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


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!!

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Ibrahim Alhaq

Project Name: Conversation Circles with Newcomers
Community Agency: North York Community House
Project Leader: Winnie Lieu
Project Description: North York Community House is a dynamic neighbourhood centre offering innovative programs and services to newcomers & residents, helping build strong, healthy communities. Students will support their formal and informal language programs with newcomers at different language levels. They will facilitate English Conversation Circles and participate in an evaluation/focus group to determine participants learning.
Featured image
UofT students and LINC students engaging in conversations at North York Community House
Reflection written by Ibrahim Alhaq
I heard about Alternative Reading Week through Lead with Pride. At that time I was interested in applying because of the fact that it would be something interesting to do during my reading week which I usually spent at home doing nothing of impertinence. It also coinciding with a goal I made for he 2015, that I wanted to help out more in the community and give back.

The experience was interesting; during the orientation I was actually hesitant on what the whole program was about. I was worried that I may have gotten involved in something that I may not be ready for nor what I expect it to be.

When I got to the first day of my project at North York Community House I was actually very eager to the next few days. I loved the centre, and was very interested in helping out. My experience was good I got to talk to fellow immigrants that shared stories about their lives and personally warmed up to these students that were talking to them. I learned that many of their stories that they had were similar to the stories my parents had. It gave me an appreciation for my parents as well as more affinity for them. I was also proud for them in actually taking a step for their education and seeking out education even at their age, with family and other impeding socio-economic issues.

From this experience I learned that even people who may seem different from you in many ways you still share many similar features and have opportunity to learn new things from one another.  I learnt some Mexican cuisines and words from various languages.

Lastly one big lesson that I would take throughout my life is the idea of making conversations and progressing them so that they go deeper into understanding fellow human beings.

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Yalda Mehran

Project Name: Video Creation

Community Agency: Unison HCS

Project Leader: Lorin Ouyang

During the 2015 Alternative Reading Week, our team created a documentary/promotional video for Unison, Health and Community Services, which is a branch of Unison Organization on Keele Street. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the work within the new environment and with new people would go.  But that uncertainty changed to great excitement when I saw all the energy and friendly attitude within the host organization. The work began almost immediately. We started planning the video the first day, and filmed and edited the following two days.

We divided the tasks, I planned the video, and made sure the right and appropriate content was chosen, while the others filmed, gathered and categorized hundreds of old pictures and edited.

The experience taught me that group work was much easier and that deadlines can be met on-time as long as each member knows what her/his responsibility is. I also learned that I don’t always have to be in charge, but to contribute and have fun. From this experience I realized what I am good at, and that is management. Therefore, I plan to participate in the Alternative Reading Week again next year, but this time as a project leader.

Yalda Mehran,

First Year Student, University of Toronto

Click the link to see the video that Yalda and her team created during Alternative Reading Week

Begin Again.

IMG_4543Sorry to disappoint but, this won’t be a blog post on T-Swift’s song. I felt incredibly inspired after seeing the photo on the left. We had taken it after our last combined ARW reflection back in February. The photo summed up my year working at the Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP) quite nicely. Yes, it’s blurry, and perhaps it could have been angled better, or edited to adjust the lighting, but that wouldn’t be true to the joy and connectedness that our team exemplified throughout the school year. Coming to the office and working with our team didn’t feel like work at all. To say the least, it was an inviting, nurturing and positive space to come into, not just for us, but also for everyone who walked in our door. In so many ways, it felt like a haven filled with laughter, friendship, encouragement and of course infinite warm fuzzies! Rest assured, we worked hard on organizing ARW as well as other collaborative events on campus, regulating serve & learn programs, discussion groups, ARW Project Leader training sessions, creating this blog and overall engaging students with how they can get involved in the community.

So, what now? I refuse to think that this is the end because I don’t necessarily think it is. Let me tell you why. This year’s theme for ARW was, “What makes communities strong?” and to answer that question, I would have to say bonds. We started the school year identifying with our individual positions/roles and tasks but something along the way, in between the vegan gluten free cupcakes, multiple cups of tea; inside jokes and open ears and arms we found cohesion. Getting to know each other and learning from one another helped me further understand what it means to build communities and how we can sustain its strength. I started at the CCP as the Promotions & Communications Assistant and leaving as a part of great team, a community.

