“Do it for the fuzzy feeling that you get inside when you actually see the smile on somebody’s face when you do something to help them,” said Kylee Mazerolle, 17, when asked why youth in the community should volunteer.
“When I worked with the seniors or with people with disabilities, the fuzzy feeling I get makes me so happy and it’s the butterflies. It’s just beautiful. I love it so much.”
The Grade 12 student at Erin District High School was one of just eight youths in Ontario to receive the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers on April 13 at Queen’s Park in Toronto.
Each year youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are recognized for giving a large portion of their time to charitable or not-for-profit agencies or initiatives and for inspiring other people to volunteer.
Currently Mazerolle’s primary volunteer work is with an East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) seniors program for adults who are showing signs of frailty or have early onset Alzheimer’s or dementia.
“There are some disabilities in the seniors, plus it’s … a door to working with disabilities,” she said. “So working with the seniors you deal with dementia … and I worked with another one that wasn’t able to walk.”
She volunteers an hour of her time on Mondays and Thursdays during her spare period at school to work with participants in the EWCS adult day program.
Mazerolle said she helps the participants in any way she can: help them walk, play piano for them or show them her paintings – and she always tells them a story about her week.
“This time (it) was my award,” Mazerolle said of her April 16 volunteer day. “I brought it in and showed it to all of them and they’re all wide-eyed …”
With over 1,000 volunteer hours earned, Mazerolle was nominated for the medal by EWCS community and volunteer services manager Barb Carscadden.
“She just always approaches everything with such a positive attitude,” Carscadden said. “She shows a lot of leadership too amongst people of her age group.
“Rather than hanging around the school at lunch time she goes over to the senior centre, which is right beside the school, and other kids can see her doing these things and I think that just sets a good standard and she’s a good role model.”
Mazerolle learned she was receiving the medal about two months before the April 13 ceremony but couldn’t tell anyone about it.
“The whole point was that it didn’t go to press before the recipients were told live on television,” she explained.
Mazerolle, along with her mom, stepfather, grandparents and cousin, travelled to Toronto for the awards ceremony. One of Mazerolle’s highlights was meeting Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the current lieutenant governor of Ontario, who presented the medals.
“We got to sit with the lieutenant governor and she actually asked to sit with us at lunch,” she said.
Mazerolle also mentioned the camaraderie she felt with the seven other medal recipients.
“It was one of those days where you get to see a community support everybody from multiple communities because we were all from all over Ontario,” she said.
The Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers wasn’t Mazerolle’s only award that week.
The day after the Toronto ceremony, she made a presentation to youth through the Optimist Club of Erin, talking about her medal and volunteering. After her presentation she was unexpectedly presented one of the Optimist Youth Appreciation awards.
“I’ve worked over 100 hours with the Optimists and they know me by name, by face, anything,” she said. The award gave her $1,000 to put towards her education.
She also received the Paul Harris Award earlier this year from the Rotary Club of Erin (for her proven service of helping other people) and the Shamrock Award of Merit in Grade 10.
Mazerolle started volunteering in Grade 7, when she sat with a boy who had a disability at lunch, helping him to eat and talking to him.
“I actually ended up making flash cards for him and helping him read them and got him to be able to read some words off the page,” she explained. “That was a big accomplishment for me.”
That experience is one of the factors that drove Mazerolle to pursue education towards becoming a developmental service worker (DSW), she said. Come September, she will attend Georgian College in Orillia in the DSW program. One of the skills she hopes to develop is her sign language ability.
“I want to be able to fully sign conversations and translate because just knowing sign language alone on a resume, for working with disabilities the people who can’t hear, you instantly are more qualified to work with them,” she said.
“Or the people that are partially deaf and some people who are non-verbals, they sign and you have to know what the sign is because they do a home version. They don’t actually do the proper (sign).”
Further inspiring her to follow the DSW career path was Mazerolle’s experience at Belwood Lodge and Camp, a residential summer camp for children, youths and adults who are mentally challenged.
Working there for a year, Mazerolle said she became more set on pursing the career.
“I got to work with way more variety of disabilities and see what it would be like to work with multiple types of disabilities,” she said. “It opened up my eyes.”
Mazerolle herself is diagnosed with ADHD.
“I know what it’s like to not feel like you fit in,” she said. “I know what it’s like to sit in a room and be the only one that’s about to bounce off the walls, but I also know how to be happy and do things and make other people happy and I like doing that.”
She said her personal experience makes her uniquely qualified for her career aspirations because she can relate.
In addition to volunteering with EWCS and the Optimists, Mazerolle also helped store and inflate soccer balls for the local soccer league and organized jerseys at the beginning of the season. She also volunteered at her brother’s hockey games, playing music between plays and helping out at any of the award ceremonies.
Mazerolle also puts time into encouraging others to pursue volunteer involvement.
“I’m one of the people in the school that if you need hours, you come to me and I’ll find something where you get to work with me to do it,” she said. “When I bring somebody to do hours with me I say, ‘Okay now go ask them what else you can do.’”
This way, Mazerolle said, they will set themselves apart and show the organizers their initiative and hopefully be asked back.
Carscadden said that desire is one of the things that makes Mazerolle so special.
“Everybody always says there’s nothing for young people to do in the Town of Erin and you would think that that’s true because there aren’t a whole lot of clubs for them but she just finds what’s happening and she goes and takes part,” Carscadden said. “I’ll often put out an email saying we need help here, there at this event and she’s usually the first one to respond.
“It’s like she’s waiting, waiting in the wings.”