Volunteer of the Month - Recipients for 2016-2017

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.

August 2017 - Emily Wolfe Phillips

Emily in front of the FSS vegetal wall

For Emily Wolfe Phillips, a fourth year undergraduate student doing a major in human kinetics and a minor in psychology, volunteering has been a passion since high school. She began her journey by volunteering at different locations, like a senior residents home, a daycare centre and a physiotherapy clinic. “Community engagement is all about working with various people from diverse backgrounds towards a common goal that benefits the community,” she says.

Emily continued her community engagement during third year at the University of Ottawa, when she became a peer educator as a part of the uOttawa Health Services Health Promotion team. She had the opportunity to deliver key health messages and increase students’ awareness of health issues, as well as to help organize health-related events. Her experience with the Health Promotion team also introduced her to her most recent community engagement opportunity, with the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “I was able to collaborate with health care professionals — researchers, physiologists, psychologists and physicians.” She took up a key role in the research sector, managing databases and assisting researchers, among other things.

Through volunteering, Emily has learned many valuable skills. The Health Promotion team helped her improve her interpersonal and communication skills through speaking to students. The Heart Institute gave her experience and insight into how the health care field works and how to communicate with health care professionals. “I gained valuable research and organizational skills,” she says. “I also was able to collaborate with health care professionals to help improve my networking skills.” Through these many opportunities, Emily has gained a unique perspective on her studies as well as her career.

Emily encourages everyone to be to be a compassionate leader and volunteer. “You need to learn to understand and consider the opinions of others and encourage others to also become leaders.” She urges all students who have not taken the leap yet to get involved in their communities. For her, the benefits that come with volunteering are worth the time commitment, and have led to memorable experiences, such as presenting her research to Heart Institute staff and attending the Heart Institute Research Day.

For her genuine passion, her hard work and dedication, Emily Wolfe Phillips is our Volunteer of the Month for August 2017.

July 2017 - Geneviève Martin-Lafleur

A cultural exchange in Canada, or how to find a second family
Headshot of Geneviève Martin-Lafleur

Geneviève Martin-Lafleur, who has earned both a Licentiate in Law (LL.L.) and a bachelor’s degree in social sciences specializing in international development and globalization, is passionate about cultural diversity. Her extensive travels around the world, along with her academic pursuits, have convinced her of the importance of mutual understand, open-mindedness and the value of multiculturalism. During her time as a student at the University of Ottawa, she came to realize that she wanted to become more active in the community to add a more human dimension to her studies. So when she heard about the partnering program offered by the Economic and Social Council of Ottawa-Carleton(CESOC) through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement, she jumped at the chance. “Right away I knew that it would be a great opportunity,” she said.

To date, this extracurricular commitment has paired her with a family of Syrian refugees in Canada. She meets with them twice a week to help them set down roots, adapt to their new country, integrate into the community and build a new identity in Canada. Given that the family includes six children, she helps out in various ways, such as language assistance, help with homework, family activities such as museum outings and camping trips, or mealtime preparations. Her conversations with these new Canadians cover a wide range of topics, and sometimes touch on their beliefs and customs, not to mention the many anecdotes on the language barriers that family members are slowly overcoming. “I have the honour of having become someone they can turn to for help, and someone they trust. I can even be called on to help the family with administrative paperwork or various appointments, if need be.”

Geneviève says that she has gained new intercultural skills and knowledge through this pairing, but that most of all, the experience has been deeply enriching on a personal level. “The family I have been paired with has generously let me into their lives, and has shared their history and day-to-day lives with me. Thanks to our interaction, I feel like I’ve gained a second family.” The experience has also provided her with a very personal perspective on refugee rights and has confirmed her decision of pursuing in this line of work. She firmly believes in the importance of volunteering and in the need for organizations like CESOC, which are key to integration, solidarity and celebration of diversity. In future, Geneviève hopes to become a lawyer specializing in international human rights legislation and refugee rights to help make Canada a place where refugees feel welcome. She also hopes to sponsor of a family of new Canadians herself someday.

Geneviève’s advice to those who doubt the power of engagement is not to let lifestyle issues stop them from getting involved, from taking a leap into a field that they feel passionate about, because the “happiness generated by volunteering is amazing!” She recommends letting go of worries and reservations to open up to the unknown, because it’s never the “right time”. For all these reasons, we are proud to have chosen Geneviève Martin-Lafleur as Volunteer of the Month for July 2017!

