Working as the Community Engagement Assistant

Working as one of the Community Engagement Assistants this past year has taught me so much. From allowing flexibility in your working goals to learning how to be patient and lastly, to learning how to be confident. Most importantly, working at the Leadership and Student Engagement office has taught me how important it is to have a supportive working environment, from your cubicle to the amazing coworkers around you.

My first day walking into the office was me being very nervous. I was not sure what to expect (as it goes for your first day at your first job). I walked into my cubicle to be greeted by a desk filled with Mean Girls’ references (Yes! I said Mean Girls References). Most importantly, I met my co-worker (the other Community Engagement Assistant), Thao. Little did I know, that I was going to become really great friends with her throughout the term! I also met the amazing LSE Staff and Summer Staff for that term who were all very welcoming!

In the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, there are many portfolios such as Student Leadership Development, Student Life, Orientation & Student Involvement, Community Engagement and the Marketing & Communications. Each of these portfolios are ran by various roles from professional staff to student staff. The Student Leadership Development portfolio runs programs such as the Peer Helper Program, Camp LEAD, Emerging Leaders Program, the Sophomore Leadership Program and many other programs. The Student Life portfolio supports developing connections with friends and mentors on campus through their programs such as Unwind Events, Last Lecture Series, Meet-Up and many more. The orientation department mainly focuses on the transition of first year students into the university with their programs such as: Fall Orientation and First Year Counselling.

The Community Engagement Office is the department which I work for. I report to Lindsay Desrosiers who is the Community Engagement Coordinator. Under Lindsay, there are two student positions which are mostly ran by Cooperative Education Students. The two positions are one position split into two which is the Community Engagement Assistant. This department mainly focuses on getting involved and giving back to the community with many of their ucalgarycares programs such as Global Citizenship in Toronto, Homelessness at Home, Sustainable Cities, Cultural and Community Development in Costa Rica as well as Indigenous Leadership and Engagement in the Yukon. They also host programs such as Tzedakah-Sadaqah and Trick or Eat. The entire Leadership and Student Engagement Office report to Carllie Necker who is the manager of the office.

Creating great bonds and friendships was one of the biggest highlights for me during these work terms. During the Summer, we had multiple student staff lunches that we would go out to together. One of the funniest times I still look back at is when we got into a debate on which fries on campus are the best, then we decided to go out and buy the fries and rate them (Yes, rate them!). Although, most of us were sure it would be Carls Jr. curly fries, it was a runner up with OPA Fries who came in first! So in case you are ever looking for which place to buy fries on campus, you can always use LSE’s rating scale. {Pictured Below}. We also bonded a lot when we had shifts to give University Tours, sometimes we would give them together and these were very insightful as every time I would learn something new about the campus from one of the student staff!

Furthermore, these friendships helped us along the way when the busiest times came in during Orientation. I was not exactly sure what our role in Orientation would be except for organizing the Day and Night of Service event. But walking in to the first day of Orientation was so busy! I was handed a Orientation Leader t-shirt and we ran to the opening ceremony where all you could hear were these awesome faculty chants {Pictured Below}. This week was the most exciting week of this entire work term because this is the week where we used the team bonding which we developed over the summer to work together and help each other in different Orientation events. We took part in some awesome initiatives like being panelists, giving presentations, partaking in Ask Me Tents and of course, facilitating and running Day and Night of Service.

When we started working on Day and Night of Service, it required quite a bit from us; which consisted of emailing organizations asking them if they would like to collaborate with us. I also started emailing the previous team leads if they would like to be team leads again. It was an interesting experience as I got much stronger and increasingly confident in writing and sending out emails. Overseeing such a large-scale event where more than 100 people participate helped me learn which priorities I need to balance. Day and Night of Service also required for me to make transportation routes. Although it was difficult to find routes which will align with our yearly budget, I researched many different transportation methods which will be environmentally sustainable as well as financially feasible.

One of the other accomplishments which I am very proud of is my increasing confidence and ability to work with Photoshop. Working at the Leadership and Student Engagement office allowed me to create many projects with Photoshop including Thank You cards for stakeholders and volunteers who worked with us, as well as creating birthday cards which really brought out my creativity! Furthermore, something which interested me was being an interview panelist for one of our ucalgarycares programs. This helped me see how interviews happen from a completely different perspective.

From my first day, until today I have learned the importance of flexibility and adjustment in a professional working environment. During the working transition of my previous supervisor, it was very difficult to take a bigger role in certain tasks. For example, from just assisting with ucalgarycares, it became my responsibility to make sure that everything was rolling as per previous years and keeping up with the Coordinator’s Transition Binder. However, this was not that difficult since I had so much support from the lovely team here at the LSE. Carllie Necker (Manager) assisted both me and Thao a lot during this difficult period and would constantly check up on us to make sure we are doing great. This also taught me the importance of appreciation and how much it helps you work harder during a difficult time. Although a difficult transition, a good and positive workplace helps you wake up and look forward to a new day at work.

