The rewards of volunteering are endless. Volunteering impacts society, neighbourhoods, organizations, businesses and of course, the dedicated volunteers who offer their time and energy. Volunteering builds confidence, competence, connections and community. It can also pave the way to employment opportunities, like it did for Saisha Pilankar.

Saisha, a grade 11 student at Bluevale Collegiate Institute, saw a volunteer opportunity promoted for Strong Start® Charitable Organization, and knew instantly that she wanted to help because of her own childhood challenges with reading.

“When I was in Grade 1, I remember struggling to read. Many kids would be in the higher reading levels, while I was near the bottom, unable to sound out letters and form words,” Saisha explained.

Inspired by the mission of helping young children learn to read, Saisha started her Strong Start volunteer journey in the Summer of 2022 as a Materials Assistant, helping assemble games and activities for the Letters, Sounds and Words™ program. She quickly demonstrated a high-degree of organization and attention to detail, leading to more complex work and quality checking of materials. This mastery led her to confidently support other volunteers with their own work.

“Saisha quickly learned the processes and demonstrated a high-level of competence and initiative. She is highly organized, and it shows in how she approaches her work and her outputs. She’s exceptional!” explained Craig Smith, Strong Start’s Process and Project Specialist.

Saisha’s impressive work ethic, process-driven approaches and leadership led to a part-time employment offer from Strong Start during the 2022-2023 school year in the role of Inventory Assistant. For a few hours a couple days each week, Saisha would hop on the Ion and join the Operations team to support materials management including preparing consumable shipments for our program partners. She also brought great energy and fun and was often seen engaged in friendly conversations and laughter with the Operations team and volunteers.

Saisha’s part-time work naturally evolved into a full-time summer position to support the materials volunteers Strong Start relies on to help count and rebundle consumable items from our programs.

“My main inspiration to transition into an employee was the work environment. As a volunteer, I genuinely enjoyed showing up every single day. Kirsten Carr (Get Ready for School™ Program Co-ordinator) was such a friendly supervisor to talk to, and Craig had been nothing but kind. I wanted to continue helping Strong Start, as the things I had accomplished and the people I had met here made me feel fulfilled… When I was offered the job, the choice was easy for me.”

With Saisha’s support and that of others on the team, 27 volunteers contributed 700 hours during the summer. Her natural leadership abilities, combined with her deep understanding of the materials and processes contributed to her success in the role.

“The most important thing that Strong Start has shown is making sure that the connections in your workplace are healthy and maintained. Personally, because of the people I get to work and converse with every day, I enjoy going to work. When you have an environment that is friendly and supportive, it makes people welcome and gives them a sense of belonging. I’m truly fortunate to be able to say that I love working here. I hope to create a positive space, like Strong Start is for me, in my future endeavours,” explained Saisha.

Today, Saisha continues her part-time work at Strong Start while finishing her final year of high school. When asked what she will do after she graduates, she shared, “I have a great passion for helping people, and because of Strong Start, I’ve been able to improve my people and social skills. I hope to use these abilities I’ve learned to pursue a career in health and medicine. I also plan to travel the world and meet people from many cultures. I’m deeply passionate about such aspects, like food, music, and religion, and I’m constantly expanding my knowledge.”

Reflecting on her journey at Strong Start, Saisha said it best, “Strong Start is a fulfilling experience of learning and connection, all to help our future readers.”