Health: Right or Commodity?

by Cheng-En (Anthony) Huang    

This short reflection piece is submitted to the Centre for Community Partnerships at the University of Toronto, in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the alternative reading week project, 2017.


At first, I found out and decided to join ARW for the unique experiences it appears to offer for community work. Also, I have always wished to partake in projects or activities in a non-academic setting.

The motto of ARW this year was ‘Learn from, learn with, learn for’. This three phrases have left a big impression on me during the orientation, and has persisted in my mind during my project.

I joint project #13 at the Unison Health & Community Services Hub, initially with an interest in exploring the Bathurst-Finch community which I have never been to. And I was motivated in learning more about community health, especially in sub-urban areas.

The Action for Neighbourhood Change (ANC) is one of the many services at the hub, which aims to engage local residents through facilitating events that foster community building and cohesion. Furthermore, connecting the vulnerable populations within the community with the wide range of services available at the hub. Namely, legal counselling on immigration, employment, housing, day-care, and primary healthcare. They are also offered in a variety of languages.

Over the three days, my team and I largely worked with the Leah, an ANC staff at the hub, on community engagement through poster promotions in locations nearby, as well as facilitating focus group surveys to get opinions of high school students on their understanding/opinions about the hub.

The focus group was an interesting experience, in which I learned more about the basic ‘rules of thumbs’ in conducting research, which involves voluntary consent from participants and anonymity. Also, I was thrilled to discover the opinions of youths in the area and what they services they deem as important about the hub. My team members were very proactive in raising questions and ensured the smooth execution of the survey protocol, and I also learned and developed skills such as effective communication by probing questions.

As our group went out into the neighbourhood, we observed several large residential areas with little to no food suppliers, a long sidewalks on either ends of the road with several TTC bus stops, and a few NGO facilities. This reflects the phenomenon that I previously learned from a Health and Disease course which indicated that sub-urban areas like Bathurst-Finch rely heavily on automobiles as a mean of transportation, where food suppliers and commercial activities are sparse in some part of the regions. This has great implications on the health status of local residents, which a great proportion are of elderly or diabetic patients.

Turns out, the Unison hub offers a range of healthcare services, and employs health professionals including doctors, nurses, dieticians, and chiropodist. These are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term care, and generous donors like the United Way, in order to fulfill the pressing needs of primary healthcare access in the community.

We were honoured to engage in great discussions with Mr. Simon Cheng, the hub’s manager. In which he explained the nature of the hub, what it aims for and how it functions, and also the upcoming challenges such as the need for facility expansion (clinical rooms) as the number of patients they serve begin to saturate. Nonetheless, Unison has been providing care to its residents that are free-of-charge, including those that are uninsured by OHIP. Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) are adopted by the organisation, yielding highly efficient patient care and faster referral process, when needed. But notably, each patient is entitled to 20 min. per visit at the clinic, ensuring comprehensive treatment solution and patient education.

Also, as the hub integrates numerous services in its infrastructure, we observed cases of people who are relieved from their medical conditions by having their other concerns addressed, like legal status. This was profound to me to decipher that community health is not solely reliant on only ‘better doctors, better drugs’, but also its ability to tackle the social determinants of health.

At the end of this ARW, I have been inspired to look into more about community health in underserved areas in Toronto, and have been wondering about the question on health. That is, whether health is a right or commodity, and what range of services shall be administered? For instance, OHIP coverage is limited to physician care, without other services like day-care or pharmacare. Should we increase more spending on healthcare to cover more range of services or improve upon those that are already present? Or are the flaws in our healthcare system deals with the allocation of resources? Which many are not reaching out to sub-urban districts and exacerbates the health status of the residents. In short, these three days at Unison have provided me more insights on this topic, and motivated me to learn more.

I would like to thank Cherry the project leader, the coordinator team at the Centre for Community partnerships, all my team members, and most importantly, the friendly staff at Unison hub whom have taught me so much about community health and all the impact which it may bring.

And from this experience, I was further convinced that health services ought to be a right that is affordable, accessible, and attainable to all citizens irrespective of income. How to do so and what I could do right now as a university student are certainly things I expect to reflect upon and take action.


