Volunteer of the Month - Recipients for 2015-2016

On this page, you'll meet some of the devoted and inspiring people who are making a difference and having a positive impact on the people around them and on the community.

April 2016 - Jane Chaput

Jane Chaput

This month we celebrate the many volunteers in the Friel Residence’s Living Learning Community (LLC) and, in particular, one of its most active members, Jane Chaput. Volunteering has given this first-year student an opportunity to pursue her interests. In addition to being involved in Friel Good Fridays every week since October 2015, Chaput has been part of five other LLC events.

Chaput, who grew up in Ottawa, learned about the LLC community engagement activities through her residence during her first floor meeting with her community advisor (CA) and other residents. “They were very enthusiastic about it, and my CA was really into it, so that helped,” Chaput says.

The Friel LLC offered eight community engagement opportunities this year, and Jane was part of three of them—a donation collection to fill backpacks for members of the homeless population, a games afternoon for seniors living at the Garry J. Armstrong Residence and the Cleaning the Capital event. For Chaput, this variety makes volunteering even more attractive. “You can choose something you’re interested in, something you’re passionate about,” she explains.

Friel’s Good Fridays, which took its inspiration from the Muggy Mondays initiative on campus, aims to reduce waste and build a sense of community by offering fair trade hot beverages at no cost to students who bring their own mug. The initiative has saved 281 disposable cups so far this year. “The Friel Good Fridays community is awesome. Good Fridays really starts off my morning in an amazing way,” explains Chaput. “We all come down here to help out and talk…it’s super fun. We’ve started volunteering together more often, and I’ve developed some good friendships because of it.”

After her first volunteering experience, Chaput was hooked. She says she plans on volunteering even more often next year. “Once you do a volunteer placement, you get emails about other placements outside of the LLC, which is really nice,” she says. “And now I know about the Community Engagement Navigator. I’ve learned how to use it and how it can help me find placements—it’s really going to great for me next year.”

She encourages all students, particularly those in first year, to make an effort to get involved. “I think that by pushing your boundaries and going outside your comfort zone, doing something that you maybe didn’t think you’d like to do, will completely broaden your horizons.”

“Volunteering, in general, makes you happy,” she says with a smile. “I always come back thinking, ‘That was amazing, I loved that, and I want to do it again!’ It makes you feel good and makes other people feel good, so why wouldn’t you want to do it?”


March 2016 - Vivian Sadeh

Vivian Sadeh

Moving away from home for university is common for first-year students. For Volunteer of the Month Vivian Sadeh, it was an easy choice to leave her hometown of Mississauga. She moved to Canada’s capital to attend the University of Ottawa, where she majors in philosophy with a minor in criminology.

While Vivian fell in love with the school right from her first visit, she felt that something was missing. “Being far away from your family and friends is very hard,” Vivian said. “They were your support system when you were growing up and now they are five hours away.”       

“In my second year I felt that I was nothing more than a student number,” Vivian continued, discussing how it can be difficult to stand out in a crowd of students.

Fast forward four years, though, and Vivian is preparing to graduate with an abundance of volunteering experience and friends. She has been involved with six different clubs and associations on campus, serving on many boards.  “I felt I could do so much more and so I made an effort to get involved,” she said. In her third year, she got connected with Feed the Homeless By U, a student-run organization that tackles hunger in Ottawa. She saw students’ drive, dedication and desire to make a difference in their community. This motivated her to get involved with other campus associations like the Health Promotion team.

Once she started volunteering, Vivian got hooked. She currently serves as VP marketing for the uOttawa Pre-Law Society while also being the only non-faculty member of the Telfer Business Law Association’s executive board. She hopes that these experiences will help her in her quest to attend law school. “In the application there is a spot for you to list your involvement in the community,” she said. “Volunteering helps to demonstrate this, with your Co-Curricular Record serving as the official documentation of your service.”

Vivian is an advocate of volunteering, which has helped her feel more engaged with her studies and the uOttawa community. She noted that first year can be overwhelming, as students are getting accustomed to university life, a new city, and new friends. Her message is to volunteer right away. “Getting involved, even in just one group, can make a world of difference,” Vivian explained. “It helps you to meet new people and can take away that stress of being far from home.”  

While her undergraduate studies are coming to an end, Vivian hopes to keep volunteering and staying involved wherever she goes. “Volunteering is so important,” she said. “You get to make a positive impact on someone’s life and make their day.”

 

February 2016 - Ariane Tchoumou

volunteer_of_the_month_-ariane_tchoumou_for_web

For Ariane Tchoumou, volunteering is primarily a way to challenge herself. Her first commitment to community engagement occurred in high school, and she quickly realized that the minimum of 40 hours of community service required to graduate from Ontario secondary schools would not be enough to satisfy her burgeoning need to give back. "I enjoyed volunteering so much in high school, it seemed natural to continue at university," said the second-year University of Ottawa nursing student. "As soon as I started, I knew I wanted to do more!"