Thank you for jumping on a fantabulous year with us! 😉

Written by Kaye Caronongan

Student Voices: ARW Reflections from Kaylah and Jody

To cap off the final installation of this reflection series, I thought who better end it than these two amazing ladies who have dedicated countless hours and effort to put on an amazing ARW experience for all of us. They are walking, breathing, laughing, poking, dancing, and living warm fuzzies 🙂 11063254_10155341375525323_410556990_n

Oh ARW, parting is such sweet sorrow…

What? Four years ago, we stumbled upon an opportunity called Alternative Reading Week (ARW). Little did we know that it would take over our lives (in the best way possible #CCPlove5ever). So what exactly was so magical about ARW that made us stick around for so long? We’ve obviously each had different experiences, but they’re similar in a lot of ways! What connected both of us so strongly to ARW was the opportunity it gave us to become part of such a great community, and to expand our own communities at UofT. Our experiences working with amazing student and community leaders have taught us a lot of things we wouldn’t have learned while sitting in a class room. Really, our entire Centre for Community Partnerships (CCP) experience has been a constant learning process – we’ve learned about ourselves, about others, and about all of the amazing communities around us.

So what? 11001940_900737289948852_2547824666671520939_n

Everything we know, we learned at the CCP (literally everything #truestory). In all seriousness, though, the self-discovery that has happened here has influenced every part of our lives. Over the last two years especially, as our involvement with the program has deepened, we have really come to understand the value of reflection. Not only does reflection allow you to integrate the experiences you have had into learning, but it also allows you to use that learning to challenge your own assumptions and explore new directions for growth. After lots, and we mean lots, of self-reflection, and a mildly concerning obsession with StrengthsQuest, we’ve been able to clarify important aspects of ourselves like our strengths, values and goals. Most importantly, we have come to see ourselves as individuals who are part of one big and connected whole, through our connection with our communities. And what would those communities be without the superfantabulawesome people with whom we’ve shared laughter, stories, and tears? We are endlessly grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from such inspiring and passionate people. A huge part of our self-growth came from being exposed to so many different and diverse perspectives, and practicing how to be respectful and inclusive of people and situations we are not familiar with. 1621984_900737526615495_4981939294167642052_nIt is hard to separate learning about others from learning about the community, especially when so much of that learning happens within the community. We’ve experienced firsthand the value of experiential learning – there is so much growth that can happen outside of the classroom (so put those books down)! Above all, we’ve really learned to appreciate the strength and power in community-based initiatives and movements that comes from starting with what we have, instead of what needs to be fixed.

Now what?

We’ve learned so much over the past four years and it’s really influenced how we approach everything we do, as well as our goals for the future. After becoming so integrated within the Toronto community, we are really excited to explore new possibilities to take more active roles in our own communities. We can volunteer with community organizations, become more civically engaged – heck, we can even run for City Councillor if we want (#jodyandkaylahformayor)! 20507_900737213282193_8355724971339743921_nBeyond getting directly engaged in community initiatives ourselves, we can also play a role in connecting people to each other, to the physical space around them, and to the great resources and support services that each community has to offer. We’ve both seen firsthand the unbelievable things that people can do when they work together to create the amazing communities that they envision. Regardless of the concrete actions that we take on in the future, we’ll both stay open-minded and welcome new experiences that will give us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves, our communities, and how we relate to our communities. Whether the steps we take now are big or small, we both know that the Centre for Community Partnerships has helped us grow into the people we are today (#socheesy). Thank you Kaylah and Jody for…(the list is WAY too long!) EVERYTHING! ❤ DSC_0023

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Chuan Liu

Project Name: Neighborhood Outreach

Community Agency: Unison HCS

Project Leader: Alice Pan & Tracy Pan

Project Description: Unison delivers accessible and high quality health and community services to communities in Toronto. Students will be doing outreach in the Bathurst-Finch neighbourhood in small teams to connect with residents about the programs and services offered at the Bathurst-Finch Hub. Based on their outreach activities, students will develop ideas about how the Hub can best promote its programs and services to neighbourhood residents. Students will also develop draft promotional material. This work is valuable to Unison’s ongoing efforts to promote its programs and services in the community and to solicit resident feedback that can be incorporated into Unison’s communications strategies. It is important for Unison to invest in students for their learning about health and community services.