Storying Together, a Storytelling Event

Storying Together Posterby: Elise St. Germain and Gabriele Simmons, CEL placement students at the Toronto and York Region Métis Council

The story of how it is that Elise and I found ourselves in a community-engaged learning class is an interesting one. Interesting too is how it is that our placement organization, the Toronto and York Region Métis Council (TYRMC) came to find us. Hoping to look more closely at the ways in which we take part in, write, and are affected by stories, and with the desire to invite more people into the work of the TYRMC, Elise and I conceived of an event. Storying Together, a storytelling event, was made possible thanks to the generous partnering of Hart House, New College community-engaged learning students working for the Toronto and York Region Métis Council, the Infinite Reach Network and First Nations House. As well, the Centre for Community Partnerships and the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education’s Equity Ideas Fund.

Happening as part of the University of Toronto’s Indigenous Education Week, Storying Together endeavored to capture the power of storytelling and the part it plays in forming, finding and reconciling identity(ies). ‘Story’ was presented in a variety of forms at this event: as a short film about urban Métis youth connecting to identity and community through culture and tradition, as digital stories created and produced by Métis community members, and as an in-person sharing circle facilitated by Métis student, Elise St. Germain and myself, a settler-Canadian student. Because of the large participant turnout, we held two smaller-scale circles concurrently. After the closing of the circles, we asked that folks who were interested record short sound bites on their thoughts around ‘story’ on our digital recorder. Elise and I felt that the stories shared in the circles were so insightful that they could be turned into a larger mobile art installation to be presented at our year-end community-engaged learning symposium. Our next steps for this project include fleshing out and further developing this audio-visual component to premiere at our April symposium and then gift to the Toronto and York Region Métis Council.

Both Elise and I were moved by how honestly and openly people shared at our event. There was a palpable sense of urgency felt by all in attendance to collectively work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples at a personal and community level. According to teachings that Elise has received from Métis Elders and Knowledge Keepers, story is medicine. This idea resonated with many of the individuals in attendance which included teachers, students, therapists, counsellors, and more. Whether we are Indigenous people, settlers, newcomers, or travelers; story has the power to bridge relationships across individual experiences and across communities to promote collective healing.

We hadn’t anticipated that so many people would turn out for the event; it was remarkable to see how its central themes spoke to such an array of people and how we all came together for such a successful evening. As the night came to a close, many individuals expressed an interest in volunteering with and learning more about the Toronto and York Region Métis Council. Elise and I felt so privileged to have helped to facilitate these new partnerships and to have deepened our existing ones. Had it not been for the generosity of Hart House, the Centre for Community Partnerships, and KPE’s Equity Ideas fund, this event would not have been possible. Until next time, UofT!

Youth mentorship: worth investing in

by Elliot Campbell

I signed up for the Youth Mentorship Program last fall because I liked what I saw in the short blurb about it that filtered through my email account. It said that there was an opportunity to invest in the success of a group of young students in a disadvantaged area of Toronto, not far from where I was (and still am) living. That fit – I had been looking for something to do outside of class and this spoke to my previous experience mentoring and tutoring. I find there’s a unique satisfaction in celebrating the success of someone else; someone that you’ve had the privilege of working alongside, and encouraging, and sharing in some struggle with.

So I signed up, and interviewed, and was told I fit the bill! But then came the twist: the program is dynamic, driven by partnership with Veronica Broomfield, the exemplary teacher who started it all several years ago. And sometimes the parameters would change, so we’d have to be able to work with whatever structure emerged as things got rolling. That sounded okay, until it emerged that the focus would be creative writing that year! I can guarantee that as a (mostly) life science student, I never would have volunteered if I’d know that up front. But I had committed, so come February it was off to Portage Trail two mornings a week to get to know the group and see what would come of the endeavour.

The group was great; a mix of persons and personalities, some easy to connect with and some not so easy. But in all a refreshing desire to write something, to produce something of their very own. At first I was unsure how to proceed as a mentor but as I got to know the students I stopped worrying about myself and started thinking about them and their ideas, and wanted to hear more. It seemed the most valuable thing we had to offer was encouragement, another person to bolster their confidence in letting out what was already within. I may not have written much but I do love stories. I always have, and that same unique satisfaction of celebrating another’s success was there in helping encourage brand new stories to come out into the world.

