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.

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Youth Mentorship Program – Reflection by Jovan Glenn

Youth Mentorship Program – Reflection by Jovan Glenn

Prior to this school year I honestly had no idea what the Centre for Community Partnerships was. The first time I heard about the CCP was around the beginning of the school year, when a good friend of mine by the mane of Yusuf told me he was getting involved in a community project. He explained the bare bones of the project – an opportunity to mentor younger kids and show them that University is not out of reach, but my interest was piqued when he mentioned that the program would take place at Rockliffe Middle School. An opportunity to get involved in a school in my community, and work with one of my greatest friends seemed like an opportunity too good to pass up.

Then, as if by means of fate (if you believe in that kind of stuff), the program switched from Rockliffe Middle School to Potage Trail Community Middle School, meaning that I was going to be volunteering at the school I used to attend. My disappointment in not meeting the Rockliffe kids notwithstanding, this was probably the most excited I’d ever been for a project. Although I’ve visited my high school every year since I graduated, and have even dropped by my elementary school every so often, I had never returned to Portage since I left. Mind you, this wasn’t out of my disdain for Portage or anything of the sort, it’s just that I never really had the opportunity. I believe that my time at Portage had an enormous effect in shaping who I am today, and to be able to roam those halls again, see teachers whom I still admire, all while giving back to the school was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Our first day at Portage as mentors was fantastic, and a surreal experience for myself. As Ms. Broomfield (who coordinated this program on Portage’s end) walked us through the halls I knew like the back of my hand, I couldn’t help but remember little moments that happened when I was a Middle Schooler. It was as if actually seeing those tiny blue chairs and tiny water fountains triggered memories of friends whom I still keep in touch with to this day. Which brings me to another point: everything felt much smaller! I know I might’ve grown a bit since middle school, but when I was younger I thought Portage was a pretty large school. I guess it’s all about perspective.

The kids at Portage were a delight to work with, and honestly reminded me a bit of myself and my old classmates. There were kids who were initially shy yet inquisitive, there were kids who were a bit more outgoing and hyperactive, and you had kids who were bit of both – shy at first but then more vocal as they got more comfortable around us. They were mirror images of ourselves as kids, and honestly probably a lot smarter. I saw kids using Microsoft Office tools much more effectively than I could when I was 13 years old. The kids had bright ideas, and as mentors we were surprised at the end of it how energetic they could be at 8 AM, a task that was nearly impossible for us on most days. Those students were a joy to work with, and they may or may not know this, but they are extremely fortunate to have a teacher like Ms. Broomfield. There is an authenticity to her love for the students, and the work she puts in to ensure that they are well prepared for the future exemplifies that. As most students know there are only a handful of teachers you’ll ever experience who genuinely care, and I can definitely say that Ms. Broomfield is one of them.

I want to personally thank everybody involved in this project, from my good friend Yusuf and every mentor who was a part of this! I want to also thank Kristina Minnella, who coordinated this program from the U of T end, and who is as caring and thoughtful as any teacher you’ll ever meet. I want to also give a quick shout-out to the kids at Portage, good luck in High School and make the most of your time there! To Ms. Dehal, thank you for building my appreciation for Science (although I may never truly understand it) and to Mr. Patel, sorry for being as blissfully ignorant as I was in middle school, but let’s be honest here, 7A was (and will always be) your best class! Thanks again!

Jovan Glenn
University of Toronto, Class of 2016
Economics and Political Science Major

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. unisonhcs.org

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 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. www.dressforsuccess.org/toronto

IMG_8536Andrea,

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! 🙂

Student Voices: ARW Reflection from Lingxiao Zeng

Project Name: Mural Painting

Community Agency: Stanchester Eco Pirates

Project Leader/s: Kacy Lin & Jueun (Sara) Park

Project Description:  Eco Pirates works with THE BIKE BANK, who re-vamp used bikes and give them to the Eco Pirates (kids) in need of a bike. Bikes are environmentally friendly and fit well with the Eco Pirates mandate. This year the theme for bike week is “Ride like a Viking. To commemorate this, students will paint a mural of Vikings and/or Pirates riding bikes, along with the following key message: “Recycle your bike and get riding to help the environment”.

