Learning while doing

Written by Kelvin Chow

My name is Kelvin, and I am a recent social science graduate, Class of 2015. I joined this great family of CCP in the winter of 2014 when I participated in the TDSB tutor program for the first time, as a social science and English Language Learning-focused tutor. I enjoyed it!

My initial reasons for joining this program were simple. I thought to myself, “well, you did have some volunteer tutoring experience before, and taking two hours per week is not a lot. Why not?”

But soon, when I actually stepped into my assigned high school, I changed my mind.

This mind-change for me, is the biggest difference between my past tutoring experience and tutoring with the CCP. I had  more time to interact with students, and I found myself delving into topics that were beyond textbooks and essays. This opportunity, especially during my first semester of tutoring, was essential for me as a social science student. I was assigned to one of the alternative schools and I learned a lot.

TDSB teachers were nice, and were willing to discuss ideas and provide opportunities on top of holding normal tutoring sessions (it was an exceptional case indeed, but I actually got to lead some minor assignments in my ELL class last year. I got to facilitate dictations and take part in listening to their presentation assignments).

How did this program impact me? Frankly speaking, it actually changed my last two years’ of school life. The experience in the alternative school pushed me to re-observe society, and encouraged me to start to take part in municipal politics. I volunteered in the mayoral election last year and I am still volunteering with a city councilor presently.

My experience last year in ELL class let me rethink my career path, which inspired me to pursue an education degree in Newfoundland this September.

While I can only speak from my experience, what this program can provide is an opportunity; an opportunity to not just sit in front of your computer in Robarts all-year round. It can lead you to communicate with different people with different backgrounds and it can change students’ or your life, or both.

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An incredible journey …

Written by Stephanie Wang

steph selfie

What is the Center for Community Partnerships (CCP)? For me, it has been a home wherein I continuously found mentors, forged friendships and created fond memories. My CCP journey has been a whirlwind of self-discovery, redefining my understanding of my community, relationship-building and laughing till tears literally spilled from my eyes. I have truthfully found it to be impossible to summarize all the great lessons, inside jokes and discussions into just one blog post!! After starting and finishing writing this numerous times, I decided to summarize just a few of my reflections instead:

1) To be a good leader is to listen, just as much as it is to speak or act:

I had the pleasure of serving as the Student Co-Chair of the Center for Community Partnership’s Student and Alumni Advisory Committee. Working alongside Lisa Chambers and Kristina Minnella (Director and Co-Curricular Learning Co-ordinator, respectively), we led four meetings a year.

Through working with Lisa and Kristina, I became a better meeting leader by focusing on being a good listener.  Deciding meeting times, preparing agendas, brainstorming creative ideas and sharing my ideas were important. However, I learned that the most important purpose of our roles was to forge a safe, fun and thought-provoking environment wherein members are encouraged to share their genuine opinions and stories.  I explored discussion-encouraging activities and focused on probing questions instead of my own opinions.  I tried to give others a chance to respond before responding myself. I realized that the true value of the committee came from the personal experiences of the team, including approximately ten students and alumni, all from varying programs and stages of life.

I have since challenged myself to not only be a good listener during meetings, but also in all my undertakings. A leadership role should not be myself; leading is about listening, experiencing the community first-hand and working alongside residents. I became a fierce advocate for the service-learning model, which involves the community as partners, builds upon community assets and is based on community-identified priorities. I also now enjoy deeper connections with other people, more insightful discussions and further great lessons.

2) The power of saying thank you!

In 2014-2015, I had the wonderful privilege of being a placement student at the CCP.  I was able to get an inside perspective of this special place, including its incredibly positive, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere.

