Making a difference in the community

Posted on Monday, April 9, 2018

St Paul’s Eastern United church

Cécile Planchon, a doctoral student in sociolinguistics and part-time professor at the University of Ottawa, volunteers at St Paul’s Eastern United church, located a stone’s throw away from campus. As a community partner, she supervises and assigns student volunteers to programs that she holds dear, specifically those involving First Nations, the elderly and Francophones. One of her goals is to create bonds between the community and the twenty or so students who volunteer with her. After three years of partnering with the Michaelle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, she has learned that a meeting with students at the beginning of their placements is key to understanding their expectations and ensuring that they remain engaged while keeping in touch.

Cécile recruits volunteers to work with the food bank of Odawa Native Friendship Centre, a program which distributes much-needed supplies to alleviate the food insecurity that affects many First Nations’ members living in Ottawa. When asked why this program, she explained that she “was very shocked to see that First Nations’ people in Canada struggle with the same problems as those in the United States.” So she decided to make a difference.  The reliability of volunteers is key to successfully running the food bank; she must always ensure that a volunteer is on hand to distribute food to vulnerable individuals. According to Cecile, students who volunteer in the community learn to put things in perspective and appreciate their relatively privileged circumstances. Volunteering helps them escape their campus-centric mindset to confront the real world, while opening up new career possibilities. 

Karlee Waldgel is pursuing a BA with a minor in aboriginal studies. In the winter 2018 term, she decided to include a Community Service Learning (CSL) component as part of a course entitled Contemporary Studies in Canada (CDN4101), which explores significant problems in Canada today. Karlee wanted to volunteer to improve conditions for indigenous peoples. Volunteering helped her express her personal values and allowed her to “engage emotionally in order to further a cause [she] supports.” Karlee feels that students tend to be sheltered from reality while at university. Volunteering helps broaden their horizons, counter their individualism and increase their practical knowledge. As part of her placement at the food bank, she hands out food, wraps packages, registers the food bank users in the database to document the number of people served, and updates the food inventory. The experience she has gained in this volunteer placement has taught her much about herself, introduced her to new people and brought her joy in helping others.

Samuelle Ménard is a second-year CO-OP student pursuing a BSocSc in conflict studies and human rights with a minor in women’s studies. She decided to volunteer in the community in order to pay forward what she had received.  By volunteering at the food bank, she has gained experience in her area of study, expressed her values, and enhanced her sense of community. She said she “had always wanted to serve [her] neighbour,” and through her CSL placement as a component of a course on the foundations of political and social thought (classical liberalism and socialism) (DVM 2750), she was able to relate much of her classroom theory to her volunteer experience. By listening to her indigenous clients’ stories, some funny and some painful, Samuelle has gained patience, compassion, and empathy.


By: Jane Gabrielle Ngambo Tchoumene

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