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Lingxiao Zeng,

When I firs t heard of this program, I was just thinking why not, I don’t have anything to do during reading week. And when I learned more about the program (like what projects and opportunities it offered) I knew I made the right choice. This program provided me with so many options to colour my holidays.  I’m an engineer, but I love painting and doing a lot of  “art” stuff, so I chose mural painting to work on, and it was definitely the right choice. There were five of us; everyone was really talented in painting and creativity. That’s why we created such a masterpiece! The most impressive memory from the three days was our team leader, Kacy. She is really kind, considerate and encouraging. She always told us we were doing an amazing job over and over again, and tried to consider opinions and suggestions from all of us. The most amazing thing she did was to make us do a little test which had 36 questions about your life. Because of those questions, we didn’t have any awkward moments with silence and we got to know each other really well after a very short time. I learned a lot of things from her.

I want to say thank you to my amazing team members and  thank you to this wonderful program and all those people who work very hard for it. I will definitely be back next year!

Thank you Lingxiao! We’re glad to have you next year…perhaps as a Project Leader? 🙂 Applications for Project Leaders are accepted until April 1st 2015.

Student Voices: ARW Student Reflection Series

First and foremost, thank you again for all the students, staff and community partners involved during our 2015 Alternative Reading Week! This student voices reflection series showcases the stories and experiences of students and reflects on what makes community strong. Enjoy!

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. http://www.nych.ca/

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Jasmine Dale

I actually did not know what to expect this experience would be like. Our project was to facilitate English Conversation Circles for newcomers at the North York Community House (NYCH). I had never volunteered at a community house, let alone run an English Conversation Circle! I was also very nervous because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to communicate with them properly. I was also worried about not being able to get along with everybody, or accidentally offending someone because of my own ignorance of a certain culture.

The experience was one I will never forget! I realized that there was nothing really to be worried about. Everyone was very respectful and very friendly. I was able to meet people from all over the world and help them improve their English skills. We talked about topics such as banking and customer service prepared beforehand, but I found that as time went by, the conversations moved away into stories about their kids and life in their home countries. It was nice to have such a natural flow, and it was a great privilege to be able to listen and expand my knowledge on things you cannot learn in a textbook. I also think my group members were great. I think we really came together and with our excellent teamwork, made the three days a success.

The first thing I learned from the experience was that Toronto offered different types of programs, but I also learned the harsh reality, that without funding, they get discontinued. For example, I learned that they are currently running a program for LGBT youth, but because there could no longer find funding, it would be cancelled within a month or two. I also learned how important it is to have a community you can rely on to get the help you need, especially if you are a newcomer. Coming out of this experience, I think I gained more confidence in myself. It really felt great, being able to make a difference in people’s lives, and I hope I can continue to do so in the future.

My next steps are to continue looking for opportunities, like ARW, where I can apply my newfound skills too. At first I was a little hesitant to sign up for ARW, but now what I know what it is like, I think I will keep an open mind, and look for more ways in which I can contribute to the communities in Toronto.

Thank you for your reflection Jasmine!

 

ARW Starts TOMORROW!

10Going to campus on a regular day at 9:30 in the morning is hard enough, try doing it during reading week! ARW project leaders, volunteers and staff members are making this happen as Alternative Reading Week 2015 starts tomorrow! After months of training, planning and coordinating with our community partners, I’m sure it’s safe to say that we all have the ARW jitters. So, what to expect? I asked Cythia about her expectations, feelings and thoughts about embarking on her first ARW experience. Here’s what she said:

“My name is Cynthia Selvanathan and this is my first year participating in the Alternative Reading Week Program. I sit here, with my laptop and a cup of coffee within arms reach, thinking about how big of an impact participating in outreach programs has had on me. Growing up, I’ve always been keen in using my knowledge to help others and giving back to the community. I can almost say that I am hit with a rush of adrenaline when given the chance to give back to a community that’s supported me throughout my life. It is quite disappointing to think about how little I have done in the past year to achieve this. When I first registered for ARW, I was both overly excited and slightly nervous about what to expect. This is my first ever community involvement since entering university. Prior to the orientation I was anxious about meeting so many new people at once, although I knew how ecstatic I was to get to know them also. Stepping into the auditorium filled with smiling, enthusiastic students made me realize how much more excited I am to participate in ARW than nervous. I wish to make a few long-lasting friendships and hope that over the course of these three days I would be able to speak to as many people from the community. I enter this program with little to no expectations, eager to make the most out of every opportunity that arises and cherish every moment of it.”

