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Course encourages helping others

Professor George Short has been creating lifelong volunteers for more than six years through his course, Current Issues in Personal and Community Health.

"The course is held twice a year, with about 150 students in each section," Short said. "About 90 per cent choose to do at least 20 hours' volunteer work and keep a journal -- the alternative is to do an interview and write a paper -- and of those, many stay on, especially those who work with the elderly."

For these clients, often leading restricted lives, it must be a treat to have visits from energetic, idealistic young people. For the students, the experience is often a revelation. "Their journals -- well, sometimes it's enough to make you cry," Short said.

Marisa Gelfusa, special projects coordinator for the Volunteer Board of Montreal, likes the way Short approaches the project. "Mr. Short presents it rigorously, doesn't make it compulsory, and offers incentives, which is a good mix."

She and other volunteer administrators visit his first class of every term, and she makes a point of asking for a show of hands as to how many students have volunteered before. "It's always positive, about three-quarters of the class, and a surprise to the other students."

When the students are interviewed individually, they are asked about their available time, their reasons for volunteering, and any previous experience or preferences. "If their knees buckle when they go into a hospital, they won't be much use there," she said.

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.