It was great! It was fun. I liked it so much I came back this year to help organize the program. And towards the end I realized that the original advertisement hadn’t been false. We did invest in the future success of young students. We did give a window into the experience of university. We did help to overcome barriers that many of these young students will face as they move forward in academic life. Don’t hear me wrong. We didn’t smooth all the bumps out of the path of 8, or 9, or 10 more years of study ahead. There’s only so much you can do a couple of mornings a week for a few months. But those students accomplished something concrete. They wrote a book of their collective creativity and published it. They saw and expressed value in themselves that can grow into strength of character to sustain them in challenges ahead.

That’s what the Youth Mentorship Program is about. This year again, we will work together through the same medium of creative writing. And this year we will again build confidence to last for years to come. This program is a great opportunity to give of oneself and to see another flourish. That’s more than worth two mornings a week, for a few months!

Elliot Campbell

Neuroscience and Health Studies Majors, class of 2018

YMP Assistant and past volunteer

The League of Lady Wrestlers

By Aubyn O’Grady

With support from the University of Toronto Centre for Community Partnerships Community-Engaged Initiative Grant, The League of Lady Wrestlers (LOLW) founder Big Jody Mufferaw(AubynO’Grady) along with three other wrestlers: SHREEEEKA, The Stinker, and Helga Hysteria, visited the GLOW club on February 24, 2016 at the Rosedale Day School to present a wrestling character workshop. The GLOW (Girls Living Out Wellness) Club is an after-school program that allows for female students at the Rosedale Day school to participate in activity-based programming such as yoga and fitness classes. The LOLW was connected with the Glow Club by TennielleSuckow, a teacher at Rosedale Day school and facilitator of the Club.

We started by introducing the LOLW and our own wrestling characters and presenting a slideshow of some of our other LOLW wrestlers. We also included photos of historical women wrestlers from other leagues, particularly those with flashy costumes to draw inspiration from.

After looking at other inspiration wrestlers, it was time to work and our own, and the LOLW wrestlers split the GLOW girls into small groups to fill out our LOLW character worksheets (included). Each GLDSC_0369OW girl decided her character’s name, backstory, and signature moves. After we had all completed our character worksheets, we shared our new wrestlers with the group.

With support from the Community Engaged Initiatives Grant, we were able to purchase fabric which Aubynsewed into an assortment of arm and head bands, and capes (modeled in the style of the WWF wrestler, the Ultimate Warrior). The tickle trunk included masks and a variety of other props. We were also able to purchase face painting supplies and, importantly, costume glitter, and we set up a make-up stand where the half lizard, half wrestlers and the tiger girls were able to perfect their looks.

Once everyone had outfitted their character with a costume, the group learned how to make a wrestling entrance with Big Jody Mufferaw. The girls learned how to “work the crowd” according to whether they were a face (a good character) or a heel (a bad character).

We invited parents to attend the “big reveal” we set up coloured lights, a pink golden curtain, a fog machine (Fog machines are an integral part of the LOLW aesthetic, but we decided against using it at the GLOW workshop for fear of setting off the sprinkler system. Big Jody Mufferawplayed the role of the announcer, and announced the name and bio of each new wrestler as she made her grand entrance, to the sound of cheering friends and family. SHREEEEKA set up a camera to capture the moment of the big reveal.


Our teacher contact, TennielleSuckowhad very positive feedback for the projects saying of the girls, “they rocked it, thanks for opening them up to a new and exciting world!”

We would like to thank the Community Engaged Initiatives Grant for supporting this workshop. With support from the fund, project was a huge success and the LOLW will be continuing our outreach work and programming with other schools.

#ShowMeYourID and A Crash-Course in Electoral Reform

Join the CCP for two great events over the next few weeks!!


March 30th from 630-830 at Innis Town Hall, come and join in a night of conversation surrounding the movement to end carding in the City of Toronto.

With four amazing panelists, Akio Maroon, Chair of the Board of Directors at Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, Knia Singh, President and Founder of the Osgoode Society Against Institutional Injustice (OSAII), Caitlyn Kasper, Lawyer with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, and Alok Mukherjee a Visiting Professor at Ryerson, Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Criminology, former Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board engage in conversations surrounding collective action to address discriminatory policing practices in Toronto.

show me your id


with Dave Meslin

April 7th from 6-8 in the Hart House Music Room join together for a crash course in electoral reform. Join us for an in-depth discussion about how different voting systems affect levels of participation, diversity, inclusiveness and fairness. This is valuable information for anyone who is interested in politics, but also for any organisation that wants to look at their own internal voting system (regional chapters, school councils, etc) and think about how they could increase engagement by reforming their own process.