Chuan Liu,

After my project leader introduced our project, I expected the experience to be talking to the residents in Bathurst Finch community to collect their comments on the service at Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub. I expected a lot of talking during the three-day activities. It turned out that the purpose of our work was the same as what I had anticipated. However, the actual work we did was different. Our two main jobs were outreach and survey. We were divided into two groups. One group of us went to the public areas such as hospital and library, local businesses and condos around Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub to distribute flyers and newspapers of Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub, so that more people would know about the health and community services at the hub and utilize them when they need. The other group was responsible for giving out surveys on the service at the hub to collect feedback from the clients at the hub.

One thing I learned from the experience is that communication is really important in community services. When we were asking local businesses whether we could leave some flyers at their places, some of them refused us at first. After we explained to them that distributing these flyers were aimed at letting more people know about the nice and free healthcare service at the hub and we were doing this for the community, most of the people who originally refused us agreed to keep the flyers and show them to their customers or whoever need the services. The importance of communication was also demonstrated in the fact that the hub hired volunteers to distribute their flyers because there weren’t many people aware of or using their services.

Another thing I learned about myself is that if I want to make progress, I have to push myself out of my comfort zone. I discovered this from the experience of asking the clients at the hub to do surveys. At first, I was not used to asking someone I had never met to do things for me. However, after I tried several times, I felt more and more comfortable and confident in asking people to do the surveys. My chance of successfully getting people to do the surveys increased gradually.

Last but not least, the idea of the hub enlightened me. Unison Bathurst-Finch Hub houses a variety of community services and programs in one hub, and healthcare experts in different fields in one clinic, which increases the efficiency and quality of their services a lot. For example, they have diabetes and foot experts particularly for elderly people. They have different programs for newcomers and mother with children under 12, and they also have legal and dental services for community members who can’t afford those services. Therefore, the basic but various needs of the community members are catered for at one single hub, which is very convenient and efficient.

I will apply my learning in my study and my life. In my study, I will set my goals slightly higher than my ability, which can encourage myself to make more efforts. In my life, if I encounter conflicts with others, I will try to eliminate the misunderstanding between us and reach consensus. I will also try to make wise plans to increase my study and work efficiency.

Thank you Chuan for your reflection! We hope to see you at ARW 2016!

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Victor Muthomi

 Project Name: Sneaker Drive Challenge

Community Agency: Toronto Loves Kicks

Project Leader: Angelica Alfonso

Project Description: Toronto Loves Kicks uses Youth and Sneaker Culture to design and deliver community events, educational programs and creative opportunities for brands, institutions and organizations to engage a unique and substantial demographic. Students will support the Sneaker Drive Challenge, which has the goal of engaging the dynamic demographic that the sneaker culture attracts, drawing attention to how “donating stuff creates jobs”. Students will help with research, outreach, and a social media campaign.

IMG_8560Victor Muthomi,

When I first heard of ARW, I was instantly curious and started researching more about it. Learning that it was a community-centered initiative around the city was very appealing and right then, I knew that it was ultimately something I wanted to be a part of. I applied for a research project and was honored to be assigned to one, the Sneaker Drive Challenge. At first I had many expectations including going out to the field and getting views about the challenge from people; conducting surveys; visiting Toronto Loves Kicks; assessing some of their previous projects; visiting Goodwill; learning firsthand how they conduct their drives or having a look at items previously donated as a benchmarking tool for the current drive (an important approach we use in our engineering projects) among other things.

Although most of what I expected did not come true, I had a fantastic time. The partners, Dion and Curt, were very welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic people. They had done their due diligence on the drive and ours was to supplement with more creative and ingenious ideas and helping them find potentially influential people/organizations on social media who would help start off the challenge at a high note. We worked in twos on the mainstream social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This turned out to be incredibly exciting, especially to me, since I learnt navigating through Instagram which I had never used before. That was fascinating! Afterwards was intense free brainstorming and idea generation, which is normally not my strongest suite due to the structured brainstorming and lateral thinking approach that we use in class projects, and that was a downer for me but I tried in various capacities. The atmosphere was relaxed, informal and exciting, which made the experience even better.