Thank you Cynthia for your contribution! We appreciate your enthusiasm about community engagement and open-mindedness! We wish you the best during your ARW experience! 🙂

Just a reminder that if you are taking photos of your projects to please ask for permission first before taking the photo/s. If you plan on posting it on social media, please use our hashtag, #ARW2015.

Thank you! See you all tomorrow morning! 🙂

Story Time with Aneel Sampat, From 3 to 3

photo%203It has been four weeks since I began volunteering at my school’s From 3 to 3 program. I have managed to settle in quite easily thanks to the wonderful group of kids in my class. However, I did have a bit of a rough start. The first day I walked into the classroom the teacher was on her way out because an emergency. Her daughter had chickenpox! Before she left she said, “Here is a class list. Here are two books. Kids, Mr. Sampat, Mr. S., is going to take some of you to the library to read. Good luck!” And, she was gone.

So, there I was, 6ft1 with a beard as thick as my index finger, having virtually no experience around children, surrounded by kids none-taller than my hips. A room of upturned faces bearing quiet smiles that quickly turned away once they were seen. At the beginning the morning’s readings or sentence forming games, from their individually labelled Ziploc bags, I decided to try crouching to talk to the closest group of three kids. I asked, “Would you like to go the library to read?” One of the kids nodded, trying to steal glances at the books in my hand (The Very Busy Spider and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!). Could you show me where the library is? And so we went. Three brightly clad kids with shoes that lit up when they walked, tentatively, but with their destination in mind. Constantly checking to see that I was following, thumb in the mouth of one, one looking like he just saw a ghost, eyes wide open, mouth like an ‘O’, and one with a smile that could light up a room.

photo%202I got through the entire class. The stories were enjoyed by most. That first day I learned quite a bit. First, some kids were terribly distracted around certain others. Incessant giggles, running away from the table, tossing themselves into other chairs and refusing to move. I made the mistake of mixing some seniors with juniors. By week three I sorted out who could go with who by watching how they interacted with each other in the classroom during playtime, snack-time and music. Also, sitting on the same level as the kids really helps. Closer to the ground they are, the more comfortable they feel. So, I avoid adult size chairs and kneel with them at a table, or we sit in a circle on the carpet. Second, lots of hand movements, sound effects and different voices (high and low) could do a world of wonders for keeping the kids focused on the story I was reading. Plus, they were less likely to squirm around or wander off searching for whatever treasures the library had to offer. It takes at least two or three readings to figure out how to tell a story, so I always switch up the order of who goes first one week and the next and so forth. Then, everyone gets the benefit of a good story sometime.

Third, though you might have two books (unless they’re really short) it’s best to give the kids a choice and read only one. It helps them stay engaged. If they want to turn the pages, I let them go ahead. There’s one girl who always wants to turn the page, and she dictates an order so everybody else in the group gets a turn too. If I forget and turn it myself out of order, she frowns a little the makes me turn back, or I never hear the end of how I unfair it was that I skipped so-and-so’s turn. Fourth, and I’ll make this my final point, if I’m enthusiastic and happy, the kids are enthusiastic and happy. They have fun. They may ramble and make some crazy answers to the questions, but they always leave wanting to hear more.

photo%201Everyday I come in, now that they know me, they smile and say hello or wave. They tell me about their weekends, what they did last week. They ask to go first to the library. They ask me to come back in the afternoon or tomorrow or every day. When I tell them I have to go to school, they giggle and say that I don’t need to. I’m too old. That they want to go to university too. They just seem so caught up in the fun of everything that I end up getting caught alongside them. The hours fly by and I’m kind of excited to figure out how I’m going to make it better next week. I have so much more experiences to write about, but I’ve written quite a bit already. The atmosphere of sheer happiness that encompasses my Tuesday mornings makes this an immensely enjoyable experience. By the time I leave for class, trudging in my winter gear and overly heavy backpack to Victoria Park station, I have no worries about anything. Last week, I was not even bitter about the damn cold.  Just glad to be doing this.

 

Written by Aneel Sampat