This is Our 300th Blog Post!

It seems like only 299 posts ago we started this blog, and now look at us, posting for the 300th time. While sitting around the office wondering how to commemorate this moment, we came up with many possibilities. How does one celebrate 300? It is not really a Diamond Jubilee or a Ruby Anniversary. We considered a top 300 list, but that seemed a little long. We also considered renting the movie 300 and having an office viewing party; but since we started this blog, Blockbuster has gone out of business. We decided instead to use this opportunity to look back and remind ourselves of truly great moments in YCI Blog history.

Our First Blog Post

Our first post went up on June, 21st of 2007. Back then we truly believed less is more. Click HERE to see our very first, very profound blog post. (You could also still be the first person to like that post!) Since then we have grown substantially in readership and contributors (over 200!). In 2007, only 342 people visited our blog. In the first 5 months of this year we have had almost 20,000 viewers.

Brushes With Royalty

Our volunteers have had two occasions to meet royalty (or their representatives in Canada) that we have featured on this blog. One of our volunteers, Stephanie Bray attended the Celebration of Youth and the Spirit of Volunteerism along with Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Click HERE for her blog post about the event. Danny Richmond also had the chance to meet the Governor General. This one we caught on video:

Our Blogs With The Most…

Over time on a blog you can collect some really important statistics and if not really important, at least stats you can share. So here goes.

Most Views in a Month: April 2012

Most Talked About Blog: Culture Shock by David Caughey

Most Prolific Blogger: Lisa D’Alimonte. Lisa has contributed to or written 7 blogs for us while participating in 3 different YCI programs. Click HERE to see her in action.

Most Common Tag Word to Find Our Blog: Africa, followed closely by Tanzania

Most Views By Country: Canada and the United States, but a couple interesting countries on our top ten list are India and the Netherlands. In case we have not said it already already, thank you for your support and keep reading!

Most Viewed Single Post: Nolan’s Blog: Ghana by Nolan Boehm

Best Photo On Our Blog

The best photo on our blog was voted on by an esteemed committee of office staff. Though THIS photo got a few votes (ok maybe just one), we decided to showcase a historical photo. Check out this gem taken in 1990 and featured on this blog on May 26th, 2010.

Guyanese and Canadian volunteers (or “Challengers,” as they were known in 1990) pose in front of Kawall Primary School, in Region 3 of Guyana. The renovation project was completed in September of 1990 by Youth Challenge International volunteers.

And Last But Certainly Not Least

We want to thank everyone who reads our blog regularly, as well as those who just pop by from time to time to see what’s new. Our blog has been a great way to share YCI stories and successes. Over the coming year, we will bring you more updates on volunteers, alumni, beneficiaries, partners and champions of YCI. We hope you all continue to read, post after post, for the next 300 entries!

To end off this commemorative blog post, we wanted to share with you a photo we have tried to find a reason to share for 299 posts. We leave you with this. Happy 300th!

Our Executive Director, Bryan Cox. A dashing young lad, clearly destined for greatness.

-We have had a great time over the past 300 blogs. Tell us, what was your favourite blog post!

From the Archives: Toronto Pre-Departure

It may be “from the archives,” but pre-departure sessions are actually part of YCI’s recent history. In fact, this month marks the first anniversary of the launch of YCI’s distance pre-project learning program.

Volunteers during pre-departure in YCI's Maud Street office

For more than 15 years, volunteers headed to YCI project locations first flew to Toronto to participate in an orientation session. These sessions lasted two to five days in length, and featured workshops on intercultural effectiveness (with support from the Centre for Intercultural Learning), group dynamics, health and hygiene, gender and international development, amongst other topics. Program Manager, Amanda Stephens, wrote this blog post about what a day of pre-departure might look like.

While pre-departure was a great way for volunteers to meet one another, learn more about YCI, speak with alumni mentors and practice faciliating workshops, it came at a high cost—volunteers from all over Canada were required  to fly to Toronto prior to their project, which increased their individual fundraising goals substantially. And with the launch of our new partnership, Youth Challenge America, it became clear that the cost was too high for volunteers to fly to Toronto prior to flying to their destination country.

Volunteers learn more about their project country

In July 2009, YCI hosted our last Toronto pre-departure for a large group of volunteers participating in projects in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Tanzania and Ghana.

Now, prior to their projects, volunteers participate in an intensive online pre-project learning program. They are able to meet, connect and talk to one another through online learning sessions. They are also required to complete pre-project learning modules and answer reflection questions to demonstrate their learning. A long-time favourite of the Toronto pre-departures, the Alumni Speaker’s Session,  remains a core component as well—volunteers are able to login online and view presentations in realtime and ask any questions they may have.

Screenshot of the Online Alumni Speaker's Session. Through our current platform, Elluminate, participants can chat, share files, write on a group whiteboard and view presentations.