Believe it or not, I had a lot of fun during this transition as I learned things I probably would have never learned before. I also gained confidence to talk to people and initiate conversations as I was liaising with many stakeholders for programs like Tzedakah-Sadaqah, ucalgarycares, Diversity Days: Night of Service as well as Trick or Eat. Promotions for ucalgarycares were also a very exciting.  We would go every morning to put up posters, which resulted as a great bonding time for me and Thao. As Thao likes to say, putting up posters really helped me excel in my stapling skills! Promotions also involved setting up a Mean Girls Table (Yes, I said Mean Girls) for which we ordered a Bob Ross and Justin Bieber cut out to take pictures with! The hardest part of promotions were class talks, although difficult, they allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and help me align with my learning goals to work on public speaking skills. As the last class talks approached, I became increasingly confident in my ability to speak to larger audiences.

In addition, working at the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, I developed an increasing passion in becoming more environmentally friendly with my everyday decisions. Because of this, I have been planning on taking courses offered by the Environmental Design Faculty over here at University of Calgary. The course offered here is called Exploring Sustainability, it explores a variety of topics such as climate change, governmental laws and the campus itself!

When I was looking back at what we did and what advice I would give to the students coming into this role, I came across what I wrote in my first ever Co-op Reflective Report, and if I must say so, my advice would be exactly the same today:

“My advice to new Co-op students would be to feel comfortable in their workplace. It may seem overwhelming at first, but everyone understands how much stress you may be facing on your first day. I would also advice Co-op students to develop networks not only within your own workplace but also outside your workplace with other offices. It is important to leave a good impression on anyone you meet.”

These connections are not only important right now, but they are very important in the long run and will help you in the future!

In conclusion, when working in a professional environment it is extremely important to allow for flexibility as well as understanding that adjusting to extreme changes is a very great skill to possess! However, it is also important to be mindful that if you are going through change, there are also others around you facing the same changes, so always bring your most positive mind to work! As it was once said:

“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” —Kakuzō Okakura

Therefore, thank you to everyone at the LSE for always bringing the most positive side of yourselves to work everyday regardless of the difficulty changes. This positivity is what encourages everyone to come to work the next day and do it all over again!

-Samira Sohail

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Funny how the time did fly…


As I drink a warm cup of coffee and reflect upon the journal I have kept for my past year, and my third and final work term as a co-op student working in a professional work environment, the best summary for my experience would be that life is more fun when we allow ourselves to adapt to different situations.  A lot has happened in the (almost) year as a co-op student with the Leadership and Student Engagement office (LSE).  I have been afforded a lot of opportunities to adapt and grow in my past year as one of the Community Engagement Assistants with the Leadership and Student Engagement office, with successes and failures, but failures only lead to an end when we don’t grow from them.  I learned the importance of individual accomplishments, but I also learned to appreciate the success that comes from being adaptable when working in a collaborative environment.

When Samira, the second Community Engagement Assistant, and I began our first week with the LSE, I was incredibly nervous about how well I would fit in with the office and staff.  Being adaptable can mean working on deadlines, but still taking time to do wellness activities that help “reset” the mood, so you can continue working.  62239277_377852619525704_3091422562358394880_nThese can be 15-minute walks to stretch your legs or if you are promoting LSE programs, a good chance to put up posters! Enter the Orientation team, Alisia, Kyle and Quentin, Student Life Assistant Kelsey, and Leadership Ambassadors Winnica and Victoria, who kept the spirits up in the back office of the LSE with conversation and fun team activities like “Fryday: The Great Machall French Fry Taste Off” and luncheons in The Den and Last Defense Lounge, to keep us from feeling too overwhelmed with looming deadlines. 

In the first work term, planning the Day and Night of Service event for Orientation was the first big project.  For context, the Orientation Day and Night of Service is a one-day volunteer opportunity for UofC students to participate with a group of their fellow peers to volunteer and learn about a local non-profit organization in Calgary. Samira and I were incredibly nervous as the big day loomed near, and we checked Trick or Eat (9 of 63)and double-checked that we had everything prepared for all the participants.  On the Saturday morning of Day of Service, Samira, who takes Calgary Transit, was caught in a service delay (of course!), and we stepped up to communicate remotely while coordinating the first 30+ participants into their groups and on their way to their volunteer organization, with great success.   Thinking on our feet and having “survived” our first surprise obstacle, we knew going forward into our next projects that we would always find a way through any unexpected surprises that may come up in our plans. In our second co-op term, Samira and I worked on separate events in the Community Engagement portfolio, and we would schedule “Tea and Talks”, which were one-on-one meetings to step away from our desks, get a cup of tea, update each other on what we were each working on and provide support if needed.  Work is important and a priority, but it should never take precedence over my emotional and physical health. With the frenzy of activity during those months, from ucalgarycares applications, planning for Tzedakah-Sadaqah and Trick or Eat, Trick or Eat (58 of 63)our Tea and Talks were not only a way to provide professional support, but a chance to update each other with news, laugh over memes, and enjoy each other’s company over a cup of tea once a week.  Additionally, we had daily, informal check-ins with LSE staff where we would give updates on our lives, provide support when needed, laugh about the latest reality show episode or (jokingly) rage about current events.  It was such a pleasure being able to both work and grow with such a caring and uplifting team that I hope everyone has a chance to experience and thrive in a similar working community.

