The Community Engagement Residence Initiative (CERI) is an innovative approach to the uOttawa residential experience, allowing students to explore community engagement through residential programming.
This initiative seeks to provide uOttawa students living in University of Ottawa residences with an opportunity to collectively take part in community service projects, which offer an interactive way to get involved in the community and to volunteer with community members and other uOttawa students.
The first two weeks of being a first year student at university are filled with mostly positive emotions: you meet all types of interesting people from around the world, you discover new places and attend a bunch of cool events. It's a fresh start and your life seems pretty exciting. Then exams hit you like you didn't even know they existed and the anxiety builds up to a point where all these positive emotions switch into negative ones: you miss your old friends, you feel lost and you don't have time to socialize.
Community Advisers (or C.A.s) are students who learn specifically how to help first year students get through this phase in their university life. Every one of them is assigned to a residence where their task is to organize activities and offer emotional support to the residents. Myriam Faucher, a fourth year student studying psychology (B.Sc.) at the University of Ottawa, has been working with RezLife for the past three years. She is now the Team Leader at Friel Residence's Living Learning Community (LLC), a project created to offer programs to first-year students living in residence for them to get to know their community better.
The LLC is also offered in other residences, but Friel's theme is Community Engagement and Leadership Development: the programming focuses on volunteering projects tailored around the students' individual interests. "It makes them feel like they're a part of the Ottawa community and not just students. It really helps to foster in them a sense of belonging because they can make new friends and be involved in something meaningful" says Myriam, who strongly believes in the benefits of volunteering as much for the students as for the community partners.
Myriam has always been involved in her community as long as she can remember, but when she started university, she found it hard to know where to volunteer since there was so many options in Ottawa. The Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement on campus really helped her narrow down her options based on her interests, availability and location preferences. She's again taking advantage of its services by working hand in hand with them to organize some of the volunteering events at Friel: the Days of Service.
The Centre describes these projects as "fun, one-day projects that allow students to give their time in a meaningful way, without the commitment of a regular volunteer schedule". The idea is to give students exposure to the various organizations in Ottawa and possibly spark an interest for volunteering. One project that Myriam remembers as particularly inspiring was when she led a group to Garry J. Armstrong Long Term Care Facility on Porter Island in Ottawa. They spent the day playing cards with the residents or simply talking to them. Some students shared with her how much they enjoyed spending time with the seniors and how they wanted to continue volunteering at similar places.
"The Living Learning Community project is the reason why I love my job so much! I witness every day how the students, through their residence experience, make new friends, get to know their campus and how it facilitates their transition from high school to university, especially when they’re far away from their families. The LLC project brings the residence experience to the next level because it’s not just about the students anymore, it really is about how they can make a difference in their community." Myriam and the other C.A.s at Friel are working with the Centre to find a way to measure the impact that the Living Learning Community project has on students.