I was immediately drawn to the fact that everyone I spoke to felt special at the CCP; no one was ever just a number.  And, it wasn’t just luck!  A constant effort was made to continuously thank individuals.  During the last part of staff meetings, Kristina gave everyone an opportunity to share compliments and congratulatory messages with each other.  There was also an activity wherein each person received a star filled with ‘things that make them a superstar’, written by teammates.  At the end of the year, a giant card was created with chocolate bars for each student staff member.  Individuals were constantly recognized in personalized emails and text messages, from both other students and staff. The entire CCP experience was filled with individualized big and small thank you gestures.  I constantly felt appreciated.

There is always so much to be grateful for and I realized the power of saying thank you. More than that, I discovered that there are so many ways to thank the people around you.  I can express gratefulness implicitly or explicitly and through formal or smaller, informal gestures. It can be easy to forget to say thank you to the people around you when it is busy, but it is definitely important.   I have become a thank you card addict and frequent sender of random thank you texts!

3) Relating and learning from people, as a result of similarities and differences:

As an Alternative Reading Week Project Leader, I developed a program to teach first-aid and science through play, which was eventually implemented in ten Toronto District School Board schools.  At its peak, the project involved 300+ children, 30+ student volunteers and several community partner contacts, each with their own life story.

I learned that it is always possible to find both similarities and differences between people from different backgrounds and cultures.  In regards to similarities, my team had sSteph funo many ‘me too!’ moments.  Despite generation gaps, we bonded with parents, teachers and staff over everyday tribulations, big life questions and common values. Although several years have gone by since we were young and Pokemon was invented, we still found a group of kids who played with Pokemon cards. Apparently, they are still ‘in’! In fact, we found that kids still enjoy many of the childhood activities we used to like, including tag and snow fort building. In regards to differences, peoples’ life stories and ideas were frequently different from ours; they continuously pushed us to learn and think beyond our regular boundaries.  We learned that even fundamental first-aid practices varied depending on a person’s culture, upbringing and socioeconomic status.  We received questions that forced us to think flexibly and we considered topics such as intergenerational language barriers and the environment. I still keep in touch with the students and teachers I met whilst this project.

I have since become a fierce believer in finding and appreciating both the things that make people distinguishable, as well as relatable.  I believe it is important to remember commonalities because it makes people understandable and fosters relationship building.  On the other hand, awareness of the differences that exist creates learning opportunities; I believe we learn through recognizing, appreciating and internalizing diversity.

I now challenge myself to discover and appreciate the aspects of the people that are both relatable to and distinct from me. I spend time really trying to know the people around me, so I can engage in more meaningful relationship-building and learning. Books and classes are great, but I have found that just as incredible are the lessons that can be learned from the people around us!

So, what exactly is the CCP? This is just a small part of my exciting journey!  Everyone’s experience is slightly different and there really is no other way to understand what us crazy CCP’ers feel without participating in it yourself.  Regardless of your program, level of studies or personality type, I implore you to check it out … there really is something for everyone!  The lessons, laughs and friendships have been universally contagious, keeping people coming back over and over again.

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I do not believe my CCP journey will ever end.  I will strive to be an active citizen for my entire life, taking with me the self-development, understanding of community development, great memories and like-minded friends I developed at the CCP.  Fellow friends, it is just the beginning!!

Spotlight on UofT Cressy Award Winner: Jody Chan

In September a brand new set of students will be joining the University of Toronto community. That is cause for celebration! In the next few posts we are going to share the experiences and insights of a few of our graduating students. These students have all been very involved with the University of Toronto and the University has acknowledged their involvement by awarding them with The Cressy Award.

The student experience at the University of Toronto is more than classes and books. It is life on campus, in the community and in the world at large. The Cressy Awards recognize graduating students for outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.

Please click here to view the 2015 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award Recipients.

Incoming students, if you are reading this, welcome to UofT! I encourage to get involved and find your fit here just like these amazing grads did!

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 (That’s Jody on the right!)

