June 11 was BMO’s annual Volunteer Day. It’s a day to fuel good and contribute to social well-being in the communities where we live and work. It’s a day that inspires thousands of us to help make a difference, and put our core values into action.
Between June 1 and June 16, over 5,000 volunteer opportunities were available to employees in major regions across Canada, Scotland, the United Kingdom and the United States. We can’t write about every event, but over the next several days, we’ll highlight a number of volunteer activities across the enterprise. Today we’re covering four volunteer activities that took place in Toronto on June 11.
ACCES Speed Mentoring®
“This kind of event can seem like it ends when everyone leaves, but it can actually be just a beginning,” said Carmen Clayton, Senior Philanthropy Officer, United Way, at the BMO Volunteer Day ACCES speed mentoring event. “These conversations are meaningful, and you never know when you might be changing someone’s life – or having your life changed.”
ACCES Employment is a leader in connecting employers with qualified employees from diverse backgrounds. More than 34,000 job seekers are served annually at their six locations across the Greater Toronto Area. Among other services, ACCES has been running an award-winning Speed Mentoring® program for newcomers to Canada for more than a decade, and hosts more than 160 of these events every year.
For BMO’s event, BMO employees provided mentorship and advice in the fields of finance and IT. Participants went from table to table, spending ten minutes each with BMO mentors. They spoke about resume building, how to find work, making connections and more.
As the event got underway, organizers discovered a happy accident: one of the BMO mentors, Siddharth Sharma, was a former participant in ACCES’ programming – and now he was offering advice to other job seekers. Not only that, the job coordinator he worked with, Agata Ignaczak, was helping to run the BMO event. “I’m so excited to see him here and to catch up,” said Agata. “Sid worked hard and trusted the process, and it worked out very well.”
“My story is a common immigrant story,” said Sid. “I moved to Canada from India two years ago with my wife. We had no family here, and no connections. I was searching for a job, applying online, and not getting anything.”
That’s when Sid decided to do the financial services program with ACCES. “It took a while, but through these events I got my first job as a Customer Service Representative at one of BMO’s Brampton branches. Pretty soon, I was promoted to Financial Services Manager,” said Sid, who is thrilled with his current role. “I completely love BMO. I got the opportunity I was looking for here. And I also got the opportunity to meet people, and to connect with my community through BMO events like Walk so Kids Can Talk. It hasn’t always been easy – when you’re new to a country you don’t know what the next step is, and how you will find the right job. I consider myself very lucky.”
Sid was thrilled to have the opportunity to help people at BMO’s event. “I can see the same things I went through in these people today. The transition from country to country is not easy. And it takes time to adapt to new work environments. If there’s any way I can help somebody, I want to do it, because somebody assisted me. And that’s what BMO is all about – we’re here to help.”
Alex Dousmanis-Curtis, Head, Canadian Sales and Distribution North American Personal & Business Banking, BMO, agrees. “In my career, I have had tons of help along the way, and lots of mentors that gave me great advice, so this is a great opportunity to help people,” she said, adding. “My dad was an immigrant from Greece, and this is tough. It can be hard to find your way into a big organization. So that’s what I’m leaving with: how can I connect these people with other people who can really advise them. Whether it gets them a job or not, it gives them another connection to receive good advice and help.”
“This volunteer work really matters. You can say it’s just painting a fence, but Strachan House is home for 88 people, and everyone takes pride in their home,” said Hania Ahmed, Communications and Community Engagement Coordinator at Homes First.
Homes First has been providing supportive housing and shelter in Toronto for over 35 years with a focus on the chronically homeless, people with complex mental health and addictions issues and seniors. They encourage homeless people to identify their own housing needs and necessary support services, and work with others to provide the supports people need to maintain their housing and rebuild their lives.
Homes First currently operates five shelters and 13 housing sites, providing a home and support to more than 750 people. BMO volunteers worked at Strachan House, an 83-unit converted warehouse consisting of 11 houses, each with eight to ten units and their own kitchen, bathroom and common area. Each unit has its own front door and a window onto the street. “We want everyone to feel comfortable here. It’s all about proper support,” said Hania. The building’s innovative design won the Governor General’s Medal of Excellence in 1999.