June 2017 - Matthew Kawamoto

Matthew Kawamoto debout dehors a côté d’un panneau pour Centennial Public School, OCDSB | Matthew Kawamoto standing outside beside a sign for Centennial Public School, OCDSB

Matthew Kawamoto, a fourth year student in second language teaching (French immersion) with a minor in music at the Faculty of Arts, defines community engagement as “taking initiative and putting yourself in your community.” In his opinion, volunteering at events, in schools or with people in need is a great way to use your time.

Matthew began his volunteering journey in second year. Planning to go into teaching, he volunteered to apply what he learned in class in a real-life setting. It was a perfect opportunity to gain experience while helping others. He completed placements at Centennial Public School as well as the uOttawa pop orchestra club.

After second year, he continued volunteering, and has completed three years with the same teacher. This placement has helped him in many ways: “I have improved my leadership skills by working with individuals, groups and the whole class of students. I have gained more experience with managing behaviours and have also been given opportunities to teach with support from the teacher.” Volunteering at schools has given him a new perspective on his career goals and an insider’s view on a career as a teacher.

Matthew has volunteered in different departments in the teaching field. He worked in the classroom with the teacher. He also supervised children outside on the school grounds. Another role he took up is coaching sports teams at the school: soccer, bordenball, pickleball and basketball. This led to one of his most memorable experiences, coaching the girls’ basketball team at a three-on-three tournament. Seeing the students win the gold medal and work together as a team made for a heartwarming experience and a very rewarding placement.

As he looks forward, Matthew encourages other students to volunteer. “It’s worth it! Volunteering helps you get the feel for what it’s like in the working world before you get to that point in your own career.” He says volunteering has helped him learn how to get through diverse challenges that he might face in the future.

For his amazing contribution to his society through his passion for teaching, Matthew Kawamoto is our volunteer of the month for June 2017.

May 2017 - Ramata Larissa Christina Tall

Ramata Tall assit dehors sur un banc | Ramata Tall sitting outside on a park bench

For Ramata Larissa Christina Talla third year student in environmental studies with a minor in economics, volunteering became a passion as early as high school in Manitoba. While volunteering is a mandatory component for the Canadian high school diploma, Ramata was part of her school’s Social Justice Club, which allowed her the opportunity to be trained in human rights by the Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties. Her exposure to various leadership workshops and community service projects inspired Ramata to be involved in her community.

Fast forward to university. Ramata’s attraction to the environmental field led her to join the very first TD Environmental Leaders Project. In her first term, Ramata helped revitalize the Notre-Dame elementary school yard in Gatineau with Enviro-Educ-Action, an environmental education group. This placement — in which she felt highly motivated and empowered, working with students of many different backgrounds and passions — allowed Ramata to reflect on her personal goals, as well as reinforced her commitment to volunteering.

Currently, Ramata is volunteering with Friends of the Earth Canada, working on its “Bee Cause” campaign to raise awareness of at-risk wild bees in Ontario and to create friendly habitats for them. Ramata juggles work and school, which she believes is feasible not only for her, but for other students. In fact, she advises students to find causes they sincerely care about, to make squeezing in all of those hours worth it. “For me, it’s about finding something that really excites me and working on it even when I’m not excited, remembering why I got into it in the first place and staying committed. Your time and talent count, and it will pay in the long term!”

Ramata strongly believes that volunteering can pave students’ path to their career of choice. By taking advantage of the centre’s volunteer placements throughout her degree, Ramata has landed an internship at Public Services and Procurement Canada, where she will be working in the Environmental Compliance Unit. She says that her accumulated volunteer experience has given her the solid footing she needed to enter the workforce with confidence.

With a total of 10 placements so far, eight extra-curricular and two through the Community Service Learning program, Ramata plans on finishing her undergrad on a high note, becoming a Team Leader for various group volunteer projects in her final year at the University of Ottawa.

For all of her contributions to the National Capital Region’s environment and her contagious, positive attitude towards community engagement, Ramata Larissa Christina Tall is our Volunteer of the Month for May 2017.

April 2017 - David Lavoie: Community service learning gives a taste of health care work

Portrait de David Lavoie | Headshot of David Lavoie

David Lavoie, who is finishing his first year of medicine, is a student committed to the Ottawa health care sector.  This winter, he got involved with VHA Health & Home Support as part of his portfolio on core competencies medicine course, which has a Community Service Learning (CSL) component. David learned about the group while looking for his CSL placement. He soon began to get more involved out of interest, as he realized VHA’s impact and importance.  

VHA Health & Home Support is a non-profit organization that offers an in-home respite program in the Ottawa region for the elderly and frail or those living with a physical disability. For his placement, David conducted a survey on people on the VHA waiting list, to see how they deal with lack of access to services and how they fill this gap.

