My Time With The LSE – A Coop Story

1.MAYAfter getting my acceptance into the University of Calgary’s Coop Distinction program, my head immediately filled with what can only be coined “Overactive Imaginings”. I saw myself working in a stylish office downtown – where important meetings were held behind closed doors, where Business Formal was the only uniform, and where the fast paced lifestyle would rival that of an episode of Suits. I pictured skyscrapers, shiny cars, high heels and important dossiers…

…I’m nothing if not dramatic.


What I never expected was to find a listing for a Service-Learning Assistant here on campus, a Coop position with Leadership and Student Engagement (LSE). It caught my eye, however, nestled neatly in and among the of other job ID’s that flood Career Link in the month of March. I didn’t apply for it the first time it ran across my screen. I was in Political Science, I had my sights set on Law school, and working with the LSE’s Community Engagement portfolio didn’t look to be a piece that would fit into my life’s overly complicated puzzle.


If I could go back in time and talk some sense into that skeptical third year student, I would do so in a heartbeat.


It wasn’t until a particularly crowded holiday dinner towards the end of the semester that the Service-Learning Assistant position found its way back onto my radar. Though I had applied for multiple other Coop positions, none had filled me with the excitement I thought I craved, none had inspired in me the same feeling that my Coop acceptance had brought. It was at this point that an acquaintance from campus approached me, one with whom I had shared stories, jokes, and little else.


Alycia Lauzon was the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Leadership and Student Engagement Office, and had spent the last 10 years of her life connecting students to volunteer and service learning opportunities in a way that shifted many of their lives. While she has now left the University of Calgary to pursue her dreams, she has been replaced by Andrew Barry – my boss, my friend, and an inspiration. At the time, she spoke with me about her position and the fulfillment it gave her, and throughout the night I found our conversation leading me down a path that I had never expected.


I wanted the Service-Learning Assistant position. More than that, I needed it. The thought of helping students connect with their community, the thought of combatting isolation in our city through volunteer projects and intercultural programs brought me joy. For the first time in my Coop search, I wasn’t thinking about what would help my career – I was thinking about myself.


This job has offered me so many opportunities and I am hard pressed to count them without losing track. I have been tasked with sharing some of these opportunities and these tasks with you, but please be aware that no words can accurately describe the depth of what our portfolio truly does.


Day of Service

The Community Engagement portfolio at LSE run two one-day service events throughout the year, the Day of Service and the Night of Service. During these programs students are matched with community partners. The participants spend their day learning about the impact these organizations have on the community, and helping with a volunteer or service activity.


At the beginning of my first Coop term, my coworker Hannah and I were tasked with running the first Day of Service. A program limited to first year students, “Day of Service” is unique in that it marks many students foray into the University, just as it marks the Service-Learning Assistants’ foray into their new position. Hannah and I quickly jumped in to the planning and administrative work involved in the Day of Service – contacting community partners, recruiting Team Leaders, marketing the events to new students. With the success of Day of Service, Hannah and I felt a pride in our work that to this day has been unsurpassed. It was a moment where we realized we could do amazing things, both in this position, and in our futures.



The main programs run by the Community Engagement portfolio, ucalgarycares encompass between five and six immersive programs that run for between 1 and 2 weeks. The programs we ran in the 2017/2018 ucalgarycares cycles are as follows.

  1. Homelessness at Home: a partnership with the Mustard Seed, Homelessness at Home is a Calgary program that teaches students about the difficulties and barriers faced by those who are homeless or financially burdened.
  2. Sustainable Cities: our second in city program, Sustainable Cities teaches students about the four pillars of sustainability (Nature, Economy, Social and Wellness) and how our city is tackling these pillars through different organizations.
  3. Global Citizenship: our only limited program, Global Citizenship sees a group of first year students visiting Toronto and learning about what Globalization means, how it affects individuals, and how they can become responsible and globally conscious.
  4. Culture and Community Development: Culture and Community Development is currently our only international program. It is also our longest, with participants spending two weeks in Costa Rica, helping volunteer with our partners on La Isla Chira
  5. Indigenous Leadership and Engagement: a program run in late summer, Indigenous Leadership and Engagement occurs in the Yukon, where students communicate and learn about Indigenous communities and their traditions and culture.