As a student majoring in Economics, I dove into the Community Engagement Assistant position both curious and determined to utilize the knowledge I have gained from my degree into MicrosoftTeams-imagean unconventional job  While yes, I did not need to make economic models or calculate cost-benefit calculations, I learned to appreciate the importance of organizing data for program proposals and concise record keeping when planning and facilitating events.  I saw the beauty of data visualization that I did not fully appreciate until I had to use it in a professional setting.  I learned to plan deadlines, and how to divide those deadlines into smaller, more manageable deadlines.  I learned that no matter how well you may prepare, anything can happen at the last minute, and that it is not the end of the world if something does not go exactly as planned.  And I learned that an office thrives when it is a supportive environment, and that someone will help, if you ask.  Trust that you are capable in succeeding in any challenge, keep a clear and open mind, and be open to new experiences. 

  • Thao Tran
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ucalgarycares Night of Service Reflection

Here is what some students had to say about their experiences at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre:

When I volunteered at the University of Calgary’s night of service for the Drop-In Center, I saw a less-fortunate population that I could have to opportunity to serve.  Upon arriving, we were welcomed into the centre by kind volunteers, and were given straight forward tasks to do that would help serve the homeless population a meal.  I was struck by the appreciation that the homeless population showed, their polite and thankful manners, and especially by the applause they gave us for doing such a simple task such as serving them.  Although I attended another day of service with the University of Calgary, as well as served meals previously to the homeless, I had never had such a moving experience as I did in Calgary.  This experience has opened my eyes to recognize the needs around me and it has motivated me to strive to do all that I can to help others in the community.  The University of Calgary’s night of service was a meaningful opportunity that I would definitely do again in the future. -By Naomi Bell

Another student states:

We went to the drop-in centre and served a dinner meal for the people there. The situation helped me understand how everything works at the drop-in centre as this was my first experience volunteering there. Everyone was very grateful and we all felt very overwhelmed by the love that we received. It taught me the significance of a meal and I will continue to use this experience to remind myself to be grateful for all the little things that I often take for granted. -By Afshan Goswami

Overall, the experience of the ucalgarycares students at the Night of Service was fantastic. Students also became really great friends and went to get ice-cream afterwards.

Samira Sohail

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An Unexpected Place

Day 194: 16 more days to go…

C.S. Lewis once wrote that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one’”…and throughout my time here, there were a lot of these moments, and friendships that were born.

Throughout this past (almost) year, I have learned many things. I’ve learned how to set goals and accomplish them, like –asking more questions, but then learning to not ask too many questions, and breaking large tasks into small ones and staying organized. I’ve learned that it is important to make to-do lists and follow them, so that I don’t forget tasks, and I’ve learned how to use Photoshop (which was a ton of fun). But the most valuable, and unexpected, thing I have learned is how, not just one, but many friendships can be born in the most unexpected places. My unexpected place was the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, where I met some of the most supportive, dedicated, and hilarious individuals who all have one common goal: to create positive experiences, and a community for students.

To give you some context, the Leadership and Student Engagement Office is split into four different portfolios. There is Orientation & Transition, Leadership, Student Life, and Community Engagement. I was a part of the Community Engagement team but had the privilege of working with or getting to know everyone in the office. The office is also an open space where most of the professional staff have offices with doors, whereas the student staff work in a more open space, and there is a front and a back of the office. During the summer some of us from the back of the office started having “9 a.m. check-ins” with each other. The “9 a.m. check-ins” consisted of updating each other with news from each of our lives. In these meetings we laughed, a lot, but also supported each other through some tough times. Through listening to the stories of others I also had many “What! You too?” moments. Nisha who sits across from me, but who I can’t see, always came to work with funny stories and anecdotes of current or previous experiences with life. Amy, and Shannon sat in the back with us as well for the summer and were regularly a part of the “9 a.m. check-ins”. Helen, who was then part of the Orientation team would also occasionally join. Brielle was the other Community Engagement Assistant and someone I sat beside every day of this experience, without who I would not know as much about Belize, ice skating, Miss Universe candidates, and Mangonadas. Andrew was my supervisor. He provided me with guidance throughout my experience, answered all of my questions, assigned me fun work tasks (like planning Trick-or-Eat), and always had a “Real Housewives” quote ready to add to any conversation to keep things fun. I was inspired by his dedication to think of new and innovative ways to draw students’ attention to our programs, like wearing life jackets to promote our ucalgarycares Costa Rica program, or wearing a unicorn onesie to catch people’s attention while collecting donations for the SU Campus Food Bank. He has a way of keeping things positive and fun that, in my opinion, draws more students to want to be a part of our programs. This friendly and fun personality has even gotten him free coffees from Starbucks, and sandwiches from Subway (which regularly happened).

