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Volunteering offers numerous long-term benefits, including practical work experience, professional references, networking opportunities and valuable community contributions. Ofelia Ramirez has discovered this firsthand, as someone who has used volunteering to improve her situation and increase her opportunities.

Recently appointed to the position of fill-in Administrative Assistant for the Immigrant Women’s Centre, Ramirez now speaks of her experience as a volunteer with pride. According to Ramirez, many of the skills which earned her a paid position are the product of the volunteer work she participated in upon immigrating to Canada, as well as her experience in her home country. Prior to coming to Canada, she worked at a large university in Guadalajara, Mexico doing administrative work.

“I think it was in 2011 [that I first began volunteering],” said Ramirez. “I started helping the counsellors with filing…and checking everything was in order, and then I helped…in the office.” Ramirez cites the time spent volunteering around her eventual workplace as a contributing factor in her ability to work efficiently. Due to her responsibility, Ramirez is able to relate to, and recognize the needs of clients, providing the best possible aid.

Ramirez did not, however, begin volunteering right away. Before attempting to gain practical work experience, she took advantage of several of the courses offered by the Immigrant Women’s Centre.

“First of all, I took a workshop about job research, and then I took different computer classes,” said Ramirez, when asked about the steps she implemented in order to gain experience and knowledge. “I [also] took the Telephone Skills program,” she added, “and after, I improved my confidence [with talking to people].”

Her studies and her willingness to develop her skills have certainly paid off. After spending almost a year as a volunteer, Ramirez has gained temporary employment at the Immigrant Women’s Centre, filling in for administrative absences. This success is not the end of her aspirations, however. With finances to support her, Ramirez now hopes to use her training and abilities to improve the situation of others.

“[…] I took [a] course on counseling techniques,” Ramirez said, “and I hope that in the future I can help […] people. I know that, especially with immigrants, I would like to help them, support them and guide them.”

By Evelyna Kay, Westdale Secondary School | Photo by Michelle Drew 

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