These 5 programs have consisted of the bulk of our work during the past 10 months. I have had the pleasure of being involved with volunteers, participants, community partners and other incredible individuals in the facilitation of these events. Although the workload can vary from slow at times to mind blowingly busy at others, it has never felt less than an absolute privilege to be a part of the admin and facilitation work with ucalgarycares. From recruitment, to organizing workshops, to leading volunteer events, to creating Project Leader binders, the experience has been a thrill.


Other programs/projects

As well as the Days of Service and the ucalgarycares programs, this job has a beautifully diverse range of programming that students can take advantage of, some of which I am listing below.

  • Tzedakah-Sadakah: An Interfaith collaboration with the Faith and Spirituality Centre
  • Trick or Eat: A Meal Exchange program wherein students go “Trick or Eating” for food donations that will then be delivered to both the SU Campus and Calgary Food Banks.
  • Involvement Advising: Wherein staff at the Leadership and Student Engagement office offer co-curricular advice for students who wish to be more involved on campus.


Fast forward from that conversation with Alycia, almost 12 months to the day, and I am both sad and exultant to be moving on from my time as a Service-Learning Assistant. I am sad for losing the feeling of fulfilment I get every day when on my way to work, sad for the friendships that will undoubtedly change once my daily routine becomes my daily memory, however I am exultant for the student who will receive the same opportunities that I have. I find myself thinking about the individual who will replace me, about the frustration, the pride and ultimately the joy they will feel in this position, and it makes me smile.

Whoever you are, I hope you are reading this, and I hope this position expands your horizons in the same beautiful way that it has for me.

-Meghan Day (PS: That’s me on the right)

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Toronto Trip Halfway Discoveries

The past four days in Toronto have given me some of the most amazing volunteer opportunities, captivating discussions and lifelong memories. The day after arriving, we took a walking tour of downtown. Despite having lived here before, I saw it through a new lens and learnt interesting facts about the city that I was unaware of before. Afterwards, we attended a social justice presentation where we not only learnt about social justice, but also took part in the cooking and really bonded as a group.


Since then, the activities we engaged in and late-night discussions we have had make me think we are not first-years who were mere strangers a few months ago; it feels as if we have known each other for years. We have not only been discovering our strengths together, we have also been discovering what issues fuel our passion. We all want to make a difference, but the realm of social justice is vast. Whether it is playing with children at Safe Haven, putting together ‘Good Food’ boxes at FoodShare or learning about Indigenous culture at the Native Child and Family services centre, this trip helps us all find what inspires us.


Today was one of those remarkable days that, as one of my friends Bella would say, seemed to “light a spark” in us. We volunteered at the Parkdale Community Food Bank and met some of the most kind-hearted individuals. After helping with restocking and unloading the food truck, we had the privilege of personally giving supplies to many of the foodbank users. Seeing first-hand just how happy someone can be about receiving a necessity that we often take for granted was incredibly humbling. Even more amazing was the selflessness of the people I met; before taking the food, one lady asked if there was enough for the others. After the foodbank, we travelled to the Native Child and Family services centre, which is an awe-inspiring building that ties together beautiful architecture with rich Indigenous culture. Not only did we participate in a smudging ceremony and learn about sweat lodge purifications, we also had the honor of learning from Terri, who is an amazing woman with a remarkable story. Despite being adopted by a non-Aboriginal family and not being able to meet her birth parents, Terri learnt about her Indigenous roots herself and became involved in her community to help children who could be in similar situations. She learnt the value of Indigenous culture and now aims to eliminate the stigma and create a more cohesive Canadian society, which is one of the realms of social justice that fuels my passion.


Personally, I think today was my favourite day. But maybe I will say that again tomorrow.