As the summer came to an end, I was excited to find that new student staff would be filling the empty desks in the back of the office. Enter the Leadership Ambassador team Winnica, Tyler, Dan, and well Nisha (who just couldn’t leave us so she transitioned into another role). This team of fun individuals added even more positivity to the office atmosphere (which I did not know was possible). We were also introduced to the new student life assistant Srishti as well as Helen, who was previously the Orientation Academic Assistant. More laughs, more talks, and more “9 a.m. check-ins”.

Two more people who are part of the LSE professional staff and inspirations that made a big impact on my experience were Heather and Vicky. They were regular attendees of “9 a.m. check-ins” but were also always willing to, and enthusiastic about, answering questions I had that related to programs and events that they organized and ran. Another inspiration and drop-in attendee of the check-ins was Renata who, despite always being busy and going from meeting to meeting, usually eating on the fly, and always looking 100%, managed to fit-in some story sharing into her day.

An amazing group of people.

To further illustrate what some of these moments looked like, here is a real-life example: I was cleaning up my desk area one day when I found a long bamboo stick located between my desk and Brielle’s desk. As it was an odd thing for me to have found, I pulled it out and laughed with others while trying to figure out how this stick got here and where it came from. As I mentioned before, Nisha sat across from me but I could not see her, so I took this stick and put it across both of our desks (where it has been sitting ever since). Not knowing how she would respond, I told Nisha that if we each grab one end of the stick we can be holding hands because we already couldn’t see each other… she laughed.

55690726_266826567553493_3567244839277821952_nThis became an inside joke and a “What! You too?” moment when I realized we had the same sense of humor. We later found out this stick was used to hold up a plant in the office but we kept it at our desks anyway.

I was very grateful to be able to have moments like these, especially between my busy times of planning and preparing for an event or program or writing up a report, or doing research for a potential new program.

While writing this blog I came to the realization that I might not know when to stop writing. How much is too much? But it is hard to decide to introduce some people and share some stories and not others, when everyone and every story has had a considerable influence on my time here.

These individuals who I was introduced to as my co-workers, but will leave as my very close friends, have taught me what it means to have support in a workplace. Throughout the events and programs that took place, from Trick-or-Eat, to recruiting students for ucalgarycares programs, to collecting donations for the SU Spring Food Drive, I knew I could always count on them to be there to provide support for myself and the Community Engagement team.

With 16 more days to go I’ve come to realize that probably the only downside of this whole experience, is that after April 12th, I will no longer be working here with these individuals and be able to regularly see them. It just goes to show how much of an impact the people you work with can have on your overall experience, and I was lucky enough to be a part of this team.

I’m not only leaving this job with many friends but also an overwhelming sense of what a good community looks like. It looks like this:54730563_527528590988141_8523325919891292160_n

Pictured above, from left to right: Winnica, Heather, Vicky, Andrew, me, Nisha, Helen. These were some of the people I could gather for a last minute group photo, and no Nisha and I did not coordinate our outfits.

I would like to thank everyone that I have not mentioned, for the friendship, advice, collaboration, and stories they offered and shared. So thank you to Travis, Gareth, Carllie, Shirin, Xing, and Clare and everyone else I have mentioned.

As Andrew would say, and Tina would sing “you’re simply the best”… office.

  • Milana Leskovac


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Working as a Community Engagement Assistant at Leadership and Student Engagement


As one of the new Community Engagement Assistants at Leadership and Student Engagement (LSE), I walked in, on my first day, filled with excitement and enthusiasm about my new position. I remember that day so clearly. I woke up that morning and my mom gave me a big hug before I went out the door. She wished me luck and hope that I had a good first day in my new co-op position. I was very excited because it was the first time I would be working in an office setting, and I have always liked to have new experiences. Since then, I have grown immensely as a young professional, learned many new skills and made great connections. As my final co-op term nears its end, I can say that I am very grateful for the experiences I have had as well as for all that I have learned throughout this whole experience.

Throughout my year as a co-op student at the LSE, I have been fortunate to have many experiences that have allowed me to grow and succeed as a young professional. One of my favourite experiences was being a part of the interview team for the ucalgarycares programs. During the summer and fall months, I had the opportunity to take part in interviews for the Project Assistant positions. This was my first time interviewing candidates for a job position and I had a very positive experience during this process. I also had the pleasure of notifying the successful candidates. This process was very informative for me as I learned about interview etiquette and how to hold a professional manner, as an interviewer.

