Q: Writers’ Exchange works with “inner-city” kids, but what does “inner-city” mean, anyway?

A: "Inner-city school" is an informal term for the most high-needs schools in Vancouver, as ranked by the Vancouver School Board. These are the schools we work with, and the kids we support attend these schools and live in the East and South Vancouver neighbourhoods surrounding these schools. Some students at these schools come from families with low incomes and low education levels, and many households are run by single parents and/or English language learners, so the kids at these schools don't always have someone who can help them with reading or their homework, or just encourage them to dream big.

Q: Do I need to have experience working with kids?

A: No!

It is most important for you to be enthusiastic and fully committed to supporting the Writers' Exchange kids. Volunteer literacy mentors thrive when they possess most or all of the following characteristics: adaptable, committed, compassionate, consistent, flexible, friendly, fun, genuine, kind, love to learn, open-minded, relaxed, team player, trustworthy, and understanding.

New mentors learn all about the Writers' Exchange during a 3-hour orientation. During programs, our extraordinary staff team is available to answer questions you have and deal with any issues that arise. After every shift, mentors and staff debrief the day to talk about what went well and to brainstorm ideas for responding to challenges. The debrief is like an individualized micro-training opportunity after every shift! We also provide awesome additional training opportunities to allow all mentors to build their skills and confidence. You will be constantly learning how to be an (even) better literacy mentor!

Volunteering with the Writers’ Exchange made me remember how magical reading and writing can be. It was a joy to work with these fun and imaginative kids.
— Kristin, volunteer mentor

Q: What are programs like?

A: Fun! For kids and mentors!

Past projects include a comic book workshop guest-starring famous comics artists, building forts and reading in them with flashlights, writing spells and crafting magic wands, a real-life Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, and eating crickets (optional) and creating cricket recipes.

Our programs don’t focus on the fundamentals of grammar and spelling (although it’s great that the kids also develop these skills while having fun in our programs). Instead, we break down the barriers to literacy that inner-city kids often face (fear, hunger, being told they’re not smart enough, etc.), create fun programs on topics the kids are passionate about, provide a safe and supportive space to learn and explore, and create positive experiences with books and writing with the support of enthusiastic literacy mentors. For more info on our specific program areas, check out the after-schoolin-school and summer program pages. For visuals, check out our Instagram page!

Most programs end in the kids’ work being published in professionally designed and edited chapbooks (the kids each get a copy, and so do you!), and a launch party to celebrate the kids’ successes. Check out the kids' chapbooks here.

Q: Okay, so it’s all fun all the time?

A: We wish we could tell you that every minute mentoring will be super fun, but the reality of working with inner-city kids is that some days are positive and rewarding and some days are tougher than others. That’s one of the reasons we ask mentors to commit to at least one full in-school project or after-school term (actually, we’d really love you to commit to even more!), so that you can experience the full range of days it takes to fully support a kid. When you come back after the tough days, the kids realize that you’re actually there for them, they start to trust you, and then you can really begin making an impact in the kids’ lives. Our 2015/16 Volunteer of the Year said it best:

“Many of the kids we work with face tremendous challenges. I know that just by being there and offering them kindness, a continual fresh start and enthusiasm for reading and writing, you can yield really inspiring results.”—Joe

Q: Do I have to plan and lead programs?

A: Nope.

The kids dream up the activity, the staff team prepares the program, and you show up and have fun while helping the kids complete the day’s activity to the best of their abilities, providing plenty of support and encouragement along the way. (That said, if you’ve volunteered for a while and have a great idea for a program that you’d like to run, let us know!)

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People care about you at Writers’ Exchange. They don’t act fake sympathetic. They are fun and enthusiastic. I love Writers’ Exchange!
— Brie, age 11

Q: Will I be on my own with the kids? And how many kids will there be in each program?

A: Never.

All of our programs are run by staff who are there to support you as well as the kids. There will be between 10 and 25 kids in the program, and you’ll work either one-on-one or in small groups with the kids, alongside many other mentors who are working with groups of their own. Before and after your shift, you’ll get the chance to connect with these other super-cool mentors (many mentors have become friends and two couples who met at WE have even gotten married recently!).

Q: I really don’t have much time, can I still help out?

A: You bet!

Our in-school programs require a minimal commitment of one day a week for 1.5 hours for 5 weeks.

Q: I have a million things going on and I can’t commit to the same time every week. Is that ok? 

A: We recommend that you try one of our in-school programs. They only require a commitment of one day a week for 1.5 hours for 5 weeks, which you can hopefully fit into your busy schedule.

Writers’ Exchange works regularly with inner-city youth whose lives are often pretty complicated. With so many uncertainties in their lives, it’s important for these kids to have consistency. The more you get to know the kids, the more they want to learn with you. Every day you spend with the kids builds that trust they have in you. If you can't fit Writers' Exchange into your life right now, please tell your friends and family all about us and encourage them to volunteer.

Q: All of your programs happen during the day and I work 9 - 5. Can I still help out?

A: For sure! Bring your employee team with you so that all of you can get kids excited about reading and writing! Email Sarah-Jane Hamilton, Mentor Engagement Manager, for more details.

Another option is asking your boss for a couple hours off a week to allow you to volunteer with us. You'd be surprised how many bosses are cool with the idea if you work up the courage to ask. If you think this could be a good fit for your team, or you'd like us to help convince the higher ups, please contact Sarah-Jane Hamilton.

Q: I'm not super creative. Or a writers. Is that OK?

A: No problem!

Our staff creates wacky activities for the kids every day, and all you need to do is show up and support the kids. Trust us, the kids will help you discover that you are much more creative than you think!

Many of the kids that we work with are looking for a space to feel safe, and a kind, supportive adult role model to help them feel great about themselves. You don’t need to be a writer, or speak English as a first language to provide kids with the support they need.

I love spending time with the kids and other volunteers. It’s a stark reminder about what’s important in my life—friendship, curiosity, patience.
— Tera, volunteer mentor

Q: This program sounds awesome for the kids, but what will I get out of it?

  • You will (with time, patience, and commitment) develop a strong relationship with awesome kids, and in the process build the kids’ self-esteem, confidence, and literacy skills. That’s an amazing feeling!

  • Through hands-on experience and specialized training sessions, you will learn about how to work effectively with kids from a variety of backgrounds

  • You will build your creativity and communications skills

  • You will give back to your community in a very concrete way

  • You will connect with other fantastic mentors

  • You will get an awesome chapbook that you can show off to all of your friends

  • You will be invited to exclusive events

  • You will receive your very own Writers’ Exchange tote bag after completing three months of mentoring

  • And yes, of course, if you’re awesome, we’ll write you reference letters to make all of your career dreams come true

  • Oh yeah, and snacks

Q: How do I become a literacy mentor? 

A: It’s pretty easy!

  1. complete the application form—once we receive this, we can help you with the rest of the steps

  2. ask your references to tell us how amazing you are

  3. submit a Criminal Records Check—free for anyone with a BC government–issued ID

  4. attend a three-hour orientation session—where you'll learn about the cool activities we do, what a typical shift looks like, safety stuff and some tips to make you a great mentor

  5. attend an hour-and-a-half training session that focuses on how to support the kids' emotional, social and behavioural needs

Q: When should I apply to volunteer?

A: Apply RIGHT NOW! The entire process from application to being placed in a program can take up to two months. The BC Criminal Records Check alone can take up to 6 weeks to process, so we need to get that process started as soon as possible!

Still need more info?

Please contact Liz Ellis, Mentorship & Development Coordinator.

Ready to apply to volunteer? (We hope so!)