Once volunteers arrive at their destination, they participate in an in-country orientation hosted by the partner organization and YCI field staff. In 2010, YCI is continuing to develop and refine our pre-project learning program, in order to ensure volunteers are equipped to meet their project goals and hit the ground running when they arrive in-country.

From the Archives: Selection Days 1989-2001

“Once we have received your complete application, you will be invited to a Selection Day in one of several locations across the country. Selection Days are designed to test your resourcefulness, judgement and compatibility, as well as your willingness to contribute some sweat! Education and athletic ability are not essential criteria–high motivation, drive and energy are! There are no selection quotas–only suitable candidates will be selected.” -YCI Website 2000

YCI Staff in the late 1990s, including current board member, Steve Gilbert.

Then: From 1989 until 1998, YCI selected volunteers (then known as “Challengers”) during a two-day “selection weekend.” The genesis of the selection weekend was a British military invention designed in the 1970s for efficiency and stress inducement. It was used to cull large numbers of applicants for the adventure-based Operation Raleigh (the organization from which YCI was born) expeditions. By 1999, YCI had changed from a Selection Weekend to a Selection Day to improve the efficiency of the selection process, reduce costs and make it more accessible to candidates. The fundamental purposes of both the Weekend and the Selection Day were to give YCI an opportunity to evaluate applicants, and to give applicants an opportunity to learn about, and be inspired by, the program.

Now: Selection Days continued until 2001, when YCI began conducting telephone interviews, which allowed volunteers from as far away as Sachs Harbour, NT, to be considered for YCI’s programs. Today, after applicants submit an application, they participate in a 30-minute telephone interview, which is an opportunity for candidates to share their motivations for becoming involved in an international community development project, as well as to ask staff any questions they may have.

During the interview process, staff not only assess whether applicants are a suitable candidate for YCI’s programs–they also determine what country or program a volunteer is best suited for, based on their skills, experience and education. (With programs in eight countries on four different continents, projects vary greatly.) We also look for volunteers who are sensitive to cross-cultural challenges, demonstrate the ability to take initiative, and who are eager to participate in youth-driven programming. Motivation, drive and energy still remain key indicators, but the education and career goals are also taken into consideration.

From the (Internet) Archives: 1996-2005

I loved this blog post that Evergreen wrote for the launch of their new website. And with the new YCI website in development, I couldn’t help but take a trip back in time, with a little help from the Wayback Machine. Here’s what I found:

I was surprised to discover that YCI was online as early as the mid-90s, when people would still refer to “surfing the world-wide web” and “sending electronic mail.” In 1996, volunteers visiting the YCI website had the option to learn more about YCI, “Go Behind the Scenes” or “Get Real!” (Another blast from the past: the site was optimized for Netscape.)

By 2000, volunteers had the option of applying for a leadership practicum, a community development project or a classroom project. Countries of operation included Guyana, Costa Rica and Vanuatu. The site represented the organization’s focus on providing leadership opportunities and development experience, but also adventure. Both international and Canadian volunteers were  able to apply to the program online.

Another screenshot from 2000.

In 2005, with the help of AKA New Media, the YCI website and branding underwent a major overhaul. Not only did we have a new logo, but all materials took on our now signature blue and green hues. With organic materials featured in the banner, an element of adventure was still present, but the site took on a development focus.

Even though we’d come a long way from inviting website visitors to “Get Real,” by 2010 it was time for a change, especially with the launch of our partner organization, Youth Challenge America. YCI is now active on social networking sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter (and, of course, this blog)–incorporating these elements into our new site was an important aspect of the overhaul.

To check out the new site, please visit Be sure to let us know what you think!

-Jessica Lockhart, Program Coordinator

From the Archives: Toronto 1997

From a letter dated May 20, 1997 from YCI’s Fundraising Coordinator to a potential sponsor:

“. . .Over 1,000 Challengers have participated in 21 field projects implemented to date in Guyana, Costa Rica and the Solomon Islands. Collectively they have: helped in pre and post-operative care on 1,170 sight-restoring operations with CANSEE International; built or repaired 70 schools and health centres in some of the most isolated communities of the world; built 100 kilometers of park trails in various projects in Costa Rica aimed at protecting the environment and helped identify at least 20 new species to science in collaboration with scientists from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Our annual 5k Run and 2k Pop and Tot Trot is the key fundraising event we put on every year to attract both attention, as well as funds to our organization. It is held every Father’s Day  (June 15th this year) in Wilket Creek Park in Toronto. There are cash prizes for the top timed male and female runner and prizes offered for the best times in each of the age categories. . .”

From the Archives: Guyana 1990

Guyanese and Canadian volunteers (or “Challengers,” as they were known in 1990) pose in front of Kawall Primary School, in Region 3 of Guyana. The renovation project was completed in September of 1990 by Youth Challenge International volunteers.

Happy Independence Day to Youth Challenge Guyana!