Volunteer of the Month - Recipients for 2018-2019

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 2019 - Abhishek Pauranik
Learning, teaching and experiencing different cultures through volunteering
Abhishek standing in front of Tabaret Hall

Abhishek Pauranik is an international student from India completing a master’s in mechanical engineering. Since beginning his studies at uOttawa, Abhishek has taken part in over 10 volunteer placements on campus and in the community. “I wanted to volunteer ever since my arrival in Canada, to better understand Canadian culture and know the community I was going to live in during my degree,” he says.

As an international student, Abhishek had a great opportunity to be a mentor for international students’ events with the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Engineering Design. Knowing what challenges he had faced when he arrived in Canada, Abhishek was able to assist and share tips with new international students. Similarly, through the uOttawa International Office Buddy Program, he was able to help international students navigate the campus and participate in networking activities to find potential summer internships and kick-start their careers. “I did these placements because I wanted to give back to the community. When I first arrived here, my buddy was extremely helpful to ease me into University of Ottawa life,” he says.

Abhishek’s favourite volunteer placement was with the Great India Festival, where he was on the operations team. “I got to connect with people from my culture as well as promote it to my University of Ottawa friends from all different cultural backgrounds,” he says. Abhishek adds that he’s moved a step up with the festival — he will be learning new skills by managing a team of his own this summer.

For all of his accomplishments, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is proud to name Abhishek Pauranik volunteer of the month for April!

By: Catherine Lemay

March 2019 - Samantha Featherstone
Volunteering that helped shape a future career path
Portrait of Samantha Featherstone

Samantha Featherstone will soon graduate with an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Studies and Modern Languages (French Immersion). Through eight extraordinary volunteer placements, she has discovered that she wants to pursue studies and a career related to the environment.

When Samantha was asked about her favourite placement, she picked not just one, but two! Both were part of the TD Environmental Leaders Program.

Her first placement, in partnership with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, focused on bat conservation. “I learned and did a lot during this placement!” she says, mentioning topics such as conservation and endangered species, along with activities such as engaging with the public and even some research.

Group of students working outside, doing yard work

As for Samantha’s other favourite placement, she still gets to enjoy it since it’s a three-phase project at the Winthrop Court Community House, affiliated with the Pinecrest-Queensway Community Health Centre. In the first phase, Samantha did hands-on work, helping with weeding, mulching and installing landscaping material in the community garden. “As for the second phase, I’ll get to engage with the residents to gather information on their concerns, what they would like and would not like to see in the garden, present to them what plants they collectively want and educate them on what a rain garden is and how to take care of it,” says Samantha. On top of that, as project team leader, she coordinates the student volunteers, stays in contact with the community partner and ensures that the project runs smoothly.

Overall, Samantha assures all students who question whether they want to get involved with community engagement that “volunteering is a lot of fun” and to “just go for it!”

By: Catherine Lemay

February 2019 - Maddie O’Neil-Johns
Social Justice: The Benefits of Involving Youth in the Conversation
Portrait of volunteer Maddie O'Neil-Johns

Maddie O’Neil-Johns is a first-year undergraduate enrolled in the Conflict Studies and Human Rights program in the Faculty of Social Sciences. At first, Maddie was not convinced she wanted to participate in the Fall 2018 Community Service Learning program (CSL) offered as part of her introductory course in Women, Gender and Feminism (FEM1100). Even so, she took the time to look through the CSL placements, and when she saw one with Youth Ottawa, she quickly took the plunge and never turned back.

Close up of care package

During her volunteer placement as a civic action facilitator, Maddie guided a Grade 10 Civic Studies class through an eight-week program called “A Day of Information for a Lifetime of Action (DILA).” She facilitated class discussions about social justice issues in the community and took initiative on a topic that was important to the Grade 10 students. “Youth have the best ideas; they are so open to others’ perspectives; they give amazing feedback and are so creative in how they can change things for the better,’’ said Maddie in explaining why she loved working with youth groups. Together, the class decided to help new immigrants and refugees in Canada, more specifically those coming to Ottawa. Maddie helped run the class and guided students with the logistics of their fundraising activities, which included bake sales and in-school drive-ins. They spent the money they collected on supplies to create care packages and personalized welcome notes for the newcomers. “I liked my placement so much that I have decided to do extracurricular volunteering with Youth Ottawa in the upcoming months of March and April with another Grade 10 class.”

Students presenting care packages - DILA program

Maddie’s placement supervisor Hélène Boulay said that “although [Maddie] is a freshman, she showed as much professionalism and autonomy as any older student. Maddie understands exactly the mission of Youth Ottawa and our programming, and she knew how to inspire the young teenagers she worked with.’’

When Maddie finished her placement, the students gave her positive feedback, asked her to stay longer, and even gave her a thank-you card.  This just shows how much you can influence others by “giving back to the community and improving it in any way you can,’’ said Maddie when asked what community engagement means to her.