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The glimpse of Toronto: Global Citizenship

The idea of travelling has always fascinated me. Being a first-year student is an overwhelming position. Many of us are still getting to know the campus, the people around us, constantly experiencing stress and finding it difficult to make friends. Noticing the opportunity of being an active citizen, and getting to travel to a different province, gave me a sense of courage and explore my boundaries. Coming into the first day of the workshop I did not know what to expect. We were shown a video about targeting the idea of privilege and how it is leveled based on a person’s thought of their own privileges. The people who were thought to have less privilege are


Coming into the first day of the workshop I did not know what to expect. We were shown a video about targeting the idea of privilege and how it is leveled based on a person’s thought of their own privileges. The people who were thought to have less privilege are shown to be at the back of the line while those who thought to have more privilege are shown to be at the front. The concept of the exercise is to portray an understanding of what it means to have privilege and how other people have more, or less, than others. The video itself gives an important impact within ourselves and how we value these privileges.


One of the most fascinating workshop I encountered was the By stander intervention. The idea of a bystander just getting involved in scenarios where actions may hurt others can vary in many ways. There are ways in which people may approach it through comfort for the victims. There are also some who approach it in a more direct way. Throughout this workshop I’ve learned that a simple distraction can help.


February 17, 2018, It was three in the morning when I got up and started to make breakfast. I arrived exactly four o’clock in the morning and there was my team leaders, Ahmed and Cassie, and the other girls. We were too tired to even think properly. I even forgot to check in my luggage back when we were about to cross the security lane check; Ahmed and I went back to check in my luggage and when we came back, the nice security let us through the priority lane. We got through before the others, and so we waited for them.


It was almost one o’clock when we arrived at the hostel. We got to settle in our bags and everyone is starving. We all went out to eat at a vegetarian restaurant near us and got our food. The food is remarkably delicious. As an individual, who is not vegetarian at all, I must say this restaurant has some delicious foods to offer.


We all went back to the hostel and the team leaders went to check what groceries we needed for the week. The team leaders and a few volunteers from the group including me, all went to Loblaw to do our groceries and when we finished, we went back to the hostel.


To wrap up our first day we all had free pasta that the hostel offered, and others stayed downstairs to play some board games, some went to their beds to sleep. And by some, I meant me.

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A Night of Service

Image result for HIV Community Link

Inspired, taken back and a new perspective are some of the feelings that arose in me after volunteering at the HIV Community Link for the Night of Service. When our group first arrived at the HIV Community Link, we were led into the presentation room, which was filled with snacks, tea and other beverages. Here was where our perception of HIV/AIDS would be changed forever. We all anxiously waited for Mark, the man who would speak to us about HIV/AIDS for about an hour before we helped with creating Condom packages. As we waited, we could hear a remarkable laughter coming from the end of the hall, the type of laughter that reminded you of a jolly Santa, we soon found out that this was Mark.

Now, let me tell you about Mark. He is truly one of the most inspiring humans I have ever come across. He has a smile that literally lights up the room, he is open to anything and everything (as he says, “there is no bad question, only questions.”), and an aura around him that makes you feel like you have known him for ages. Mark has been living with HIV for almost 30 years; he was diagnosed in the late 1980’s. The stories he told us about living with HIV were remarkable and heart breaking all at once. His perseverance through not only his health struggles, but also the stigma and discrimination he has received as someone living with HIV is truly extraordinary. He presented to us in a very light hearted and personable way a PowerPoint on everything to know about HIV/AIDS including treatment, stigma, statistics and much more. Throughout, all of us engaged in questions and comments that sparked a completely new perspective for us all. Such as the stigma around HIV/AIDS contributing to the lack of knowledge in our society. Or the lack of education in our schools curriculum. Or even the stigma around getting tested for HIV/AIDS, which everyone should do regularly. The one thing that Mark told us that stuck out the most for me is the stigma around HIV/AIDS being associated with “dirty” people or “criminal activity.” People who are living with HIV/AIDS are not gross, nor dirty. They are simply humans who have unfortunately contracted this virus through the “perfect” transmission equation. This statement really opened my eyes, and the groups, as sometimes we have a subconscious view about others based upon stereotypes and stigmas. My experience at the HIV Community Link was life changing and has motivated me even more in the social justice fight. I highly recommend anyone to volunteer at the HIV Community Link or learn about their programs and services that they offer.


