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(This is the latest in a series of stories about people in Stittsville who make a difference in our community. If you have a suggestion for someone we should interview, please contact us!)

All Ontario students must complete 40 hours of volunteer community involvement to graduate. This involvement helps increase awareness of community needs, helps students identify with their community, find acceptance of their place within the community, learn to make a difference, and develop a positive self-image by contributing to community life.

Lara Sweidan, a grade 12 student at South Carleton High School, took this challenge seriously, accumulating 165 hours of community service – and she is not done yet!

Lara received Stittsville’s John Curry Memorial Youth of the Year Award in June for her outstanding service to the community. She has learned to make a difference by fostering a sense of civic responsibility.

While volunteering, Lara has experienced personal growth and satisfaction in helping others. Her volunteer efforts have included working with OneProsper, Languages Sunday School, park clean-ups, Richmond Fair, coaching at Kanata Gymnosphere, and helping with summer camps at Saunders Farm.

“My proudest accomplishment so far is my involvement with OneProsper,” says Lara. “I had the opportunity to meet different girls from India and helped them improve their English. I was able to connect with them and learned how different we are and how we can empower each other.”

Lara has participated in school groups such as Link Crew, Student Council, HOPE Club, AOD Club, and Leadership Camp. She has also been active in many sports at school and in the community such as South Carleton’s Girls Volleyball, Girls Basketball, and Goulbourn Hornets Girls Basketball.

Lara, originally from Syria, moved to Stittsville with her family four years ago from Saudi Arabia. She quickly adapted to life in our community by finding ways to get involved.

“I was new and shy,” says Lara. “My guidance councillor recommended getting my volunteer hours early and not waiting for the senior year when academic commitments are much greater. I got into it and found I enjoyed the experience.”

Lara offers some excellent advice for youth needing volunteer hours or wanting to give back but don’t know where to start.

“Go for it! Don’t overthink the experience and jump in,” says Lara. “Start small, and before you know it, volunteering becomes a habit. It becomes who you are. I started volunteering with my friends and found my own experiences.”

Volunteering has given Lara a glimpse of what people do in life and inspired her to pursue family law after she graduates.

“It was an honour to win the John Curry Memorial Youth of the Year award. It was a rewarding experience,” says Lara. “It was all the small things that led to winning the award. I look back, and I see what I have done. Knowing I have made a difference in some way is gratifying.”

The John Curry Memorial Youth of the Year is awarded to a young person who exemplifies leadership, inspires their peers, and significantly contributes to the Stittsville community through volunteer service.

For more information on the volunteer community involvement requirements, visit: https://www.ocdsb.ca/cms/one.aspx?portalId=55478&pageId=214204