Student Voices: ARW For Youth Initiative

By Bethany Davis

On February 16th, and until the 18th, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Alternative Reading Week program at the University of Toronto. My assigned mission was to make an impact on the youth that enjoy spending time at a local community center, by creating a few posters that paid tribute to influential yet underrated African-American figures. This gave us the opportunity to not only celebrate Black History month, but perhaps also help inspire these youths to make a positive change in the world.

Upon arrival to our assigned community center, we were introduced to Melanie, the program director of For Youth Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that take steps in assisting at-risk youth in Toronto. She explained to us that for next three days, we would be making a set of posters featuring influential figures. We were told choose successful Canadian figures who we thought may inspire these at-risk youths to work hard, do the right thing, and achieve greatness. Many of these youth, she explained, do not have the same opportunities that we have, and tend to behave irresponsibly as a result. She also told us that a lot of them tend to have spotty criminal records by the time they reached their early 20s.

After a brief period of organization and deliberation between my team members and I, we decided that we would create a total of 6 posters, featuring individuals who had made an impact in: music, sports, politics, art & culture, drama, and writing. Overall, the process of creating the posters went surprisingly smoothly, and everything seemed to come together with ease. This was due to the fact that not only did my team find it extremely easy to communicate with each other, but also the that our project leaders did not treat us like they were our leaders, but instead worked with us and did their fair share of the work.

The environment was overall very laid back and pleasurable. We went to Subway together everyday for lunch and ate together, using this time as an opportunity to get to know each other better and share common interests. Also, at the end of each day, we would all have a discussion, where we would reflect upon our experiences, our opinions of the project, and things that we enjoyed about working together.

I therefore enjoyed this experience because the environment we worked in was easy-going and not at all stressful. I found it to be very rewarding, and I have every intention of volunteering with ARW again next year. I also may consider becoming a project leader, as this will give me the opportunity to be creative and help design and facilitate a new project, so that I may too help make a difference in the community.

Student Voices: Four years of ARW

By Jenny Luo

Four years ago, when I glanced upon an Alternative Reading Week poster in Con Hall and thought to myself “Hey that sounds cool”, I had no idea how much the letters ARW would mean to me throughout my whole undergraduate career. And now, after my fourth year with ARW I can proudly say that I’m glad I never had a mainstream reading week.

My first project was a conversation circle with newcomers to Canada. In this project, I first experienced the positive energy that flows through ARW and the communities it reaches out to. The newcomers were so eager to learn from us, but more so I felt like we learned from them. Through simple sentences, elaborate gestures, and lots of laughing, we talked about our pasts, our dreams, and bits of randomness such as the experience of child birth… Overall, it was great to see that such services are being provided to newcomers, and to experience a slice of their life.

After the amazing experience of my first project, I came back as a project leader. Then I came back again. And again. I was lucky to have lead three projects that were all highly hands-on and relevant to my interest, and to work with completely different organizations and demographics in each of them. My projects did science demos at kindergartens, designed science activities for teenagers, and hosted food and nutrition workshops for homeless youth. As a science student, I was able to utilize knowledge from the classroom. Whether it be a child’s laugh when they see baking soda and vinegar react, or a heated discussion with homeless youth on which cooking oil is the healthiest, I was happy that my passion for science and health has triggered thoughts in others.

The students and community members I’ve worked with have also taught me so much. Through the projects, I’ve mingled with communities far beyond our little U of T bubble. . The strength and determination of community organizations were truly inspiring. Our teams experienced first-hand how policy making impacts communities. For example, many of the children at the kindergarten we worked at would not be able to attend if it weren’t for government support. Also, the homeless shelter we visited was being taken over by condominium developers, and tremendous fundraising effort was needed to secure a new location. These experiences made us more aware as citizens. Not only awareness of the diversity of Toronto’s communities, but also of the power of citizens. We witnessed how people can come together and improve lives of so many. ARW has definitely inspired me to become a more involved citizen.

It’s been a great four years. Although my journey with ARW is ending upon graduating, the projects, PL meetings, reflection sessions, and lunch time chats have left a deep imprint. ARW has shaped the way I address social and cultural issues and the way I interact with people from different walks of life. Through PL training and the projects, I’ve learned so much about our communities and about myself, and met many amazing people along the way.