Nursing is a demanding program that requires students to take part in several practical training rotations, so Ariane prefers to volunteer on her days off. This led her to volunteer for Days of Service projects that are specifically designed for busy students like her. And during this year's reading week, Ariane plans on taking part in the Alternative Student Break (ASB) program.

But instead of limiting herself to activities she knows well, Ariane has used the Community Engagement Navigator as a gateway to volunteering in fields that she is unfamiliar with. Consequently, her co-curricular record (CCR) lists a wide variety of different volunteer placements that reflect her adventurous spirit. "For me, volunteering is one way to satisfy my curiosity," she said. "It allows me to discover lots of new things."

So how does she go about choosing all these placements? She says that ideas for volunteering can come from anywhere. For example, Ariane's commitment is often driven by her exceptional empathy: "in life, we sometimes need to walk a mile in someone else's shoes," she said. With this in mind, Ariane nostalgically recalled the week that she moved into Brooks Residence in her first year, so she volunteered to be a guide during Welcome Week. "I remembered how stressed I was during that first week and I realized that it would have been much worse without the help of the on-site volunteers. So I wanted to pay it forward to the new students arriving this year."

Ariane's volunteer placements also illustrate her profound sense of community: rather than being a series of isolated activities, her volunteer work has helped build a more vibrant community. After all, isn't it often the case that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?

As a dedicated cyclist, Ariane wanted to contribute to the city's vitality and promote bike safety by volunteering with the Alcatel-Lucent Sunday Bikedays sponsored by the National Capital Commission. And she is very happy that Ottawa celebrates its diversity with such enthusiasm during events such as Capital Pride. "Our differences are minor in comparison to our similarities, don’t you think?"

That said, volunteering is much more than a simple pastime for Ariane: it has led her to discover some very specific things about herself. For example, it was by volunteering at a women's health centre that she confirmed that this was her calling. "My volunteer experiences made me realize that this was really the field for me, much more than I had initially thought."  

As for her long-term goals, Ariane says that she would like to find the perfect balance between her studies and her community engagement. "I can't spend all my time studying, after all. Sometimes, you need to get away from the books, and for me, volunteering is the perfect escape." 


January 2016 - Isabelle Boileau

Isabelle Boileau

 Today, Isabelle Boileau seems to have seamlessly incorporated volunteering into her life, but this wasn’t always the case. “I never would have thought that I could have taken part in so many volunteer placements. It’s really thanks to the Centre that I caught the bug.”

Isabelle Boileau is a fourth-year health sciences student who has completed over 200 hours of volunteer work in over 15 different placements. She is named uOttawa “volunteer of the month” in recognition of her enthusiasm and passion for volunteerism.

One of Isabelle’s volunteer placements was with the Native Women’s Association of Canada. She put her research experience to good use there by fine tuning public health tools and techniques to strengthen cooperation between the Association and Aboriginal communities.

Currently, Isabelle divides her volunteer time between teaching yoga to persons living with disabilities and answering phones at Tel-Aide, a francophone telephone help line. This year, she won one of four Aeroplan Charitable Pooling Program scholarships to spend a month volunteering at a health care centre in Bogota, Colombia, where she assisted elderly women. The generous Aeroplan program helped make this internship possible by covering the cost of airfare, a burden that often prevents students from participating in volunteer projects overseas. In Colombia, Isabelle helped prepare and serve meals, and administered medication. She also taught yoga classes adapted to the needs of elderly people, who affectionately nicknamed her “Madame Yoga”.

Isabelle says that this experience taught her a great deal, and went well beyond what is taught in class. “Volunteering helps teach empathy, a skill that is much harder to gain when you’re confined to a classroom.” She believes that volunteering helps people develop their social, cultural, emotional and humanitarian intelligence.

The lessons she has learned by volunteering are universal. “Both in Colombia and in Canada, people only want love from their neighbours,” she said.

The fact that she enjoys working with elderly people sets her apart from her peers. She feels that by volunteering, she can dispel some of the prejudices that elderly and vulnerable patients face. Once she completes her undergraduate studies, she would like to go on to medical school.

Isabelle is very proud of having studied health sciences, and she is especially proud of having done so in French. She intends to continue volunteering long after she completes her bachelor’s degree. “Volunteering is part of who I am. I can’t imagine not volunteering.”

Isabelle manages to focus exclusively on each of her volunteering assignments, regardless of the number of activities she has scheduled, turning her volunteering into “a kind of meditation” that helps relieve the daily stresses of student life. “What’s even better,” she insists, “is that after every volunteer activity, I feel great. Volunteering really changes you.” 


December 2015 - David Menéndez

David Menendez

For most, university is the perfect place to find volunteer placements. For some students, it goes much deeper — the placements are a way for them to find themselves. Just ask David Menendez Ortiz, a third year political science student. “Volunteering has helped me discover a lot about myself, about my community. In many ways, it’s been life-changing.”

Hailing from Bogota, Colombia, David spent much of his life on the move before his family settled to Canada. This unpredictability accounted for his childhood shyness. Volunteering quickly became an ideal way to break out of his shell. Starting with high school clubs, David soon caught the bug for volunteering, and ended up a representative on the Youth Social Justice Committee in St. Catharines, Ont.

Unsurprisingly, community engagement has become a cornerstone of David’s experience at uOttawa. Now in his third year, David has successfully carved himself a niche on campus — and students are greeting him with open arms. He currently volunteers his time as the co-president of both the Ottawa branch of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and the University’s Pre-Law Society, in addition to serving as head of campaigns for Amnesty International uOttawa.

However, his passions haven’t always been so clear-cut. He admits to having explored many different avenues. “I often do too much,” he laughs. “In my first year, I got involved in so many clubs, so many organizations. It didn’t even matter what.”

Yet, after three years, it seems as though he’s finally honing in on his true vocation: the fight for social justice, particularly in the areas of youth poverty and refugee settlement. Working in this field can be so rewarding, he says, because you can help people directly. “Right away, you make an impact on someone’s life and see them make an impact on yours.”

When asked about how he manages to juggle volunteering with a full course load, David is quick to say that if you’re motivated enough, you’ll find a way.  “When you volunteer your time for things you’re passionate about, you don’t waste time. You have no choice but to prioritize your time.” He adds: “Helping people can make you feel so optimistic.”

David’s infectious enthusiasm makes him such a solid leader on campus, both in and out of the classroom. In addition to having a seemingly insatiable drive for extracurricular volunteering, David is a strong proponent of the Community Service Learning (CSL) program. He has completed two CSL placements, one with ACORN Canada and another with the University’s Carrefour francophone. He commends both of his professors who took part in the CSL program for being so actively engaged in the community and for motivating their students to do the same.

David mentions the transferable skills that volunteering teaches you — teamwork and communication skills, the importance of taking initiative — and how they can become assets to boost your professional profile. But for some, volunteering is perfect for gain the confidence to grow into yourself.

“The people and the work you do can challenge so many of your perspectives. You can make lasting friendships – I know I have.”

“You can make your university experience that much more memorable just by volunteering.”


November 2015 - Kelvin Igweze 

Sometimes, unpaid work really does pay … in the long run. For Kelvin Igweze, a third-year chemical engineering student, volunteering was the perfect way to acquire the real world experience he needed to stand out from his peer group, and, when the time comes, to successfully enter the workforce. “If these activities can better me as a person and prepare me for the job world, I figure I might as well be productive.”

 Kelvin Igweze

And if any one word can describe Kelvin, that word would be productive. Armed with a strong work ethic and a desire “to be exceptional in everything [he] does”, Kelvin is gradually amassing an impressive list of volunteer experiences. In his short time at the University of Ottawa, he has taken part in everything from playground construction (for Ottawa Community Housing) to environmental sustainability research (with the Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict) as well as work for the SFUO food bank, and has logged over 120 hours of community service in the process.

He discovered the Centre through a friend when he was in his second year. Even though he initially found no positions specifically related to his program, he still dove in. “If I had known about it in first year, I probably would have done more,” he says, laughing.

Kelvin seeks out placements even when they aren’t directly related to his studies because he firmly believes in having a wide range of skills in his back pocket. “You know, just in case,” he says.

Volunteering helps Kelvin in his quest to become a more well-rounded individual. He says his many placements have helped him hone many skills, ranging from critical thinking and independent research skills to teamwork and public speaking, all of which will undoubtedly serve him well in the future. “I didn’t necessarily have them growing up in high school. It’s something I felt was lacking,” he says. “I simply wanted to broaden my scope.”

It is this sense of initiative that led him to volunteer as a web production assistant for the Liberal Party of Canada – even though he had no previous experience in the field. He taught himself how to use the required software on his own time. Although challenging at first, the project proved to be incredibly rewarding in the end. “It taught me to look at things as opportunities rather than obstacles,” Kelvin says.

This statement exemplifies Kelvin’s adventurous approach to his university experience: he sees challenges as opportunities to better both himself and his community. Regardless of the task, he needs to do it with purpose. “I just want to leave university with something I can look back on and say I achieved.” Needless to say, that’s already happened.

Kelvin is currently volunteering in a TD Environmental Leaders project, this one with the Rideau Valley Conservation Foundation. He is also working with an outside engineering firm on building an eco-friendly car.

Despite the busy schedule of his third year, it seems he still can’t resist the siren’s call of volunteering. “I find these projects really interesting. What can I say?”

Whatever he ends up doing, wherever he ends up going, you can rest assured that Kelvin plans on staying busy. “As usual,” he confirmed, with a smile. 


October 2015 - Neekita Bhatia

Neekita Bhatia

“Start locally, think globally.” This mantra has guided Neekita Bhatia through her various community engagement activities. For the time being, though, the second year Telfer School of Management finance student remains focused on the local end of things. “I want to leave my mark in Ottawa,” she says.

Despite having attended the University of Ottawa for little over a year, Bhatia  has grown into a leader on campus. She has amassed an impressive Co-Curricular Record that includes volunteer placements  as a proxy agent with the uOttawa Residents’ Association and a tax filer with ACORN Canada.

She caught the bug for leadership during her very first placement, volunteering for a Day of Service as a garden cleaner at Clare Park. “Right away, I knew I wanted to get to the point where I could be a team leader for something.”

Within a session, her objective came to fruition, and she got to spearhead a daylong project with Ottawa Community Housing. Though a bit bumpy, she describes it as an enriching experience. More importantly, it served as a stepping stone towards her next big project — leading an Alternative Student Break project with the Office of Campus Sustainability. The weeklong analysis of the University’s waste habits brought together a group of students who were excited about their work “even though we were just basically sorting garbage,” she laughs.

Bhatia’s rich CV also includes work on food safety, education and disability — all causes she came to be passionate about growing up in a socially engaged family in Delhi, India.

However, she would never have embraced community engagement so enthusiastically had she not stumbled upon the Michaëlle-Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement Volunteer Fair last year. “I just thought it’d be something interesting to do,” she says. Unaware of the world of volunteering opportunities available to her as a uOttawa student, she quickly found her place, and hasn’t looked back.

In her eyes, it’s precisely through initiatives like the annual Volunteer Fair — the third edition of the fair takes place on October 15 — that the University of Ottawa has grown into a champion for community engagement. “We’re so lucky here. Many of my friends at other schools don’t have opportunities like these.”

Her love of community engagement might even turn into a career in the near future: without a career plan until recently, she now mentions working in the non-profit sector after graduation as a possibility.

“Even if I can make a little difference, it’s a ripple effect: if I do something small today, it impacts someone and maybe they’ll do something bigger tomorrow.”

 


September 2015 - Yerke Abildayeva

Yerke Abildayeva

What does volunteering mean? For Yerke Abildayeva, who is starting an MA in public and international affairs this fall, it means putting yourself to the test and overcoming obstacles you feel are holding you back.   You always have to ask: “Why would I be less able than others?”   

 

It’s thanks to that go-getter mentality that Abildayeva has managed to become one of the most engaged students at the University of Ottawa. While doing her bachelor’s in international studies and modern languages with a minor in religious studies, she completed around 20 placements — 466 hours of community service, to be precise.

She was involved in various student clubs and associations, including the Russophile Circle, the Religious Studies Student Association, and the political science students journal TOPO.  

In winter 2014, Abildayeva was elected to the executive of the Political, International and Development Studies Student Association (PIDSSA), where she set up a mentorship program for first-year students as well as a second language discussion group. 

Abildayeva’s desire to help new students on campus has led her to twice serve as a 101 Week guide — a role she’s planning to take on again this fall.

Through her placements, Abildayeva has met many people who have become — and remained — good friends.  And while many of her own placements have been long and demanding, Abildayeva also lauds the benefits of short-term placements such as the Days of Service

For her, the secret is to find placements that you like and that motivate you. “Sometimes, the more you do, the more you can do,” she says. “You don’t have to be afraid of doing many things at once — that’s how you get to know yourself better.”

But you shouldn’t compromise on your commitment. “You should only get involved if you can fully commit yourself,” she wisely notes.

Abildayeva sees her engagement as something enriching both professionally and personally. “It was the ideal alternative to a job. Volunteering gave me many of my skills.”  Her unparalleled engagement — including a session where she took part in four placements, one she looks back on as her “craziest semester” — instilled in her many important lessons when it comes to time management. She admits that she is not gifted when it comes to organization, but says that volunteering has helped her develop in this important area.

Ultimately, volunteering is something you do to discover what you like — and thus, who you are. That’s been the case for Abildayeva. “All of my placements have helped shape who I am.”  

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