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Yukon 2017 – First Days of July

On July 3rd, we made our way to Haines Junction to partake in our community service. Due to the unfavorable weather, our initial plan of staining the Village Bakery deck changed to helping a local community pastor pull weeds from the community garden. Village Bakery provided us with very good complimentary coffee. Their kindness to our group was very much appreciated! Other members helped a local community member cut willow trees and cleaned a domestic area. Although the weather was poor, our team spirit blossomed and allowed us to create a healthy environment where we happily completed our community service.

Following completion of the community service, we made our way to DAKU Museum. We had two informative tour guides that shared with us the historical and cultural knowledge of the local Indigenous communities. We then were shown a fantastic movie regarding the environmental impacts.

We then made our way to Kathleen Lake, where many of the group partook in a 13 kilometre hike. The group members who were unable to make the hike returned to Haines Junction to recycle some goods at the waste management facility. Within the facility, there was a ‘Free Store’ where we got to take some gently used free items! We then returned to the communal cookhouse on Kathleen Lake where we roasted smokies and participated in an insightful NAPI Level 2 workshop.

On July 4th, We participated in an activity called the “Blanket Exercise” in which we pretended to be different First Nations’ communities while our team leaders re-enacted the history of North America’s colonization with us. While the leaders read the cold historical facts, we related on a personal level to these sad events and experienced but a sample of the emotional trauma suffered by North America’s colonized peoples. Afterwards, after many tears shed by all, we added our own emotional traumas and personal relationships to the information communicated during the exercise. The tears continued and many a tissue was used as we became closer as a group over this inspiring activity.

Later in the day, we made our way to Burwash Landing to paint the deck surrounding the community centre; however, we were met again with less-than-ideal weather and were thus directed to some picnic tables in need of repair. After drilling these tables back into shape, we went to the Kluane Burwash Landing Museum where we learned about the local fauna and their habitats as well as the construction of the Alaska Highway.

We came back to a fantastic Fourth of July celebration meal consisting of homemade hamburgers, onion, mushrooms and the like in honour of the American scholars with whom we share the Arctic Research Institute. Although a number of us got together for (another) competitive game of Scattegories, many of us retired early for the night as we had an early start planned for the rocky beach, played games, and then packed our bags to prepare for our departure to Teslin, via Whitehorse morning of the fifth.

On July 5th, we had an early departure back to Burwash Landing to complete our final day of community service on their reserve. Part of the UCalgaryCares group built a gazebo for the community while group members swept the hockey arena and three group members helped an elder fish and smoke salmon. Each volunteer service took the entirety of the day so we were excited to return to a delicious meal made by the professional cooks at the Arctic Institute. We celebrated the birthday of the Director with a delicious roast beef dinner and a chocolate cake. We then played rugby on the beach and had a community bonfire as our final day in the Research station.

-ucalgarycares participants

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Yukon 2017 – First Days


Jake, Yolande, Dakoda, Reigen

June 29th 2017 the U Calgary Cares group landed in Whitehorse ready to stock up with superstore snacks and drive 2.5hrs to Kluane Lake Research Station! Driving up to the research station, we were taken aback by the pristine wilderness and beauty of the Yukon. A warm welcome awaited us with the first of many great dinners, energizing breakfasts, and super lunches. The cabins here are clean and comfortable, in front of the most amazing mountain lake view.

June 30th, on our first work day we learned that many hands make light and quick work. For our first volunteer job, we were tasked with helping clean a quaint bed and breakfast owned by a woman named Polly and her family. They had been living on this farm since the 1970s, an area rich in the history of one of Yukon’s gold rushes. On part of the farm, lay the ghost town of a former mining community known as Silver City, named not for the valuable mineral, but for the silver foxes that were raised there until the 1940s. The yard in Polly’s farm bed and breakfast was cleared out in 1-1/2 hours leaving us with enough time to go on a short hike up the hill behind her house. Silver City in its hay days held 2000 people, all that is left are stories and a few wooden fallen down houses. The doctor, the RCMP buildings, the shelves were still visible. The glacier silt slowly filling up the insides so only the second floor is above ground. We lunched in an old cemetery overlooking the stunning Kluane Lake. Following our hike we drove approximately 45 minutes north to Burwash Landing to help paint the deck of the the community hall. Upon the completion of this task, we travelled back to the Kluane Research center for another outstanding dinner. After dinner, we had a team bonding games night. We played scategories until our stomach’s hurt from laughing so hard.