David says that with this placement, he has had a chance to grow as both a person and a future doctor. Using his listening skills, which have improved, David has developed a better understanding of Ontario’s health care system and identified the increasing needs of those targeted by VHA. As well, the placement has made him particularly interested in community health. He sees himself “taking courses, doing an internship or taking part in conferences on community health, to give myself the necessary background to encourage good resource allocation decisions (in the health care sector).”

For David, community engagement can be experienced on either a small or a large scale, and the feeling of accomplishment that comes from CSL is its biggest reward. What’s most important, he says, is to give it a shot, because “it’s never too late to take those first steps. You can’t know if you like something unless you try it once.”

For his wisdom and contributions to the Ottawa health care sector, David Lavoie is volunteer of the month for April 2017.

March 2017 - Baileigh McFadden

Baileigh McFadden qui danse dans la neige sur le campus de l’Université d’Ottawa | Baileigh McFadden dancing in the snow on the University of Ottawa campus

For some, community engagement is about a sense of duty. To others, it’s about leading change in society. However, to Baileigh McFaddenfourth year student in psychology with a minor in linguistics, community engagement is about uniting people from different backgrounds and working together in a supportive environment.

Having been on the executive committee of the uOttawa Dance Club for two years now, Baileigh has discovered her own leadership skills, which she otherwise might never have recognized. Now co-president of the club, Baileigh has been able to come out of her shell, learn how take on challenges confidently and work with different types of people towards a common goal.

To Baileigh, the most important quality a leader must have is genuine passion for what they do. “You can easily distinguish those who truly love what they are doing versus those who don’t appreciate it as much,” she says. From this passion stems energy and enthusiasm, which she believes are also essential for a leader to strive and have the ability to influence.

On top of leadership skills, being part of the dance club has allowed Baileigh to experience many memorable moments. Indeed, what’s most rewarding is seeing every member perform in the mid-semester rehearsal for the club’s end of year performance, featuring their choreographies. As there are 22 different classes, the rehearsal is a time where each member really has a chance to show off what they’ve learned in a non-competitive and totally supportive environment. It’s moments like these, where the passion for dance is so strong and present amongst everyone, that make all of the time and effort worth it for her.

So what can push a student considering getting involved to take the leap of faith? To Baileigh, getting involved is simple: just do something you love and don’t be afraid of trying something new. She only joined the executive team in third year and now admits she would have loved to join earlier. “Getting out of your comfort zone and meeting people you would have otherwise never met makes it all worth it. University doesn’t have to just be all school work.”

For her tremendous influence on the uOttawa dance team and her inspiring passion, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is thrilled to name Baileigh McFadden March 2017 Volunteer of the Month.

February 2017 - Divya Massilamani

Portrait de Divya Massilamani | Headshot of Divya Massilamani

With over 800 volunteer hours behind her, it's safe to say that Divya Massilamani doesn’t joke around when it comes to community engagement.

Currently in her final year of a bachelor of science program, Divya moved to Canada in 2001 with her family from Kuwait. She started out volunteering to simply complete the necessary volunteer hours for her high school diploma. Indeed, she didn’t know much about community engagement before her high school experience. However, her passion for volunteering was by sparked by her experience at the Madonna Care Community – Sienna Living, a long-term care community in Orleans, where she completed the majority of her required volunteer hours. At Sienna Living, Divya provided tremendous support to the personnel as she instructed, entertained, accompanied and helped patients—in addition to assisting nurses. What made this extremely rewarding for her was knowing she helped patients feel relaxed and happy. Divya was even able to share one of her greatest passions, playing the piano, as she entertained patients.

Divya shares that one of the volunteer activities she cherishes most thus far is when she gets to help with bell-ringing ceremonies at CHEO when children celebrate the end of their cancer treatments and enjoy snacks and cupcakes with staff and other patients. According to Divya, when you get to know each patient by spending so much time with them, being present for the joy that is finishing cancer treatment is truly amazing. In fact, her experience working in the oncology unit at CHEO is what has inspired her to set her sights on becoming a pediatrician. In fact, she hopes to attend Medical school next fall.

Another milestone in Divya’s volunteer path has been her experience abroad in Indian orphanages. Indeed, when she was readying to return home, a child called her “akka,” which means sister Tamil. “It was hard not to choke up,” Divya says. “It meant a lot to me to feel that I had truly been making a difference in the lives of those children.”