By: Catherine Lemay

January 2019 - Luka Vukovic
Building skills for success while sharing one’s passions
Student volunteer teaching young children to rock climb

Luka Vukovic is a third-year biomedical student in the Faculty of Science. Last summer and fall, he took on quite a few volunteer placements through the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement’s community engagement Navigator.  On campus, he is an active volunteer and advocate for two student clubs: uOttawa People’s Republic of Delicious, and the 2018-2019 uOttawa Catalyst Student Science Journal.  Earlier this fall, he was also a guide during Welcome Week for the Faculty of Science Students’ Association. During the summer, he volunteered with uOttawa Office of Campus Sustainability’s Free Store.  But it was his year-long volunteer work with Christie Lake Kids, a not-for-profit organization that aims to enrich the lives and prospects of economically disadvantaged children, that attracted the Centre’s attention.  

Portrait of Luka Vukovic

Luka currently volunteers in the Skills through Arts and Recreation (STAR) program, a Christie Lake Kids initiative that helps build physical, social and character skills in children.   He took on this volunteer placement because it allows him to introduce kids to the sport of climbing, one of his favourite hobbies.  As Luka reflected on this experience, he said that seeing children come to appreciate this sport is very rewarding.  He remarked that the children’s social and athletic skills developed through their participation.  “It’s easy to notice how pushing the kids to express themselves and take risks helps them develop more confidence, not only in rock climbing but also in life in general,” said Luka.

Luka added that this placement had met his expectations and helped him develop specific skills, including leadership, communication and teamwork.  He said he would recommend volunteering with Christie Lake Kids to other students.  He also believes that everyone should give back to the community in a way that speaks to them.  As for Christie Lake Kids, they agree, adding,  “Luka has been an awesome Christie Lake Kids volunteer and advocate.”

For his  commitment to improving the lives of others, including younger generations, the Michaëlle Jean for Global and Community Engagement is pleased to name Luka Vukovic as January Volunteer of the Month.

December 2018 - Brady Hodge

Become a better you through volunteering
Student volunteer standing in front of a group of scout children

Brady Hodge is a second-year student in the Bachelor of Education program. Volunteering has always been part of his life. For him, community engagement is a way to learn and develop his skillset in different areas of his life. As a kid, he was involved in Scouts, and years later, as part of his university program, he contacted his Beaver Scouts colony to see if he could volunteer with them. It was important for him to go back to his childhood organization, to learn and give back through his knowledge.

Brady says, “A lot of people get scared to ask for feedback or to share their ideas.” An important way of growing is to be open to the idea that we can improve, he feels, and for us to grow, we must keep learning, which includes seeking feedback. This is a growth mindset.

headshot of Brady Hodge

With the Beaver Scouts, Brady loves to incorporate pedagogy from his education program. He believes that youth should be stimulated in every way possible. He loves that they never fail to surprise him and that he makes an impact in their lives and their parents’ lives as well. “You help protect their kid! It’s an honour to be a part of their lives, and to witness their growth is amazing.”

If Brady had one piece of advice to share for students who are thinking about volunteering, it would be to start with your interests and network. He believes that if you want to have an amazing future, you need to start by doing your best each step of the way until you obtain your goals. “Volunteering isn’t paid. It’s an opportunity to push yourself forward without having to worry about your GPA or pay or anything material. Don’t fear failure, but instead, have enthusiasm for your personal growth and success.”

For all of his accomplishments, the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement is proud to name Brady Hodge volunteer of the month for December!

By: Ines Sayadi

November 2018 - Kristine Puzon

Volunteering to expand skills and life experiences!

Kristine Puzon, fourth-year student in Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in International Development and Globalization program, CO-OP and French immersion options, started volunteering in her first year of university.

Four students sitting around a table discussing their research results

Kristine had just moved to a new city and wanted to try something new. She knew full well she would become bored if her life involved nothing but going to classes, so she took the leap into volunteering. Her first placement was an extracurricular volunteering (EV) opportunity with Youth Ottawa, an experience she says truly helped her create links with people. She loved it so much that she continued volunteering with the organization during all four years of university. After completing many EV placements, Kristine had the opportunity to participate in a community service learning (CSL) placement in winter of 2018. She describes EV as “a great program for students, especially for those that do not have the time to volunteer outside of school time. CSL allows student to find the time in their schedule to give back to the community in activities that don’t infringe on their schoolwork.” One of the Kristine’s best memories of volunteering was during a CSL placement she did with Cooperative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF), where she was invited to come back to the organization to talk to individuals about the research being conducted there. For her, it was a very beautiful experience because she was able to actually see how the results of research were used to effect meaningful change.

Headshot of Kristine

Volunteer work helped open her mind to how learning doesn’t take place only in the classroom and how she needs to apply the theories she was learning in class to real life. “The immersive and experiential learning experience I had with CDF opened my eyes to how much more I liked research than any research course I had taken.”

