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!!

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