Divya’s volunteerism has been recognized by others too. She has received the United Way Community Builder Award and has had her name inscribed on the Wall of Inspiration at City Hall. She has also received the Mayor’s City Builder Awardfrom Mayor Jim Watson and Ward Councillor Jody Mitic.

People may ask what a person takes away or gain from devoting this kind of effort into their community. For Divya, volunteering has allowed her somewhat shy personality to blossom and has ultimately gained more confidence. For students who are just getting started, Divya insists that volunteering will change your life, give you a new perspective on what matters and teach you that you can make a difference in the lives of others. Whether what you do is big or small, it will inevitably have a positive impact on someone’s life, and at the end of the day, that’s what's most important.

It is for all these reasons, and for Divya’s sense of community and generosity, that she has been named the February 2017 Volunteer of the Month.

January 2017 - Lillian Kruzsely: So much to discover!

Portrait de Lillian Kruzsely | Headshot of Lillian Kruzsely

Lillian Kruzsely started volunteering during her third year as a social sciences student. Her desire to do so began with her Community Serving Leaning (CSL) placement as a teacher’s assistant in a French immersion school, Le Phare Elementary School.  Before that, volunteering was not something that interested her.

As a teacher’s assistant she was able to help children from Grade 3 with their math by showing them how to use a calculator and to tell the time on a clock, among other things. Being in a supportive and welcoming environment strengthened her confidence.

After her CSL placement, Lillian sought out another volunteering placement. She joined up with SCREEN, a Days of Service project. Having diabetes herself, she was able to share her own experiences living with a chronic illness and show others that diabetes doesn’t have to prevent you from living your life. From there, she continued to help her community in other ways. She was a volunteer team captain for the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa, and then a project volunteer for a uOttawa Transforming Community-Based Research and Education group project.

Her wish to continue volunteering led her to an opportunity with the parliamentary office of MP Mark Serré, to work with the administrative and legislative assistants. She assisted with two committees, Status of Women and Natural Resources. With the data she helped collect, the committees can make recommendations to the House of Commons or to the office of the prime minister, and provide the public with further information. One of her many tasks was to compose questions that could be asked during witness debriefing panels. Some of her questions were chosen.

Prior to volunteering with Serré, she was under the impression that the average person could not have access to the Hill, as it was too bureaucratic. “Volunteering with the Parliament opened my federal eye (to involvement with the government), and gave me access to other federal buildings,” she says. Lillian was able to sit in on some meetings, and learn more about the inner workings of Parliament.

Now in her fourth year in social sciences, with her fall 2016 placement over and parliamentary committees adjourned, Lillian wishes to continue with this volunteering placement during the winter 2017 term. She is grateful for the door that CSL opened for her, and encourages other students who are unsure about volunteering to try CSL or a Days of Service project.

For her many hours volunteering, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is proud to name Lillian January 2017 volunteer of the month.

December 2016

The Volunteer of the Month took a break for the Holidays.

November 2016 - Andrea

Andrea debout devant un tableau dans une salle de classe | Andrea standing in front of a classroom chalkboard


Andrea Zukowski could be seen as having volunteering in her DNA. Currently in her 3rd year of Health Sciences, she has taken part in 13 Extracurricular Volunteering (EV) placements. Her hunger for volunteering began with her involvement in a Days of Service project - cupcake decorating. It was from there that her passion for volunteering grew. Her fields of interest vary a lot, but she says that “caring about environmental issues, food sustainability, and encouraging social action in the community all contribute to health in one way or another!” Volunteering helped her meet new people, learn new things and challenge her beliefs.

Her view on sustainability changed considerably after volunteering for the SFUO Bike Co-op and summer Free Store of the University of Ottawa. These placements helped her gain a new perspective on the amount of waste that was being produced in her community. Beforehand, she didn’t think much about the waste she produced, like most of us nowadays. When her friend told her about an opportunity to be a part of People’s Republic of Delicious, she was eager to get involved. The club aims to reduce food waste in the Ottawa area; collecting second-quality produce donated by local businesses, such as the Herb and Spice Shop.

Andrea is the financial and volunteer coordinator for the club, working with an encouraging team and compassionate volunteers. She says “it is hard to see good food being thrown out” and hopes to raise awareness on the issue. To do so, she would like to have a Community Service Learning (CSL) course created that is geared towards food waste, to better educate and motivate students and professors to increase their community engagement.

Volunteering also opened her eyes towards new horizons. As a Youth Program Facilitator with Youth Ottawa's Day of Information Lifetime Action (DILA), she broadened her future career opportunities. Her time teaching Civics to grade 10 students made her realize that being a teacher was another career path she could take, besides going into family medicine. She would love to combine both.

