On International Volunteer Day 2013, Youth Advisory Council’s very own Katie Fitzgerald was awarded the Stars of Alberta Award, an honour given to outstanding Albertans whose volunteerism and leadership has served as a catalyst for the improvement of their community and well-being of their fellow community members. We sat down with Katie to talk about her passion for volunteerism and what receiving this award meant to her.
Thanks for taking the time to chat today, Katie. Let’s start from the beginning, when did you start volunteering, and why?
I remember when I was about 6, my mom got breast cancer for the second time. That’s when I started to go to the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure with my dad and my older brother. When I was about 10 years old, and my mom was in remission, I started noticing that they needed volunteers and I wanted to help. CIBC Run for the Cure sort of showed me how to raise money and why it was important to be involved in a good cause. I started doing more volunteering on my own when I was about 13 and I always saw a need for giving back and I grew up doing it. But when I got older I began to understand it more and how important it is to help out in your community!
That’s an incredible story! What keeps you volunteering and how do you find new opportunities?
I always have the mindset of “What more can I do?” and “What bigger things can I do?” I always ask myself, “What difference can I make?” For example this summer I started fostering dogs from the SCARS program. Once I got started I realized how expensive it is to foster dogs, with all the bills and stuff. So, from that I decided to hold a garage sale to raise money for SCARS. It sounds kinda cheesy but it’s nice to make someone happy and making their day. I also like the different people you get to meet and making connections in the community.
Because I am sixteen, a lot has opened up for me. When I was 13 it was hard to find volunteer opportunities. I would have to weed my way through and lots of the time I would have to tag along with my family – mom and brother and sometimes my dad. Now I find them mostly online and through the St. Albert Community and Information Centre.
So, you come from a whole family of volunteers. Do you still volunteer as a family?
Sometimes we volunteer together at festivals and one-time community events. Mostly at my age I look for opportunities to do things myself – stuff where I can break away a little bit. I like being a part of a lot of youth groups and stuff.
Your family must have been very proud to hear that you’d received the Stars of Alberta Award. How did it feel when you heard that you had won?
It was really cool! I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was honoured that I would be put in a category with the other winners.
It must have been great to attend the event itself. What was the best part?
It was really cool to meet all the other people who won. I enjoyed getting to know them and learning about their causes. It was cool to be grouped into their category, they do such amazing things.
And how did it feel to get up on stage and give a speech in front of so many people?
It was kind of nerve racking but it was only one minute long. I had done a speech last year when I received the International Women’s Day Award which was presented to me by the Baha’i community last year but there were only about 50 people there. This one was more intimidating because there was way more people and more of my family members in attendance.
Well, congratulations Katie on such an awesome achievement! What do you have planned for the future?
I am only in grade 11, so my plans might change, but right now I am thinking that I want to go to Grant MacEwan University to study business.
What I am really looking forward to right now though, is my trip to India this summer with Free the Children – we will be building a school, house or a water system. I am going all by myself! I fly to Toronto by myself and there I will be meeting up with other youth from around Canada who are also going on the trip by themselves. I’m really excited to meet some new people. I’m a bit nervous because it is 20 days long and I don’t really know what to expect. I am excited, though!
Katie is a grade 11 student who lives in the city of St. Albert, Alberta. She has been an active Youth Advisory Council member since November 2012. She has contributed to many YAC initiatives including the development of the Unhooked blog & iPhone app, the updating of YAC’s signature design, the development of new awareness materials and much more.