I learned a lot from the experience. One of the lessons was the value of teamwork in whatever capacity. This was a testament to the notion that a team is as good as the sum of its members. I had an amazing team including the partners and by the end of the experience we achieved a lot. The second thing that I came to appreciate greatly was the amount of nitty-gritty considerations and preparations go into the realization of such projects. Honestly, I never came to appreciate the logistics behind these humanitarian or goodwill causes until ARW, from looking up potential contacts, narrowing them down to those who best fit, coming up with ways to reach out to different groups of people, identifying appropriate incentives and structuring them so as to appeal to the largest demographic, identifying convenient locations for holding the drive, catering for the interests of the management such locations and seemingly the greatest, credibility of donors and staff in charge among others. This was an invaluable learning experience for me which I strongly believe changed my view and appreciation for such causes. Simply, it was priceless.

Now that it is behind me, I plan on following up on the drive after it is unveiled in mid-March onwards to keep track of its progress. I would also like to get involved in more CCP programs from now onwards to experience more of such or even better times. Honestly, I would not have spent my time more wisely than participating in that project last week and I am most certain that if I were to go back in time, I would still do the same thing all over again! Thank you for such a wonderful opportunity.

Thank you Victor for your reflection! We hope to see you at the CCP soon! 🙂

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Mandy Yuen

IMG_8430Project: Diabetes Prevention Program

Community Partner: Learning Enrichment Foundation

Project Leader: Saadia Tuyyab

Project Description: The Learning Enrichment Foundation provides integrated and holistic community responsive initiatives that enable individuals and families to become valued contributors to their community’s social and economic development. Students will work with the Type 2 Diabetes Prevention group to raise awareness of diabetes and promote healthy living. www.lefca.or

Mandy Yuen

ARW15 075During ARW, I participated in the Diabetes Prevention program, located at LEF. Going into ARW, I had little expectations, as this was the first time I had ever participated. We were not given much information beforehand, so I was worried that things would be very disorganized, but our community partners ended up providing all of the resources and explained things to us. Our focus was to inform the community about type 2 diabetes, potential future health effects, and ways to prevent it or to how to generally live a healthy lifestyle. We set up a booth in the main eating area at LEF with assorted informational brochures about diabetes and healthy living. For the first two days, people who were visiting LEF or those who were taking classes there stopped by our booth to gather pamphlets and discuss with us any particular questions or concerns they had about diabetes and prevention of type two diabetes. We also helped some people conduct a diabetes risk assessment test, where we calculated their BMI from their height and weight, took a waist measurement, and asked a series of generalized questions to allow them to gain a sense of their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 10 years. Although I’ve had previous volunteer experiences of interacting with community members, I’ve never had to interact with them in such a personal way, that is, discussing their weight, diet and their overall lifestyle. I was surprised at how curious and eager every person who came up to our booth was to learn about diabetes prevention, and I was especially surprised at the openness of the individuals who took the risk assessment survey. People genuinely wanted to know about diabetes and how they could adjust their lifestyles to live healthier and put less stress on their body. Many people also shared stories from their lives; I was constantly reminded that “every day” people all have extensive backgrounds and their own private lives that we normally would never get to see, and I felt very privileged to hear some of their amazing stories and experiences. However, a difficulty that came up was an apparent language barrier. Many of people we encountered were students at LEF taking English classes, and thus some did not have a strong English vocabulary and pronunciation. Diabetes is a difficult topic to talk about without incorporating some scientific language, such as blood sugar and blood pressure. Everyone we talked to, however, tried their best to understand what we were saying, and understood the basic message that a balanced, healthy lifestyle is what is important at preventing diabetes, and overall good health. On the third day, rather than sitting at the booth, we visited a few classrooms to give short presentations on diabetes prevention instead. This was more difficult than simply chatting with passersby, as we were inside classrooms of students learning English, and had to make sure that the majority understood. I often take the ability of language for granted, as being surrounded by native English speakers all the time makes me forget that a large portion of the public actually do not speak English as their first language. I realized how difficult it is for immigrants, like my parents, to adapt to Canadian culture and to learn both English and about other things, such as diabetes, which may not have been a problem in their homeland. From that experience of being in the adult classroom, I also learned that education should not be taken for granted, and that there will always be opportunities to learn no matter how old you are.

