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Try Volunteering, Grads Advise

Try Volunteering, Grads Advise

"Volunteering matters because the world is plagued with too much suffering, and it's not necessary," career adviser Jason Connell says.

By MAX HARROLD / The Gazette

February 24, 2010

To the list of things university graduates need nowadays to get ahead, career adviser Jason Connell adds one major, perhaps surprising, attribute: a willingness to work for free.

Connell, 24, makes a modest living advising students how to volunteer with non-profit groups, locally and abroad, after graduating, rather than working for pay. Doing so can provide unparalleled personal growth, he said, and it might also give young job seekers the edge to eventually land a fulfilling career rather than merely a job that pays.

By using social networking websites to fundraise, and by finding corporate sponsors, students can offset the personal costs of volunteering abroad, like airfare, he added.

“Volunteering matters because the world is plagued with too much suffering, and it’s not necessary,” said Connell, whose own volunteer stints have taken him to China, South Africa and Uganda.

“I remember being in Shenzhen (China) when I was 19 and seeing this woman picking up rice and bits of fish from trash cans and putting them into a blanket she held.

“When I looked closer there was a newborn baby in the blanket. I gave her 20 yuan (about $3 Canadian), which was all I had on me. But I was so miserable, I couldn’t sleep. Later, I told this to a businessman at a bar.

“He said: ’That’s just the way the world is.’ "

The experience led Connell to question his career options and wonder what he could do to resolve such large, seemingly insurmountable problems. His upbeat attitude went a long way.

“We can make a difference. Plus it feels great.”

But what about paying back school debts and the need to make a living, pronto?

“Most graduates don’t have children and can leave for a while after graduating,” he said recently near Concordia University’s downtown campus, where he will speak to students Monday.

“You have the rest of your life ahead of you,” Connell often tells students. “This is your bubble of freedom.”

And the tight job market makes this “the perfect time” to go on a volunteer stint that might last anywhere from a few months to a few years, said Connell, a 2009 Concordia University political science graduate.

He started his own company to farm out his skills as a public speaker and “global activist,” using $7,000 of his personal savings and a $3,000 small business loan. In 14 months, he’s conducted 10 paid speaking events in Canada and the United States.

His savings came from years of doing paid magic shows, starting when he was 8 years old, that eventually saw him travelling from his native Boston to perform for corporate audiences at $1,000 a pop.

“I used to really like the effect of doing tricks with doves,” Connell said. “Some magicians tie them down or clip their wings. I preferred to just train mine not to fly off.”

Connell’s website is © Copyright © The Montreal Gazette

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