BMO volunteers painted fences and a garbage corral at the Volunteer Day event. Among them were nine members of BMO’s cards team. “We volunteer as a group every year,” said Adrian Lang. “And every year we do a different activity. This year we decided to do something to get our hands a little dirty!”
Adrian enjoys the opportunity to be a difference maker. “One of the things we all love about BMO is how much we are all a community, and how much we love giving back,” she said. “To be able to have a sanctioned opportunity to go out and volunteer in the community and do good is pretty awesome. It makes me really proud to be at BMO.”
Hania shared Adrian’s enthusiasm. “It’s great to have volunteers who are really passionate about volunteering and engaging in their own communities. Resources are limited, so we don’t always have the manpower to do everything we need to do. Volunteer groups are a huge part of how we operate and manage.”
First Book Canada
First Book Canada’s mission is to transform the lives of children in need by improving access to educational opportunities. Since 2009, First Book Canada has distributed more than 7 million books and educational resources to programs and schools serving children from low-income families in Canada. Their programming currently reaches hundreds of thousands of children every year.
For BMO Volunteer Day, Author Cinders McLeod read from two of her books, Earn It and Spend It, to a group of approximately 65 children at Nelson Mandela School in Toronto’s Regent Park. The students then received a copy of Earn It to take home with them, as well as two other books that they had ordered from the First Book marketplace. Books that have been overprinted are often burned as a means of disposal; First Book stops those books from being destroyed, and distributes them to children instead.
Next, the children and BMO volunteers split off into groups to read together. BMO’s Chief Information and Operations Officer, Capital Markets and U.S. Chief Technology and Operations Officer Ken Librot volunteered at the event. When asked why he chose this program, he said simply, “Because it’s for kids.” In addition to reading with the children, Ken answered their questions. “They asked things like: ‘Who’s the best superhero?’ and ‘How old are you?’ They guessed between 17 and 1000 for me,” Ken laughed, adding, “My kids are older, so it’s nice to be around those younger kids and remember what that was like.”
Andrea Hucal, Mobility Specialist, who also volunteered at the event, agrees. “It’s about the power of learning,” she said. “And at the end they came up and gave me hugs, which really made it special.”
Paula Kennedy, Project Manager, Wealth Project Management, who coordinated the event, was thrilled with how it turned out. “I love participating in BMO Volunteer Day, as it gives me the chance to get out and connect with my community. And in a small way, I can help to make a difference.”
JobStart Speed Mentoring
For many BMO volunteers, Volunteer Day is all about using their skills and abilities as professionals to benefit their communities and help make a difference in people’s lives. “Community work can sometimes be just about the feel-good factor, rather than the actual impact,” says Ragy Khairy, Senior Tech Analyst, BMO. “But the work we’re doing here can make a huge difference in someone’s life. And that’s what really matters.”
JobStart offers a variety of programs and services to help people find jobs. For immigrants with professional backgrounds, they offer the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council Mentoring Partnership, which can help people reconnect with their career with the support of a mentor who works in their field. And the program works – 75% of participants find a job in their professional field within one year of completing the program.
At the BMO event, there were a number of tables set up, each with a different topic for discussion, such as building a network or using social media to aid in a job search. Mentees ranged from electrical engineers to MBAs. As they moved from table to table, they received advice from BMO mentors, who offered guidance on networking, building a resume and more.
For Ragy, the event was especially meaningful. He moved to Canada from Dubai two years ago with an MBA, and although he applied to dozens of jobs online, he couldn’t find work. Then he went to a number of job placement agencies. After ten months, he found a job. “And then I got three job offers at once,” says Ragy. “So I know this process works. That’s why I wanted to volunteer here. I’ve been in their shoes, and I want to use my experience to help them. Every small piece of advice you offer can make a huge difference.”
Ragy advised mentees to set themselves apart by researching the organizations they apply to. “I knew that BMO was using certain technology tools, so I researched them and spoke about them in my interview,” he said. That helped him stand out in the interview process. Ragy was excited to share his experiences as a newcomer and a professional. “This is the best way for me to help on Volunteer Day. It means a lot to me to be able to use my skills for the greater good.”
Fellow volunteer Carol Riley, Senior Project Manager at BMO, agrees. This is her second year volunteering at Job Start. “I have an HR background and I’ve done onboarding for new employees and worked with new Canadians. So I understand the process. I have a unique perspective on getting a job. This is where I can really add value, and can directly impact individuals.”