July 1 The following day was Canada Day. We travelled the 2 ½ hours back to Whitehorse to attend the Adaka festival. The Adaka festival was a cultural festival held by the traditional communities surrounding the Whitehorse area. We all attended a workshop for most of the day. Tessa’s aunt Whitney taught us how to make our own harvest bags. The harvest bags are used to hold berries, mushrooms, plants, and small animals such as gophers or rabbits.

After dinner at the Boston Pizza in town we headed back to the research station. We began the drive at 10 pm and arrived back at 1 am. During the drive we saw the famous midnight sun of the north. The sun never truly went down and the sky was as bright as the early morning. This made for a spectacular sunrise-like sky during the whole drive back.

July 2nd We remained at AINA today, volunteering, cleaning, and working on another N.A.P.I. workshop about building strong communities. It is incredible how much stuff scientists need and over the years the equipment piled up and up. After lifting, piling and sorting wood, steel, steam drills and many many boxes, some of us, the very brave ones, took a cold dip in the lake in the warm afternoon sun! An arctic dip in a blue lake surrounded by mountains. What else would we want? Tonight we are in for more stories about the research center and the glacier park by Michael, who runs the camp.

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Bringing Perspective to Homelessness at Home

Prior to the service learning program, I thought I knew what it would be like to experience homeless… but I was wrong. After the eye-opening experience, I learned a lot about mental health, homelessness and social action with my peers during the program. I was glad to have the opportunity to work with the Mustard Seed and learn about their operations, community and the stories. Hearing stories and having conversations with individuals added a human and personal touch to the issue of homelessness. As members of society, we have a lot of work  to do if we want to eradicate homelessness in society and raise awareness of the issue.  After completing the program, I had many questions and thoughts in my mind about how this could happen in a prosperous city. There is no simple solution or answer to the problem but we can start off small and work together. Volunteering and community engagement is very important to create an inclusive and open society in cities around the world. Small gestures can make a huge difference in someones life such as volunteering or donating clothes to a local organization. We must use our privilege and help vulnerable and marginalized groups and make our cities a better place to live.

-Niko C.

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Work in Progress


It is the fourth full day in New Orleans and I am sitting in the living room of our volunteer bunkhouse, chatting and laughing with eight other University of Calgary students that I hardly knew five days ago, although it seems like we have known each other for much longer. There are girls swapping clothes in the room to my right, and a group collaborating on what to make for dinner in the kitchen on the left. This volunteer trip has so far been an amazing experience in terms of bonding and growing with a diverse group of people.

Together, we have experienced fresh beignets, group photos in front of many monuments and walking tours through the glitz and glam of New Orleans. We have also spent many hours weeding organic lettuce crops and cleaning up the damage that a tornado can have on a bungalow. My wheel barrel and shovel skills have vastly improved, and I have learned how to position myself while weeding to minimize lower back discomfort. We have jumped around to different parts of the city each day, which has provided an amazing perspective about the dynamics and complexities of New Orleans.

The most impactful day for me so far has been going to Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower 9th Ward, which is an urban garden run by the charismatic, intellectual and say-it-like-it-is Nat Turner. He is working to tackle the very complex challenge of bringing food justice to one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the States. It seems as though there are ongoing (and very large) roadblocks with what he does, but it is inspiring to see what can keep someone going if they have enough belief in what it is that they have committed to. Among the many experiences that affected me from this one day in the Lower 9th Ward, one sentence particularly stuck with me. Nat mentioned his mom always told him, “For those who are given much, much is expected.” I think that helping those in need, whether it be picking weeds for an afternoon or committing long term to an organization, is a social responsibility that I hope to further act on.

For me, this week is a work in progress. It is the beginning of friendships with my fellow ucalgarycares volunteers and the beginning of learning about this dynamic and amazing city. And this trip is hopefully the beginning of actively helping individuals, communities and cities that could use some support.




