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.

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

Back to top