I also participated in the Homelessness at Home program, which was another highlight of my co-op experience. This program is a four-day immersive program where students volunteer at the Mustard Seed’s downtown location, where they get to provide service through volunteering as well as learn about the root causes of homelessness, addictions, and mental health. It was really rewarding to see the program take place after assisting with the organization of this program. The program was a life changing experience because I was able to speak with people who have experienced homelessness, as well as people who have struggled with addictions and mental health. It really opened up my eyes to the root causes of homelessness, addictions and mental health and allowed me to experience vulnerability when sharing with others as well as hearing the stories of others. I had the opportunity to connect with so many people from different walks of life. I learned how express a new level of empathy for others when I heard stories of struggle. I also had the opportunity to connect with staff at the Mustard Seed, which was also an amazing experience. It was great to connect with the staff involved in making a difference in the lives of those in need. It inspired me to work hard to make a difference in others’ lives and showed me how rewarding that would be.

Throughout my time at the LSE, I have been a part of many events that have been held on and off campus. Some of these events include the SU Spring Food Drive, Diversity Days Welcome Lunch, Native Centre Blanket Exercise and many more. One of the most memorable events that I took part in was the Tzedakah-Sadaqah event at the Dashmesh Culture Centre where I learned about the Sikh religion. I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer in the kitchen and serve food to the people in attendance that day. This was a very enriching experience for me because I had the opportunity to connect with new people and provide a service at the same time. One of the student representatives from the University of Calgary gave us a tour of the Dashmesh Culture Centre and presented us with a talk informing us about the Sikh religion. This event was a positive experience for me because it was very informative and I felt very welcomed by the staff members there.

Overall, as my third term reaches an end, I am very grateful for my experiences at the LSE because I can definitely say that I will come out of this co-op role a lot more knowledgeable and confident about myself as a young professional. It was a very informative experience and I am happy to have been a part of the Community Engagement team at Leadership and Student Engagement. This experience has allowed me to grow my skills and become even stronger in my communication and time management skills, among many other skills. I am so glad that through this experience, I have learned the importance of resilience, hard work, and a positive outlook. I am so grateful that this experience allowed me to grow as an individual and achieve many successes. Even though this chapter will soon be over, my time working as a co-op student at the LSE will be an unforgettable one. I am excited to take all that I have learned and use it to elevate my successes in the future. Lastly, I would definitely recommend the Co-op Program and working at the LSE to undergraduate students wanting to expand their knowledge and experiences, in addition to connecting with inspiring professionals who are passionate about their work and the difference they make in their communities. Being a part of the Co-op Program is an opportunity that has been life changing for me. I would like to encourage students to apply to the Co-op Program, so they can have opportunities to grow as a young professional and have incredible experiences just as I did.


-Brielle Usher

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“Education is the New Buffalo”



It is after 4:00pm, February 22nd of the year twenty-nineteen, which was the last moment of the Sustainable Cities program in Calgary, Alberta. As I reflect on our experiences during the program, I realize that I have made new friends and feel more included in my university community. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the activities organized by the leadership team, including Andrew Barry, Tyler Warnock, and Kelly Kay Spurlock of the Leadership and Student Engagement Office at the University of Calgary.

One of our experiences that resonated with most if not all of our group was the presentation by Cree and Métis Elder Kerrie Moore in the Native Centre.  As she spoke of emotional healing of the spiritual, emotional, physical, and cognitive self, we found ourselves calm and perhaps deeply connected to our truest spiritual selves. As I looked around the room, I saw nods of acknowledgement and appreciation for her profound wisdom and knowledge, particularly when she spoke to each of our identities as being colonized at some point in history.  In terms of social sustainability, this experience helped illuminate the issue of empowering persons experiencing deep emotional trauma, such as the Indigenous-Canadian population. It seems that they are best supported with appropriate emotional therapy and sensitivity.  Elder Moore also spoke about the importance of earth-based learning and teaching in reconnecting peoples with their most healthy and intuitive spiritual selves, in order to build more robust and loving communities.

A certain activity we did with Stephanie from CAWST helped to build our group community through brainstorming social, economic, and environmental solutions for prevalent global issues.  This was also one of my favourite activities throughout the week, since we worked so well in our sub-groups to develop three unique, thorough civic engagement solutions.  Each sub-group was tasked with illustrating their social, economic, or environmental portion of a holistic solution and each other group helped in building the whole picture.  As a small community, I believe our teamwork and feelings of connectedness really increased with this activity.