Cressy Award Winner: Jody Chan
Program: Specialist in Philosophy and Physics, Minor in Mathematics
Involved with: CCP, Student Voice for Democracy, Varsity Blues Badminton, Varsity Board, Trinity College Orientation, Dig In! Campus Agriculture, UofT350.org fossil fuel divestment campaign
College: Trinity

A question I get asked a lot by incoming students is, “How do you balance academics with extracurricular activities?” I don’t think I ever answer this question properly; the truth is, having a healthy balance in my life has always helped me with school. I learned to manage my schedule and prioritize my work because there were always at least five different projects I wanted to be devoting myself to at any given time.

Honestly, even if my grades had suffered a little, I wouldn’t have given anything up. In my opinion, there is so much to be learned from being immersed in the community around you, in real life experiences that can’t be re-created within the walls of the classroom.

Throughout my first three years of university, I dedicated at least 20 hours a week to training and competing in badminton, serving as captain of the Varsity Blues team for two of those three years. Practically, I knew I’d eventually have to stop training at that level – the time commitment was just too much – but letting go of it was still really hard. I never would have been able to, without having developed other facets of myself that I came to see as being more core to my identity than my long-held image of myself as a badminton player.

The experience that quite literally changed everything for me was getting involved with the Centre for Community Partnerships. After participating in Alternative Reading Week in my first year, I was hooked. The CCP quickly became the defining part of my time at U of T. I think a lot about how lucky I am to have had an opportunity to be a part of that community, one that empowered me as a leader, gave me the courage to take risks, sparked my passion for self-growth, and taught me the importance of reflection in that growth process.

The most important lesson I learned at the CCP was the importance of integrity and authenticity. Now, I try my best to match my actions with my values and belief system, and make my decisions based on being true to my own identity (which is not to say that I don’t still make a LOT of mistakes). This commitment to personal integrity led, among other things, to my choice to become a vegan, as well as to devote myself to climate justice activism. Next year, I am going to be pursuing a graduate degree in Philosophy and Education in New York, where I will continue to put my passion for education and social justice into action.

For me, my experience at U of T was a thousand times more valuable for the personal growth that happened outside of the classroom than inside it (though my degree definitely gave me important critical-thinking skills that I continue to use). Though I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do in the world, I now have a little bit of confidence, a clear understanding of my own values, and, most importantly, a support network of the most amazing, passionate, intelligent, and inspiring people to help guide me through that ongoing learning process. Every experience, whether positive or negative, was an opportunity for learning that ultimately contributed to my current identity. All in all, I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, change a thing.

My Experiences with the CCP in First Year

Written by Vivian Ngo

Thinking back, it was really exciting to start school at UofT. The beautiful campus was something that left me in awe. Exploring magnificent buildings, taking in the gorgeous outdoor spaces on campus, and that sense of freedom that comes with being in post-secondary truly was a thrill. As excited as I was, there was a part of me that felt university life will be spent in isolation. I learnt how to get to my classes, where to go for help, and even met new friends in my classes but I later realized I was actually hoping to find a community at my new school. I wanted to be a part of the UofT community.

My good friend, Vicky La, introduced me to the many opportunities that were available at the CCP. There were so many different ways to represent my new school all around the city. I signed up to participate in Alternative Reading Week (ARW) that was being held during reading week in February.

I was placed on the ARW waiting list and ended up getting assigned to a project called ‘It’s Me to We’ hosted by an organization known as Dress for Success. Surprisingly, Dress for Success was located very close to campus and allowed for my fellow team and I to get to know our surrounding neighbourhood.

On the first day during ARW’s official launch, I met with my fellow team members who were also in the same project as me. We were a group of six who easily got along with each other and became friends.

As a team, we learnt Dress for Success’ purpose was to help empower women through providing professional attire to allow them to seek employment. Not everyone can seek employment and show up for an interview because of their lack of access to professional attire which is why Dress for Success accepts clothing donations to address this need.

Our job as ARW volunteers was to lift boxes of clothing, organize them and to place prices on them. As tedious as it sounds, it was actually quite enjoyable. We got to learn more about each other in our team during that time and witness firsthand how a community interacts.

