International development student has unforgettable experience with OPIRG
Student Thomas McCarthy-Alfaro didn’t really know what to expect when he enrolled in the Community Service Learning (CSL) program. He discovered the program in one of his international development courses on classic liberalism and socialism, DVM2750. He decided to do an on-campus placement with OPIRG, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group. As part of his placement, Thomas had to devote at least 30 hours to this social justice organization, which undertakes environmental, economic and social activities in support of various groups and projects that reflect its overall mission of accessibility, dignity and sustainability. Working at OPIRG, Thomas was able to bring together community development and lessons learned in his international development courses. “As a student volunteer, I helped OPIRG with its initiatives and did all I could to increase visibility of campus green spaces,” says Thomas. “They gave me a leadership role. I oversaw the progress of our initiatives while supporting the other members of my team.”
In developing gardening projects at the University of Ottawa, like the community and learning gardens, OPIRG seeks to take care of campus green spaces, as well as create lasting friendships among students, staff and neighbours by inviting them to take part in its activities.To help OPIRG in its mission, Thomas recruited volunteers for the gardening season. Among other things, he presented OPIRG with new approaches to marketing and publicity, to convince more students to get involved in its environmental sustainability and food security projects. Thomas also raised his communications skills, which will be invaluable in both his academic and career paths. In fact, he was able to create a bimonthly newsletter, manage the OPIRG Facebook page and take part in OPIRG activities.
So, for Thomas, what have been the benefits of his experiential learning experience, other than community engagement? “I’ve received job offers and met many contacts on campus and elsewhere. You never know what a volunteer experience can bring, whether it’s personal growth, professional experience or the chance to make contacts. These things can be worth more than a salary, whatever the workplace.” Thomas was able to draw on the knowledge he gained through his studies to contribute to sustainable development in Ottawa, overseeing campus green spaces. And his motivation and efforts to raise the profile of OPIRG initiatives were rewarded. Thomas received the 2018 CSL award for outstanding contributions as a student. Congratulations, Thomas!
By: Catherine Lemay
Professor Tracy Coates, Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies. Professor Tracy Coates is this year’s professor recipient for the CSL Award for Outstanding Contribution for her dedication to the Winter 2018 CDN2300 “Methodology of documentary Research in Canada” where she supported Shepherds of Good Hope’s need for integrating indigenous approaches to their program evaluations, and leveraged her students’ knowledge and research for community engagement.
Shepherds of Good Hope: Not a textbook experience!
Each year, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement gives an award for outstanding achievement to a Community Service Learning (CSL) community partner. This year, the award goes to the Shepherds of Good Hope, for their dedication and compassion in meeting the needs of the poor and the homeless, both men and women. The organization was nominated byuOttawa student Stacey Olynick, who took a volunteer placement as part of the “Wise Approaches to Indigenous Evaluation” project with the Shepherds in her Canadian studies course in 2017 (CDN2300 — Methodology of Documentary Research in Canada).
The Shepherds of Good Hope started in January 1983 with a soup kitchen. The organization has grown to become one of the largest non-profit organizations dedicated to serving the needs of the poor and the homeless in Ottawa. Operating in eight buildings, they run a shelter for men and women and a food and grocery program in Lowertown, while hosting an evening drop-in and helping Ottawa’s most vulnerable men and women access health care, jobs and housing.
The Shepherds of Good Hope have been a community partner of the Michaëlle Jean Centre since 2012, offering to more than 160 students varied opportunities to learn about community and gain professional experience. Placements can range from administrative work to hands-on work with people, such as assisting in the grocery or clothing program, making the Shepherds a great partner in terms of diversity of placements offered.
Phil Nowotny, data and research manager for the organization, is enthusiastic when talking about the vast experience the Shepherds have had with the volunteering community. For him, uOttawa student volunteers from different backgrounds gain something out of their own placements, while for the Shepherds of Good Hope, volunteers are the backbone of the operation. They help the organization question its own work, bringing what he calls “tremendous energy because they can contribute a different perspective”.
The core value of the Shepherds of Good Hope is a commitment to accepting people as they are, without judgment. Olynick says that “community involvement can have an impact on someone.” The contribution and dedication of the volunteers create a sense of community for the people involved, through acceptance, compassion and care.Every day, Shepherds of Good Hope volunteers show our community that people care.
We are thankful to Shepherds of Good Hope for their long-term commitment to the community and for providing community-based learning placements that allow students to improve their skills and enhance their understanding of where they live.
By: Minnah El-Mowafi