project. By volunteering, you are delivering a statement that says you care about some part of our society and that you are willing to invest time to make something happen. That ‘thing’ can be one single volunteer project, or it can be a journey of volunteering of YVC, or it can be a lasting motivation to be involved in the community. It is so important to volunteer, for that once you embark on those projects with YVC, you will be so much more conscious of the small things you can volunteer to change. That includes picking a bit of trash off the sidewalk, holding a door for an elderly patron, or spending time with those you care and respect so they know you’re there for them.
What would you say to other Youth Volunteers aspiring to serve 1,000+ hours?
Volunteering is an individualized passion, or in laymen’s terms, it’s what you make it out to be. Serving 1,000+ hours is not just about meeting that statistic, and that statistic is not the only indicator that you’ve progressed a lot along your journey as a YVC volunteer. That goal will be much easier to accomplish if you’ve made or are in the processing of making other goals along the way. Be open-minded for the lessons and valuable knowledge that will come along your way and know that they can’t always be measured as concretely as an hour count. If you keep on fulfilling the goals you’ve made and setting new goals throughout your involvement, you’ll make it there with ease and with an everlasting sense of accomplishment.
How has YVC influenced your life?
Volunteering with YVC taught me a lot of knowledge. That included the basic food handling skills I got from working in kitchens to the life virtues of teamwork and appreciation. Volunteering also taught me how to work alongside others who bring incredible talents of their own to the table. I know personally that I wasn’t the most cooperative and appreciative one in the team, and volunteering with different youth has helped me improve in that area. Volunteering with YVC opened doors for me; that for sure includes the concrete skills and experiences from working in different environments, but it afforded me the realization that I could lead and support change. With the personal development I’ve received through YVC projects, I believe I am now able to better cherish and support those around me, especially the friends I’ve made as a YVC volunteer.