Additionally, our volunteer experience at the Calgary Food Bank clearly highlighted our strong ability to work as a team and our like-minded thinking.  Although we didn’t like the abundance of plastic packaging used by the Calgary Food Bank, we worked efficiently in our two groups of six to sort assorted food donations into packages and distribute 4000 pounds of potatoes into individual bags.  Perhaps we were left with some unanswered questions about the operations of the Food Bank, however this encourages us to think about how the social, economic, and environmental sustainability related to our experience.

Our week challenged us to think of issues faced by marginalized groups such as those with physical accessibility needs, Indigenous persons, persons burdened by lower socioeconomic status, and populations around the world with limited access to the basic needs of safety, sanitation, and preliminary education.  During one of our last reflections, we identified that the location of the Food Bank in relation to the rest of our city could be a barrier to accessing its resources by people who rely on those services.  Our tour of the East Village, and our week travelling by transit and walking, helped to inform our opinion that the Food Bank is just too far away from hubs of activity and rather specific in its proximity to public transit to effectively facilitate increased social capital. As participants in this university program, and citizens experiencing Calgary’s triple bottom line of social, economic, and environmental sustainability, we are now better acquainted with the impact of our own lifestyles and privilege, and are more aware of opportunities to contribute to our communities in a good way.

-Amanda Chau

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Homelessness at Home 2019 Reflection

It’s difficult to put into concise words the range of emotions I experienced throughout the week on this ucalgarycares trip. Before embarking on this journey, there was the expected excitement and nervousness as I tried my best to mentally prepare myself for four days packed with learning and community engagement. However, what I did not anticipate was how connected I would feel with the people I would meet, how emotionally moving the experience would be and the plethora of eye-opening moments I would uncover. In one week, I heard the narrative of downtown Calgary that does not receive the amount of attention it deserves, and let me tell you, it was a memorable one.

Over the course of the trip, my group and I had the opportunity to frequent the Mustard Seed’s affordable housing unit located on Centre Street. It was here that I instantly connected with the welcoming staff and building residents over workshops, art projects and community dinners. Admittedly, these opportunities to engage with individuals were how I was able to quickly grow comfortable to converse with people experiencing homelessness.

On the first day, we were given a detailed facility tour and some valuable insight into the complexities revolving around homelessness and the individuals that experience it. We rotated between the housing units, or the 1010 Centre, and the community center right next door where guests could be treated to coffee with snacks and bingo games. Engaging with community members who were staying at the Mustard Seed is what got me thinking about homelessness in a new light. It feels as though the abstract concept of poverty has now been personalized to me in a tangible form; a concept adorned in my mind with the dozens of faces I had spoken to, heard, and laughed with. It was only after engaging with them that I realized how deeply difficult circumstances such as lack of housing affect more than where one sleeps each night.

One woman I met at the shelter spoke of homelessness in such a casual, yet powerful way over a taco dinner at the community center. “It’s completely unfair to receive the judgement we do, as if we chose to live without a home and we want to be in the situations we are in! Do you know how it feels to be refused help, or not even given eye contact when people pass by you? Do you realize what that does to a person’s humanity?”, she said in between bites of her taco and stories upon stories she shared with me about her lived experience with poverty.

Her words resonated throughout my head as the week carried on, especially during an activity named, “A Day in the Life”, where I spent several hours outside in the icy streets of the downtown area, going about my day as if I was experiencing homelessness too. I was provided with nothing more than a $2 coin, which was what I was allowed to spend for lunch, and the companionship of my colleagues as I roamed through the streets collecting recyclable bottles. We also investigated resources and other shelters around the city such as the Alpha House and YWCA, and interestingly discovered some hostile city architecture intended to deter those experiencing homelessness from populated areas or business locations. In those 7 hours, I got an exclusive view into many daily challenges that people experiencing homelessness go through, including lack of support and acceptance in a modern and developed society.  I also came to realize the unbelievable amount of privilege that comes with being a young, healthy university student living a comfortable life. It was also interesting to note just how far a foot massage could go for a person experiencing homelessness; considering they would be on their feet every day for several hours, usually without adequate footwear! I had previously not noticed such minute details but placing myself in a different perspective had really made them stand out to me.

What also struck me throughout that day was how I had never previously considered so many little things that are necessities for individuals experiencing poverty in a busy and bustling city such as Calgary. Dozens of pressing questions whirred through my mind,

How would I stay warm during the winter if I was removed from every +15 link? Would I be able to collect enough bottles to afford my next meal? Where could I get groceries from if local grocers are too expensive? How would I find a job and pay my medical bills? What if I didn’t know how to write a resume? Where would I get my hair cut? Does anyone even notice me if they walk past me, or am I intentionally ignored by everyone?

As I thought about these questions and placed myself in these situations, the complexities of homelessness and its deep-seated connection with mental illness became much clearer to me.