There were clients who needed help to find employment; there were a group of friendly staff who were willing to dedicate themselves to help run Dress for Success, there were donators who willingly donated their lightly used clothing and lastly, there were volunteers who willingly used their time to help in any way possible.

It was great being able to represent our school in our community through ARW. At the same time, I realized I was a part of a community at my school. I was a part of a team of fellow students that was dedicated to learning by being engaged with our community.

After this experience, I was motivated to learn more about the other programs offered by the CCP.

This leads me to where I am now! Starting this September, I will have the chance to volunteer in a classroom with kindergarten students as a ‘From 3 to 3’ tutor and to start my trainings and meetings as a project leader to prepare for next year’s ARW! Needless to say, I’m excited and thankful for the opportunities that the CCP offers.

Spotlight on UofT Cressy Award Winner: Kaylah Krajnc

In September a brand new set of students will be joining the University of Toronto community. That is cause for celebration! In the next few posts we are going to share the experiences and insights of a few of our graduating students. These students have all been very involved with the University of Toronto and the University has acknowledged their involvement by awarding them with The Cressy Award.

The student experience at the University of Toronto is more than classes and books. It is life on campus, in the community and in the world at large. The Cressy Awards recognize graduating students for outstanding contributions to improving the world around them and inspiring others to do the same.

Please click here to view the 2015 Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Award Recipients.

Incoming students, if you are reading this, welcome to UofT! I encourage to get involved and find your fit here just like these amazing grads did!

Cressy Award Winner: Kaylah Krajnc
Program: Double Major in Conservation Biology and Psychology, and a Minor in Environmental Biology
Involved with: The Centre for Community Partnerships, Hart House, Veg Club, Student Voice Committee, Office of Student Life
College: Woodsworth


We asked Kaylah to share her experience with incoming students. This is what she said:

My university journey started with a whole first year of only focusing on academics… it was quite the dreary existence. Not wanting my entire university experience to be reflected by my coursework and GPA, immediately after my last exam I went to talk to someone at my College about how I could get involved in campus life.

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That’s Kaylah in the middle!

This first step sparked a whirlwind of diverse and awesome experiences getting involved in the university; I went from not being involved at all, to being involved way too much, to finally striking a healthy balance between the two. But I loved each step of the journey because it was a continuous self-learning process. My first year taught me that I don’t feel fulfilled learning only in a classroom, my times of being way too involved allowed me to explore different avenues of myself and learn what I was passionate about, and throughout it all I was able to meet amazing people and become a part of some great communities.

In the last couple years of my university journey I committed myself to a few experiences that really aligned with my passions and values. In particular I poured a lot of myself into my roles at the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP), Hart House, and the Veg Club. And maybe this sounds super corny, but my experiences with these communities really made me who I am today, in a variety of ways.

Through the CCP I grew comfortable with self-reflection, and I discovered that I am really passionate about community-engaged learning and initiatives. Though Hart House, I learned the values of challenging myself to push past my comfort zone to experience self-growth. And with the support of the Veg Club I really developed my passions for animal and environmental activism.

Even though these learning experiences are all different, what’s important is that they shaped me to be the person I am today, and they enhanced the learning experiences I had in the classroom. It allowed me to take the knowledge I was learning through my courses and explore ways to apply it in my future life experiences after university. And the people I’ve met along the way have made these experiences even greater; I’ve gained life-long friends, amazing mentors, and have met just plain cool people that have inspired me simply by living their amazing lives.

These experiences have made me fall in love with UofT, and I’m sad that I’m finished my degree, but at the same time it has given me memories, stories, connections, and self-knowledge that leave me feeling super excited for the next phase of my life. I’m not quite sure what that phase is yet, but I’ve struck a balance between rooting myself in my values and passions, and embracing the unknown so that I can always continue to grow – this, I know, will leave me feeling fulfilled on whatever path I choose to take.