Andrea enjoys making a difference through direct action, interacting with people and getting to know them. This is evident in her role as the president of Ottawa’s Health Sciences Student Association (OHSSA), whose intentions are to educate others on various health topics.

Andrea doesn’t view volunteering as work, but rather as a way to explore her various interests and express herself. She doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon and is excited to see what else she can get involved in. A day does not have enough hours according to her! Therefore, the November 2016 Volunteer of the Month goes to Andrea Zukowski. Congratulations!

October 2016 - Natania Makonnen Abebe

Portrait de Natania Abebe | Headshot of Natania Abebe

Natania Makonnen Abebe’s story is an inspiring one. From a very young age, she knew she wanted to make a difference in the lives of others. As a high school student, she began working with sick children as a volunteer at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). It was time she spent visiting her native country of Ethiopia, however, that had the greatest impact on her. She had contacted an Ethiopian medical clinic to see if she could lend a helping hand with sick children. Once she was there, she decided she’d like to bring smiles and sunshine into the everyday life of these fragile young patients, so she started a bubble-blowing activity with the kids, which she nicknamed Bubbles and smiles.

This time she spent in Ethiopia helped her make the decision to do a nursing degree at the University of Ottawa. This led her to becoming the first member of her family to take this path. “I realized that helping others made me feel fulfilled, and as a human being I needed to be able to share.” Today, Natania is in her fourth year and has had the opportunity to do a number of placements with sick youngsters. While still a volunteer at CHEO, when she began here at uOttawa, she started up a chapter of Campus Cursive. This support group writes words of encouragement for students in need, who may be feeling alone and isolated during their first year or who could use some moral support during exams. Natania has always loved calligraphy and handwritten letters—a rarity these days. After overseeing Campus Cursive for four years, she’s now looking for someone to take up the reins to make sure the group carries on once she’s gone.

Last summer, she co-founded Stars in a Jar, an organization that connects childhood cancer survivors with childhood cancer patients to provide children and adolescents undergoing cancer treatment with messages of hope. The survivors write 365 short messages on colourful pieces of paper and use origami to fold them into stars, known in Japanese culture for bringing luck, then place them in a glass jar. The jars are given to young patients undergoing treatment when they most need messages of hope. This connection allows the survivors to share their experience of fighting cancer, healing and life after cancer. Stars in a Jar currently has 12 volunteers, including a Paralympic athlete.

Natania has accumulated close to 1,000 volunteer hours to date for her co-curricular record. The nursing student would like to specialize in oncology once she’s out in the workforce—and continue volunteering with sick children. So Stars in a Jar is only just the beginning! For all these reasons, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is proud to name Natania the Centre’s October 2016 volunteer of the month.

September 2016 - Samantha Lalonde

Samantha qui tient une boite lors d’être debout devant une pile de boites | Samantha holding a box while standing in front of a stack of boxes

Samantha Lalonde, a biology student at the Faculty of Science and resident of Vankleek Hill, Ontario, started at the University of Ottawa in September 2015.

When Samantha signed up for the Community Service Learning (CSL) program in her ENV1101 course in winter 2016, she was unaware of the impact it would have on her academic journey. She saw CSL as an opportunity to try something different. Samantha was ready to step out of her comfort zone and wanted to gain some hands-on experience.

For her CSL placement, she selected the University’s Office of Campus Sustainability. During the first half of her CSL placement, she tested the quality of water at the drinking fountains around campus then later went on to work at the Free Store. This is where Samantha discovered her passion for the environmental sector. “Environmental sustainability is beneficial to everyone because we help ourselves, our community and the environment,” she says.

Working at the Free Store, which contributes to the goal of zero waste on campus, not only unleashed her passion for environmental sustainability but also prompted her to change her program of study. She will start her second year with a major in environmental science to suit her newfound interest.

During the summer months, Samantha continued to volunteer at the Free Store. With the hours she spends there still continuing to increase, Samantha has already accumulated 140 volunteer hours. She has helped the Greenspace Alliance during the Enviro Week festival in June of this year and plans to carry on her involvement in the environmental sector around Ottawa. Due to her contributions to the health and well-being of her community, we have chosen Samantha Lalonde the Centre’s September 2016 volunteer of the month.

As Samantha goes into her second year, she’s convinced that “volunteering can give you the opportunity to learn new skills, apply your knowledge and find your passion.” She tells the Centre that she plans to remain involved in her community and will make sure to check the Community Engagement Navigator for new placements in the environmental sector. Congratulations Samantha for this volunteer of the month award and for your contributions to helping us become a zero-waste campus!

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