The third day of the trip was packed with sorting hundreds of clothing donations and cleaning sleeping mats at the Mustard Seed shelter, located in the southeast of the city. The most memorable moment of that experience was laying down on one of the sleeping mats itself. I let my eyes close as I laid there for a few minutes, just to imagine the block of sponge beneath me as my bed for the night. I imagined the large shelter filled with bodies laying like mine; trying to sleep while one person was snoring and while some others couldn’t stop talking. I imagined feeling tired but unable to sleep from feeling worried, angry, lonely, and unhealthy. In those moments, I forgot everything else except for the corrugated aluminum sky above me, and the concrete below me. After gently shaking myself out of my trance of thoughts, our group migrated towards the kitchen to enjoy a hearty lunch prepared by some volunteers. Then, we continued to engage in thought-provoking discussions with the shelter staff. After being nearly four days into the trip, it felt like second nature at this point to serve coffee to some of the guests at the shelter, and I found myself looking forward to being able to chat with them.

Throughout the week, major emphasis was also placed on the intimate relationship between drug addictions and homelessness. It is empowering to walk away from this ucalgarycares trip with a heightened knowledge and awareness of how drug addiction has been affecting our nation, and what is being done to assist those affected. From naloxone administration training to safe injection sites, facilitators from Alberta Health Services elucidated the misunderstandings and controversies surrounding drug addictions. It provides me relief to say I now am equipped with a greater understanding of what causes these addictions and how they can happen to anybody. For me, the key takeaway from this trip was that no matter what a person is going through, they are all human, like anyone else, and do not deserve to be treated as anything less.

Homelessness at Home was a humbling adventure at the core of Calgary, leaving memories that shall reside in me forever. Personally, I felt that this trip was about encouraging me to step outside of my comfort zone to learn something new. After this experience has concluded, I am confidently able to say that those goals were achieved. Now, I see individuals experiencing poverty in our city as just that; individuals, which is what I really appreciate the most about what I took away from this program. I acknowledge that their circumstances do not define them, and that they have their own stories and personalities to share just like anyone else. I invite all my fellow students at the University of Calgary to challenge themselves and embark on this program. This program will allow students to discover fascinating perspectives from individuals bearing experiences from all walks of life and to develop a new kind of relationship with the city you study in.

Written by: Neum Jelani

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“Let food be thy medicine; and medicine be thy food.” ~Hippocrates

Food (or the lack thereof) has an immense capacity to bring people together. Communities revel in their ability to share and experience traditional food, it builds a sense of identity for them. This year I, and nine other beautiful souls had the opportunity to be lead by three more beautiful souls (and their plenty of contacts) into the east of this country and experience what it means to be a global citizen in the city of Toronto. Something that hit me halfway through the trip was this constant motif of food. Not just the availability, the type, the ingredients, if it’s cooked or not, whether it’s served on a plate or in a Styrofoam dish. The vast majority of the organizations we visited were related to the collection, distribution, or improving of food. Be it the Meal Exchange program – promoting healthy meals around university campuses worldwide, the Social Innovation Centre, which uses their tactfully-designed kitchen to encourage collaboration between users, or something as simple as the Church of the Redeemer – providing hot meals for those who need. It was odd, so many different institutions and programs all centered around feeding people. (And, as a hilarious story, the purchasing and moving of entire buildings over a disagreement as to whether someone was allowed to use a waffle iron or not)

Toronto is such a fascinating city, with grand skyscrapers, high-rises, and gold-plated windows that mask the class distinctions on the ground. The poorer sections of the city are altogether scary; smeared in graffiti, cigarette smoke permeating the air, and a variety of litter on the streets. It’s covered up from above, hard to see, difficult to notice. It’s as though some people don’t have a place to fit in in a city five million strong – and it leads to them being forced into these depressing areas to live in. And living is hard in those areas.

Given that my entire degree focuses on the functioning of the human body, I can say for absolute certain that a well fed person experiences more positive mental and physical functioning than a hungry counterpart. This is affected by the amount, quality, and enjoyment of the food someone is eating. Lack of a good diet compounds itself in decreased motivation, turning to other alternatives (alcohol, smoking, or drugs of some sort) to alleviate hunger, and overall depression. To feed someone is to enable them to see the light in a situation that seems otherwise hopeless. It’s these small actions that break one’s mental barrier between being able to wake up motivated or exhausted. Being well fed is the difference between someone riding an elevator or feeling able to take the stairs, compounding in other physical and mental benefits. It sounds ridiculous, I agree; however, to feed someone begins a positive feedback loop that breaks the cycle of alienation and depression someone feels in a city as large as Toronto.

And, of course, a city as large as Calgary.