IMG_8526From this overall experience, I became more aware of my own strengths, such as my ability to speak in public and give clear presentations. While also recognizing my weaknesses, for example, having a tendency to sit back and be passive instead of taking more initiative. ARW provided me with an opportunity to go beyond my comfort zone and to be more courageous and proactive, so that the program ran smoothly and was able to reach the audience in a personal but professional manner. These social skills are applicable to future endeavors, such as in interviews, group projects, or simply in daily interactions with peers to create deeper connections. As well, I have learned a lot about diabetes and how to prevent it while talking to others about it, which is definitely applicable to myself and my own family members who are at a risk for diabetes. I am very grateful that I was able to participate in ARW; even though the program ran for a very short 3 days, I was exposed to a new environment, new situations, and made new connections with my fellow group members. It made me feel like an integral part of the ARW program, and proud to be a student from the University of Toronto. This renewed confidence encourages me to apply myself more in the future and perhaps became a project leader or even simply a better, proactive, determined student.

Thank you Mandy for your reflection! We hope to see you next year!

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Andrea Llanes

Project Name: ‘It’s New to Me’

Community Agency: Dress for Success

Project Leader: Sara Park

IMG_8542Project Description: Dress for Success Toronto is operated by the Live to Give Relief Organization. The mission of Dress for Success Toronto is to promote the economic independence of women by providing professional attire, a network of support and the career development tools to thrive in work and in life. Students will be involved with preparations for our “It’s New to Me Sale”. This fundraising sale is part inventory reduction, and part sale of high-end garments which are not suitable for our boutique. Our volunteer Sorters have been setting clothing aside for this sale for 4 months now, so there is a large volume of boxes/bins that have been stored in our basement (approx. 50). Volunteers should be comfortable with carrying these boxes/bins up a flight of stairs (perhaps in pairs). Their weight could be up to 25 lbs. Once items are in our boutique, volunteers will be asked to assists with hanging and pricing items. Our last sale two-day sale generated $14,000, which as you can image, is important to supporting our fundraising goals for the year.


I decided to participate in Alternative Reading Week in hopes of discovering new opportunities to volunteer throughout my time at University of Toronto. I was not entirely sure what the program was about, but seeing that its ultimate goal is to engage in community outreach activities, I knew that the experience would be largely hands-on and socially engaging. What makes the ARW program different from the previous community outreach activities that I have been a part of, however, was the fact that we did not focus on what the community lacks. Rather, we were taught to focus on what the community of Toronto already has, and doing something to help those organizations on doing their tasks.

IMG_8540My team and I worked with Dress for Success, which is a worldwide organization that provides professional clothing for women who are actively seeking for employment, especially those who cannot cover the expense of buying new expensive garments. They also facilitate workshops to guide them through the process of starting a new career. This was something that I was not aware of until we were introduced to the organization, and I truly admire their mission. Before we were told about our task for the following days, I thought that we would be working directly with the clients. On the contrary, we were actually given the opportunity to provide help towards the staff members of the organization in preparation for a community fundraising event. It was a very rewarding experience especially because of the amount of boxes we carried from the basement to the main floor, as well as the work we put into sorting the items; it leaves me at awe to think about how the staff members do these kinds of tasks every day. Overall, I learned to appreciate the fact that there are many organizations, within the city of Toronto alone, that are committed to helping any member of the community who needs support and guidance in any aspects of their lives. I plan on continuing my participation in Alternative Reading Week for my following years of study because I know that I still have a lot more to discover.

Thank you Andrea for your reflection! We’re glad to hear we’ll be seeing more of you the next few years! Have you considered becoming a project leader? Applications for ARW 2015-2016 are accepted until APRIL 1st! 🙂