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(January 24, 2002, Gazette)

Lending a hand can give
students a leg up

Last winter, while on a work term in Ottawa, Laura Wellon volunteered with the National Capital Commission and was involved in Winterlude. “Volunteering is a way to get right in the middle of things,” she said.

Laura Wellon is a third-year business student with an outstanding record. She’s been consistently named to the dean’s list and has recently been selected as one of five women worldwide to receive the Zonta International Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, valued at more than $4,000 US. But what really sets this 21-year-old student apart is what she does outside of school.

A skier, basketball and soccer player, Ms. Wellon is also actively involved in her community as a volunteer with more than seven charitable organizations. She coaches a girls’ soccer team, is a member of the Red Cross disaster response team, and a member of Habitat for Humanity to name a few of her roles.

Despite, all of her extracurricular commitments, Ms. Wellon remains focused on her academic pursuits and helping people. According to her, the two go hand in hand because her volunteer experiences have helped her to build skills to make her a better professional.

Ms. Wellon’s volunteer experiences have strengthened her public speaking skills and taught her valuable leadership skills. As a volunteer with Junior Achievement’s Business Basics program, she helped teach Grade Six students about business.

“It was a lot of fun introducing young students to what I’m passionate about in university. At the end of the program, it was rewarding to ask the students ‘what is an entrepreneur’ and have them all raise their hands because they know the answer.”

Patricia Jackson (R), president of the local Zonta International chapter, presents Laura Wellon with the Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, valued at more than $4,000 US. Patricia Jackson (R), president of the local Zonta International chapter, presents Laura Wellon with the Jane M. Klausman Women in Business Scholarship, valued at more than $4,000 US.

One of the most useful lessons Ms. Wellon believes volunteering can teach a person is how to appreciate other people’s perspectives. She was part of a Red Cross simulation in Calgary, designed to help volunteers better understand what refugees go through. The simulation was staged in the middle of nowhere in the Rocky Mountains under horrible, but realistic conditions: it was cold and snowing, the refugees had nothing to eat except lentils and rice, and the guards were being rude and uncooperative.

“It was really eye-opening,” said Ms. Wellon. “The simulation was supposed to help us learn how to organize camps, register the refugees and set-up a system for communicating; however, it also demonstrated the more personal difficulties and frustrations refugees face.

“Sometimes, you can face some pretty challenging situations as a volunteer, especially in times of crisis or disaster,” she continued. “One of the nice things about volunteering is that you find yourself in a group of like-minded people. They’re caring, motivated, and it’s nice to work with such positive people.”

Last year, Ms. Wellon was on call with the Red Cross the day the apartment building on Blackmarsh Road caught fire. As one of the first people on the scene, she was responsible for getting information from the residents and making arrangements for them and provide comfort kits. “Many of the people affected were left with nothing,” she said. “They had no insurance and the fire had completely destroyed their apartments. I was able to give them a hug and give them tangible and immediate help. To me, that was very rewarding.”

Those one-on-one dealings with people help Ms. Wellon see the value of volunteering.

“It’s nice to see that you’re making a difference,” she said. “It’s nice when one of the kids I coach comes up to me in the mall and says ‘hi.’ It’s nice to know that you matter to someone. I remember the role models I’ve had along the way and it feels good to know that someone looks up to me.”

She also feels her volunteer experience helps her get more out of her classroom experience. Apart from the more obvious skills volunteering teaches such as time management, leadership and how to work with a team, Ms. Wellon says volunteering teaches her things about herself and her own abilities.

“Last summer, I helped Habitat for Humanity build a home for a local family. At first, I thought I didn’t know how to build a house but they have engineers and construction workers managing the project and telling you what to do. Before I knew it, I was helping an electrician wire the house. The day the house was finished, the family was given the keys to their new home. It was a really emotional moment because we knew how much it meant to them. I guess that’s one of the most tangible examples of what volunteers can accomplish.”

“My volunteer experiences have given me a lot of useful tools to use in the classroom,” she said. “I’ve learned to think on my feet, to consider how my actions impact people and to think creatively.” But to clarify, the fact that volunteering boosts her résumé is simply a fringe benefit.

“Volunteering is a stress relief for me. It’s a break from my studies and I get to combine things I love such as exercise and working with kids.”