Volunteer Staff: A STEM Camp Story

It is time to tell the story of volunteer staff comprised of some extraordinary students who rose to the challenge last spring at the height of the COVID lockdown in Ontario.

The implications of COVID hit Ontario in the middle of March 2020 when businesses were asked to send employees to work from home and students in elementary and secondary schools were also sent home. STEM Camp was hopeful, along with the rest of the population, that the time period for this would just be two weeks as was originally announced by the provincial and federal governments. However, no one was completely sure and we thought there may be a possibility that we would have to embrace an online service in addition to our in person camps. At the time, however, there was only one person in our organization who had experience with online virtual learning, STEM Camp Founder, Kevin Cougler.

Starting in January each year, STEM Camp starts its recruitment process for summer staff. With over 300 summer staff typically to be hired, STEM Camp had already conducted online interviews and had summer students lined up for work. STEM Camp reached out to these college and university students and asked them if they wanted to take part in a pilot project to conduct virtual learning for families who were at home. There was only one catch – they was no funding for them to do so which would make them volunteer staff. Twenty students volunteered their time to take part in this initiative! The project involved one week of training by Cougler and then a two-week program delivery of virtual online coding to families at no charge.

Little did we know the experience gained during this 3 week period would prove to be invaluable as STEM Camp switched to an online camp program, along with thousands of summer camps across Canada in 2020. This core group of students became the leaders of our virtual program which ran from May until the end of June involving 100 students hired through government programs and delivering online learning and fun to over one thousand families!

It should be noted and appreciated that these students were still in school and writing final exams while they were volunteering for STEM Camp. They are a true testament to what people can do during times of crisis and our appreciation on behalf of the families who benefitted from their volunteerism is vast. Thank you students. You inspire hope for our next generation of leaders in Canada and made all the difference to STEM Camp and our families.