In addition, by working with a bilingual team and doing the French immersion option, she became more comfortable communicating in both official languages. The best advice she has for a student who’s hesitant about taking the leap into world of volunteering? “Do it. Take advantage of whatever opportunity fits your schedule and life at the moment. Work with your schedule, and don’t force yourself to commit when you know you can’t do it. And do some volunteer work outside your field. It resets your mind and gives you new perspectives!”

By: Ines Sayadi 

October 2018 - Christopher McDonell

Christopher McDonell Headshot
Music and medicine make a nice mix for volunteer of the month

Studying medicine for the last year, Christopher McDonell had the chance to volunteer at the Glebe Centre as part of his studies in winter 2018, to meet the first year medicine 30-hour required CSL (Community Service Learning) commitment. When he read the description for the Glebe Centre’s Music and Memory program, he was drawn to it, in part because music was involved, but also because it seemed like a very gratifying experience.

Speaking of the placement, Christopher says, “I gained a lot in terms of communication skills, not necessarily to become a better speaker, but rather a better listener.” He was able to spend time with elderly people, improve their mood while listening to music and, generally, interpret non-verbal cues. This was very important, especially with residents in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s who had difficulty speaking.

For Christopher, the beauty of his placement lay in the small experiences he had with some of the seniors. After his term ended, he continued to volunteer up to five hours a week on a secure dementia unit offering support to residents with various dementia-related behaviours. He would stick around for a few hours playing piano and spending a little more time with them. One of the residents, with advancing dementia, connected with him every time he would play a particular song. She was transported by the music and forgot about her worries.

Student playing piano for two elderly people

Christopher feels that volunteering is an important part of his studies in medical school, helping him decide what type of residency program to apply for. For him, this “is a big decision, since it is potentially a lifelong commitment to a specialty, so it needs to be something we find meaningful and fulfilling.” His placement at the Glebe Centre opened his eyes to the world of mental health and the value of practising medicine where body and person intersect.

Christopher’s advice for someone thinking about volunteering? Don’t overthink it. As with many things in life, it’s like jumping off a diving board. If you worry too much and overthink your approach, you won’t jump and you will never know how much fun it is to hit the water. Sometimes you just need to jump.

For Christopher’s outstanding contributions and engagement, the Glebe Centre nominated him as the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement’s volunteer of the month. We’re proud to award him this title.

By: Ines Sayadi

September 2018 - Elise Hamill

Student smiling and leaning over desk, interacting with two elderly women

A Passion for Care

For Elise Hamill, a third-year student completing an Honours Bachelor of Social Sciences in Political Science, community engagement means “being part of the community in a valuable and meaningful way.”

Elise started volunteering in high school in her hometown of Paris, Ontario. Like all Ontario high school students, she needed to complete her 40 hours of volunteer work to graduate.  That said, Elise really enjoyed volunteering at Telfer Place, a retirement residence, engaging with seniors through recreational activities. Believing in the importance of continuing to engage meaningfully with seniors, her friend told her about the Michaëlle Jean Centre for Global and Community Engagement and she searched for a placement. Given how much she enjoyed volunteering at Telfer Place, she decided to volunteer at Carefor Guest House for those living with dementia this summer.

“I have gained a strong sense of empathy and compassion for the aging population and their families and caregivers,” Elise says. During her time volunteering at Carefor, she learned that the elderly can often feel isolated, and she feels very grateful every day that she can be there with them and be a part of their lives.

Elise describes the staff at Carefor as being very kind and welcoming. She has learned so much from them about dementia and how it affects body and mind. She works alongside the Carefor staff to improve the physical and mental well-being of each individual guest in both group and one-on-one settings by encouraging participation in activities such as physical exercises, baking, and crafts.

The most memorable activity for Elise, however, was a gardening project with seniors. Together, they grew vegetables and flowers, watered and cared for the plants every day and made homemade garden decorations. These activities help provide guests with a sense of belonging, love and accomplishment. In return, Elise was able to spend lots of time with the guests and learn about them, their families and what they appreciate in their lives.

Student standing smiling in front of a garden

When asked why she volunteers with seniors and not in a facility related to her field of study, Elise says it is important to fuel her own interests and to strike a balance. “For the most part, it is simply because I enjoy the experience, and I know it is meaningful work. Also, volunteering is a great way to enhance resumés and provide additional references and skills for future job searches.” Elise believes that volunteers must always be open to new experiences and challenges, be eager and interested in their work goals and have time to offer. But most importantly, they must care for others and prioritize the needs of others and the community.

Elise encourages every student to volunteer. “Your contributions make a difference in the lives of the people you volunteer with and for, and that is valued, necessary and appreciated. It provides so many different experiences and opens up so many doors when thinking about life after university.”

For its part, Carefor continues to seek out passionate volunteers. Sign on to the Community Engagement Navigator or contact them directly for more information.

When asked how her volunteering might influence her future, Elise says that she has become passionate about it and would like to become involved in advocacy work on behalf of seniors. Indeed, because of her dedication this summer and this passion for making life a little bit sweeter for seniors, Elise Hamill is our volunteer of the month. 

By: Zhongjun Huang

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