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Setting the Stage: Global Citizenship

When I first signed up for the ucalgarycares Toronto program, I was just looking to make some new friends. Adjusting to the changes and challenges of university can be difficult and this trip seemed like a great way of helping me with that. Although I was right about the ‘new friends’ part of it, I didn’t realize that before even going on the trip, I would learn some valuable information. The pre-service workshops were not only a great way to meet my team, but also introduced me to the topics that we would be discussing on our trip.  There were two workshops that resonated with me the most: Privilege and the Active Bystander Training.

I never had a problem with talking about privilege as I had done it within so many contexts previously. However, this time, the conversations we had as a team were so well thought out and so knowledgeable. I looked at privilege from a different angle and learned to assess my own privilege with a more intersectional approach. This was challenging as when most people are confronted with their privilege, their first reaction is to explain it. Privilege should not be explained; it should be discussed, acknowledged and then acted upon. This workshop was by far my favorite as I loved listening to what my team had to say about the topic as well as sharing our own experiences with privilege.

The active Bystander Training was also a favorite of mine and I might be biased since the facilitator was absolutely fantastic! It’s always challenging when you’re put in a situation where you know you should speak up, but you’re not sure of how to do so. We learned the different approaches of being an active bystander as well as the different methods of intervention. It was very helpful to be able to visualize the situations and think of the best method to approach each one.

We will be leaving for Toronto tomorrow and I couldn’t be more excited! Everyone on my team is so unique and we all have something great to bring to the table. I am definitely looking forward to all the engaging conversations that I am sure we will have and the different organizations that we will be working with. I have to admit that I am a little nervous about having to cook dinner for everyone because I don’t want to mess it up! My dinner group is amazing though, so I am certain we will figure it out. Now we just have to pack and take off!

-Haya Bakour



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Building Healthy Communities in New Orleans

“Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed levees and exploded the conventional wisdom about a shared American prosperity, exposing a group of people so poor they didn’t have $50 for a bus ticket out of town. If we want to learn something from this disaster, the lesson ought to be: America’s poor deserve better than this.” – Michael Eric Dyson

What word comes to mind to describe New Orleans to you? Jazz? Gumbo? Mardis Gras? Beignets? Voodoo? Art? The options of such delightful facets so deeply rooted in New Orleans’ history are endless, but they also make it easy to avoid the harder truths. For example, as tourists we drool over New Orleans’ famous southern dishes, whereas in reality the 2014 Map the Meal Gap project revealed that 38.4% of the city’s families with children could not afford enough food.

New question: what word comes to mind to describe post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans? Destruction? Poverty? Death? Insecurity? Race? Neglect? Does this mean these only existed as a result of Hurricane Katrina? In reality it did more than wreak physical havoc and tragedy on the city; it exposed the raw destructive processes taking place there long before nature imploded upon it. Despite this it has since been used as an explanation for the insecurities surrounding food, housing, education, race and economy to detract from the true social climate in the States. Perhaps rather than being seen as a cruel misgiving of nature whose effects were greatly accentuated by the inequalities pre-existing in these social factors? Why is it natural disasters tend to move the hearts of strangers more than disasters that are a product of human design? These are questions we are highly anxious to explore.

In our pre-departure state, it is true that we are only armed with our preconceived notions of New Orleans’ culture, and the statistics of Katrina conveyed by the media. As equality advocates and more importantly humans belonging to a global community, it is imperative that we delve deeper to discover the truth of New Orleans; that it is the epitome of resilience, but also contains a community that has long been hurting. This is why it is so important that we go there and educate ourselves on what exactly determines a healthy community, the roots of how this is lacking in New Orleans and, most importantly, how we can apply this knowledge to build it both there and in every community we enter in the future.

In light of the current social and political climate in America, I feel we are more driven than ever to embody a resilient nature, like that of New Orleans’ citizens, and face off against social injustice and oppression to install equality in all its forms. February 19th cannot come quick enough.

-Ellie C. (ucalgarycares BHC in New Orleans participant)


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