This program was within the lens of teaching us to become better global citizens. I’ve realized that global citizenship doesn’t mean you forget about home. Calgary is also a massive city, and the issues faced in Toronto aren’t overwhelmingly different than the issues here. We have citizens here trapped in a cycle of helplessness. It’s almost insane to say that a single can of soup will change their life – however it’s a step in the right direction, a step toward motivating people, and a step to fixing the underlying issues we face around the world: homelessness, depression, and addictions. Global problems.

It begins with the satiation of bacteria in the stomach, the firing of neurons, the rush of enjoyment, the temporary happiness, the self-efficacy of ability, the hope, the actions, the smiles, the reciprocity of it all. It’s watching the users of a food bank turn around and work for that food bank. It’s watching ability and hope grow and fester within someone who would never have had it otherwise.

The solution begins with a donation by someone more fortunate. A donation is more than giving a meal, it’s giving hope.

In the wise words of one of my program leaders: Serve, learn, eat, repeat. I’ve had the honor to be able to experience this cycle firsthand – and thanks to those who came on this trip with me, it has changed me for the better. It’s given me hope.

And if there’s one thing we know about hope, it’s contagious.

It goes global.

– Areeb Qayyum


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Finding Yourself in Others


Time: 9:17 pm Toronto local time, Date: last day and last hours of this trip. I am writing this right after an awards ceremony with my team – I am in tears over the fact that this trip is over, but I cannot deny how happy I am for having met such amazing individuals. I am honoured to have known them individually. Each workshop, activity and volunteering session made me learn more about them and connect with them more powerfully. Each individual in this group possesses amazing qualities that are inspiring in their own way. When we did our strength workshop, I learned about their individual characteristics. In fact, I discovered that one of my own strengths is that of individualization. People with strong individualization talents are intrigued by and have an understanding of the unique qualities of each person. Impatient with generalizations, they focus on the differences among individuals, the unique characteristics that make everyone special. Indeed, these individuals who I spent a week with have proven to be nothing but special. So here- I will list each individual and one small lesson I have picked up from each of them:

Rebecca: Fight for change, even when there is no benefit for your own self.
Jemimah: no matter what pain you have, you must always be strong and keep a smile.
Milana: The only person you need to impress is yourself.
Rica: Be ready to jump in and help all the time.
Simone: Never be afraid to be yourself.
Sandra: Importance of self-care during hard work.
Jannah: Love yourself so people will love you too.
Sabrina: Ask questions for the sake of learning and not just for participation.
Jessica: Always be ready and prepared for any situation.
Yi: Never give up in the face of hardships.
Areeb: Never be afraid to take the hard roads.
Kyle: Always see the blind spots in everything.
I am leaving this trip with a mind full of knowledge and a heart full for those people. The world will definitely change to a better place as long as there are people like this group and all the previous groups who participate in trips like this. This trip on its own had taught us many things; most importantly, though, it taught us to think locally and act globally. Our actions always have consequences, whether on the environment or the people around us. I learned most of all to choose our language carefully: we were not on this trip just to help out, but to reinforce the amazing systems the people of this city have already put in place. It’s been an honor.

– Sinit Abraha

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My volunteer experience at Medical Mercy Canada-ucalgarycares Night of Service

Medical Mercy Canada first sparked my interest when I read about their mission. Their mission to help others by providing medical assistance to those in need had really inspired me. They are a Canadian volunteer organization, providing support services to underprivileged persons and refugees in countries such as Nepal and Ukraine. I was also excited to meet other like-minded students who are passionate about service in the same way that I am. I had the amazing opportunity to be a Team Lead for this event where I led a group of student volunteers to the placement while engaging in icebreaker questions along the way.

Upon arrival at the Medical Mercy Canada building, our group received a ten-minute talk about the mission and values of their organization. It was fascinating to hear about the ways they impact the lives of others, especially in countries such as the Ukraine. The staff at Medical Mercy were friendly and answered any questions that the students had regarding the organization and what they do. The duration of our volunteer shift was two hours. This time was spent wiping down walkers and wheelchairs, organizing medical files, and cleaning the area where the supplies were kept.

Overall, I had an enjoyable experience as a volunteer at Medical Mercy. It was rewarding to assist an organization that is run by caring individuals who are interested in making a difference in the lives of those in need. At the end of the night, I spoke with the other students who had volunteered with me and everyone had positive comments to share. Medical Mercy was very welcoming to student volunteers, the staff were kind and informative, and the tasks were enjoyable, especially since we were able to talk to each other and work together as a team.

All in all, I am very passionate about service and giving back to the community.  I believe it is so important for students to learn about social justice issues and volunteer with non-profit organizations. It gives students exposure to world occurrences that they may not normally see or know much about. Not only do these experiences allow students to gain exposure, they also help them become more empathetic to people who may struggle with different things than they do. Moreover, students can carry on this new understanding of empathy and exposure, which will assist in elevating their success in the workplace. Using what they have learned from these experiences, students can help to make their workplace more inclusive and welcoming to everyone.


-Brielle Usher

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