Student Voices: ARW 2016

IMG_1585By Charmaine Nyakonda

Arriving in Toronto on the 29th of August 2015 from Zimbabwe I was excited and curious about studying at the University of Toronto. Coming from a community service oriented International Baccalaureate Diploma program at a United World College I was eager to carry on participating in community projects and outreaches. I met Elvis during my Step Up program scavenger hunt at the CCP office and when he told me about Alternative Reading Week; I was already on board and ready to sign up. Surprisingly I met Elvis again during the Woodsworth Frosh Week and he again told me about ARW but I was already sold from the Step Up scavenger hunt.

What made this ARW project special was the fact the 16th of February (the first day of ARW) was my birthday. Every year since my United World College experience I love to do a community service project on my birthday because I believe I wouldn’t be here without the coming together of my community. When my father passed away in 2009 it was thanks to the coming together of the community around us that my family and I managed to pull through, this is why I tend to be community service oriented.

Working with Warden Woods Community Centre was the best experience I ever had. First, I got the opportunity to make new friends from the University of Toronto but also as an international student I finally learnt how to use the SUBWAY! (I actually had not used it since I arrived in August). During our outreach at Warden Woods some of us managed to attend Woburn -Neighborhood Improvement Area Community Service Planning table. It was fascinating because I got to learn hands on how the strategic planning for community projects like building parks and recreational space happens for the people by the people. Carrying out social outreach for the community centre also exposed me to a whole diverse range of people and other organizations and instilled in me an appreciation for what Elvis and his team do. That is, going out there and finding community partners and trying hard to make a difference even when some people choose not to listen or turn them away. It is the effort and will, but most importantly the value of being reflective. Being reflective encompasses thoughtfully considering our world and our own ideas while working towards understanding how our action as not only affect our personal development but the development of people around us too.

I would totally do ARW again not only was it the best way to spend my birthday but it was a great way to take time to appreciate the work that the CCP does and also the many lessons we can obtain from interacting with the community around us. In just three days of participating in ARW I managed to learn a few key concepts in strategic planning, see an application of the concepts I learnt in my Sociology course and most importantly I can’t wait for the 2017 ARW!! I am already waiting for the sign up to start again.

Student Voices: UTM ARW and the CEI Grant

By Darren Clift

Learning and fun… they go together splendidly!

My partner, Hamna Awan, and I, along with six volunteer participants, worked on Board Game Tool Kits during our Alternative Reading Week project. Our community partner, Let’s Get Together, offers students and their parents programs, experiences and opportunities to enrich their education. We didn’t have any community participants, because we worked solely at University of Toronto Mississauga. The founder of Let’s Get Together, Alison Canning, worked with us closely on the project.

These tool kits contain the supplies and resources that grade seven and eight students require to start a board game club in their school. Included in each tool kit are two educational games that have been tested and approved by my project’s group and our community partner. Over three days, the participants designed informational sheets and sample promotional materials that were collected in a binder for students to read and learn from; the participants also assembled the tool kits once all the supplies had been developed, and filmed and edited a short video to introduce the process of creating a board game club.

Our project will have a significant impact on a local school, once the tool kits are delivered. These are the next steps for the project: to contact and then visit a local school so that their club can be set up. Let’s Get Together works closely with certain departments at UTM, so our project will also influence the developments to come through that partnership. From this project, I learned the importance of education, and the power that fun can have on learning. I will remember these lessons as I continue to get involved on campus and in the Mississauga community.

Homelessness in Toronto: A week of awareness and education

Are you interested in building consciousness around homelessness in Toronto? March 15-18, the CCP in conjunction with W.A.T.C.H. and Helping Hands, will be hosting events around campus!

March 15
8:30am: Supporting the soup kitchen at the Church of the Redeemer
Meet at Koffler House – Main Lobby

5:30pm: Lowdown Tracks (2015) Screening
Meet at Koffler House – Room 113

March 16
2-5pm: 24 HOURS Video Challenge
Meet at Koffler House – Multi-purpose Room (2nd Floor)

March 17
3pm: Walking With: Exploring local homelessness
Meet at Koffler House – Multi-purpose Room (2nd Floor)

March 18
3pm: Let’s Talk Toronto discussion series: Storytelling and the homeless context in Toronto
OISE, Peace Lounge (7th Floor)

Homelessness in Toronto

Register for any or all of the events at: