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.

Posted in Student Posts | Leave a comment

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.




Posted in BHC New Orleans 2017, Reading Week 2017 | Leave a comment

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



Posted in Global Citizenship 2017, Student Posts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

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)


Posted in BHC New Orleans 2017, Reading Week 2017, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Homelessness at Home

The ucalgarycares Homelessness at Home program run through the Leadership and Student Engagement Office at the University of Calgary is centered around learning about the complexities of homelessness in Calgary. It is an active learning process that benefits both the people at the Mustard Seed, and the student participants in the program. So far, we have had two workshops to prepare us for the adventures that lie ahead of us over Reading Week. We had a general introduction to the statistics and supports available to the homeless population in Calgary, as well as an invigorating workshop on the idea of mental health, and how that ties into homelessness.

I was a participant in the program last year, and can honestly say it was the most engaging experience I have had in my university career. I chose to become a Project Assistant this year, to further enhance my knowledge surrounding the homeless population of Calgary. I want to learn ways to help people in Calgary experiencing homelessness, and determine possible ways eradicate presence of homelessness. I hope to further my knowledge surrounding the social mobility, and supports available to those experiencing homelessness. Most of all, I would like to transfer my knowledge to the students at the University of Calgary, to create awareness that will hopefully motivate students to want to make a change.

-Nadia E. (Project Assistant)



Posted in Homelessness at Home 2017, Reading Week 2017, Student Posts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Reframing Sustainability

We are well underway of our exploration of sustainability as the third pre-service workshop approaches! I am very proud and happy of the team of students and staff we have on board this year! I am very fortunate to be able to come back to the ucalgarycares Sustainable Cities program and to have been able to witness the growth of the program, its participants, and their impact within the past year.

The pre-service workshops so far have helped us in forming an understanding of the vision of sustainability – easily breaking it down into a compass labelled Nature, Economy, Well-being, and Society, respectively. These four ‘directions’ serve as the pillars of sustainability and what it means to work to meet the needs of the present without sacrificing the future. The first workshop was an opening challenge as the team got to work together for the first time– as much as we wanted to separate different issues into standalone categories, we soon discovered that the pillars are exceedingly integrated into every topic we touched.

The team then embarked on a Sustainability tour around campus, in which we were introduced to UCalgary’s initiatives in designing a healthier, collaborative, and more sustainable environment for all. Some stops included EEEL, the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum certified building on campus, and the TFDL Quad.


I can’t wait to seeing what the other student participants have to say as we move forward in explore what it means to combine human action, natural systems, and social justice into the umbrella of sustainability in the UCalgary, City of Calgary, and global perspective!

Until next time,

– Stephanie L.

Posted in Student Posts, Sustainable Cities 2017 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Waiting Game

The countdown begins – we are approximately a month and 8 days away until our ucalgarycares Reading Week programs are in full swing!

In the meantime, stay tuned to our blog in the upcoming weeks for blog posts from the participants themselves as they begin their journey into service-learning!

-The Community Engagement Team


Posted in Student Posts | Leave a comment


Before arriving in the Yukon, the group completed levels I and II of the N.A.P.I. program. The N.A.P.I. program is based on the University of Calgary’s leadership training program, however it has been modified to include Indigenous perspectives and knowledge. On our second day at AINA, we all gathered in the classroom to begin level III of the program. We began by participating in an exercise about the process of colonization. In this exercise, we identified words that we associated with Canadian identity. Then we were forced to choose which of these ideas we would keep if we could only choose ten of them. This was a difficult process, as it necessarily involved sacrificing certain core values in order to retain others. Then, two of the participants were asked to leave the room, and returned to negotiate how Canada could hypothetically be divided up while only speaking in a different language. This exercise got us thinking about what negotiating treaties might have looked like, and how conflicts between different worldviews would have caused breakdowns in communications and unfair power dynamics. Then we watched a video about a Cherokee community who, after waiting for years for the U.S. Government to provide clean drinking water to their community, took matters into their own hands and built a pipeline to transport water which was an unprecedented action. This related to discussions we had been having about community and the importance of taking initiative. It also demonstrated indigenous concepts of self-determination.

On the third day at AINA, we gathered again in the classroom for the second part of the N.A.P.I. program level III. We discussed ideas concerning humanitarianism and globalization and talked about its benefits and consequences toward a community. Humanitarianism, as defined by us, is a type of service that a person can do to another person; but being in training for the N.A.P.I. program, humanitarianism is not just about the people anymore. Humanitarianism, for us, is now defined as a service that a person can do to another person, animal, tree, or nature in general. Humanitarianism is not all good either. There’s a term commonly known as the “white saviour syndrome” which describes the type of service done by people to others that cause more harm than help. This idea led to a talk about globalization and how it affects communities in the micro and macro level. Health and well-being, economy, and culture were ones of the many topics that we talked about. After weighing the benefits and consequences of globalizing such topics, we have concluded that there are as many benefits as there are consequences. For example, in health and well-being, globalizing health treatments and strategies will broaden the knowledge in the medical field, however this will create an uproar within the people because many are close-minded and are unwilling to accept the belief systems of other cultures.

Jordan and Xyleen

Posted in Summer 2016, Yukon 2016 | Leave a comment

Arriving in the Yukon

June 30th, 2016

It’s hard to believe it is only day four!  Our days have been packed with activity which is making the time fly by.  Tessa and Alycia (our fearless leaders) warned us in our pre-trip workshops to be prepared, as our daily plans could change on a dime…be open to the adventure! Our journey to Whitehorse began on Monday, June 27:

6 am meetup at the Calgary airport, we flew to Vancouver first for a quick layover before boarding again to Whitehorse.  Upon arrival in Whitehorse, we purchased postcards to send home to family and friends.  From there we picked up our rental vehicles to make our way to the Artic Institute of North America (AINA) – the research center we would call home for the next several days.  The Alaska Highway welcomed us with stunning views of the luscious green belt mountains, beautiful purple fireweed (the provincial flower) peppering the landscape, and a warm sun guiding us to AINA.  What should have been a 2.5 hour drive turned into 3.5 hours.  The AINA sign passed us by so quickly, we did not see any arrows or signage for the next half hour.  After a few detours – checking out roads that led to dead ends, or misguided by the appearance of well-kept lavish outhouses (thanks Angélique) – we realized that the first road we attempted was actually the road that led to AINA.  Sooo “60 minutes later, we were actually a minute away” quoted Tessa, lead driver.

This was our first lesson in letting go of concrete plans, and being willing to get lost and explore.  What better place to get lost, than alongside the Kluane Lake where AINA is situated! We finally arrived around 7 pm, where we were greeted by Sian (base manager), the camp dogs, and amazing food.  Settling into our cabins for the night, we attempted our first sleep in “the Yukon” daylight.  Or do I simply say “Yukon”? The debate continues…

Day 2: June 28

Tuesday was our first official day in the Yukon. After breakfast the crew participated in a N.A.P.I. workshop focused on the concept of “community” which lasted till lunch. We then prepared our daypacks for a journey to Haines Junction. Haines Junction is a very small community with an amazing museum/cultural center. We went on a guided tour through the museum where we learned all about the history of the Southern Tuchone peoples including: trade with the Tling’it Nation, the traditional footpaths prior to the construction of roads or the Alaska Highway, and some effects of the residential schools. The second portion of the tour included learning about the mountain ranges and ice fields (glaciers). Fun fact #1: Mount Logan, located in the Yukon, is the tallest mountain in Canada, and is also the largest Massif in the world. In normal people language this means: Mount Logan has the largest mountain mass. Our tour concluded with a visit to the gift shop and a movie about Kluane National Park.

Next stop: The Village Bakery. Here we enjoyed some DELICIOUS cinnamon buns, espresso brownies, and other pastry delights. Fun fact #2: The bakery has a pay phone, a gift shop, and a gallery. Here many of us mailed more postcards. After our snacks we hit the road on route to AINA for supper (which was also delicious). The remainder of the night was filled with much laughter and group bonding over board games and nature walks. It was then time to hit the sack, which is much more difficult than it sounds when the sun is still shining. Goodnight.

Day 3: June 29

Speaking of group bonding, the real team work kicked in on our hike along the beach to Silver City.  An estimated 30 minute leisurely walk and “one” creek crossing, turned into a 60 minute crossing of multiple creeks (we are sure building our “go with the flow” muscle!).  Our leadership skills really had a chance to shine as we trouble-shooted the creek crossings; building mini bridges, delegating tasks and offering a hand for support.

Pauly, the owner of the BnB near Silver City, was patiently awaiting our arrival.  This was our first day of volunteer work.  We raked leaves and cut down dead poplar tress (using hand saws) surrounding the BnB cabins. After completing our tasks Pauly took us on a tour of her land, rich with family history, century old cabins, and Indigenous culture. Our tour progressed up a hill where we ate lunch near the Silver City cemetery, a small plot of land enclosed by a white picket fence.  This location offered us a spectacular view of the mountains surrounding Kluane Lake. We could see why people, like Pauly, have fallen in love with the Yukon. Through story-telling Pauly shared knowledge of her family history. She showed us photographs of her ancestors as well as artifacts passed down from her Indigenous grandmother that sparked our imaginations of a nomadic lifestyle pre-colonization; through the lens of a people who lived off the land.

The walk back along the beach to AINA was breathtaking and it felt good to be outside; hiking around, taking photos and fully submerging our feet in the creeks.  The days’ adventures tuckered most of us out so we napped until dinner and continued the second portion of N.A.P.I level three.

Kristel and Angélique, signing off.

Posted in Summer 2016, Yukon 2016 | Leave a comment

Day one of an amazing adventure and life changing experience.

*Homelessness at Home took place on Feb 16-19 in Calgary, AB. Participants had no internet access during that time. The next blog post is a look back to the participants experiences.


Waking up at am to start this journey with the ucalgarycares Homelessness at Home program I was not sure what to expect. We arrived at The Mustard Seed (TMS) around 10:10 am and then we waited for the rest of the group. With everything we would need for this adventure, when the group arrived, we went inside the 102 building and started with introductions.

TMS coordinators for our program explained some history about TMS and then began to go over what our schedule looked like for the week. There were so many things to look forward to and so much to learn and with that the journey began! We took a tour of TMS facilities and got to see the apartments that many of the individuals who have received housing through TMS live.

Next we then went over to Alpha House. The responses to Alpha House were amazing, and the experience was real and heart breaking. We were wondering through a place were people resided, watching them as they observed us learning about the services available to them.

As a group we walked and talked about our experiences so far through out the day and then we returned to TMS 102 building were we received some data on hunger around the world and then participated in a hunger banquet. I am not going to provide all the details of this hunger banquet just in case you ever have the opportunity to attend. What I will tell you was that it is difficult to be separated from others based on choices that you did not make and circumstances alone, this was tough.

After all this, it was time to find out were we would be sleeping for the night. We walked with all of your belongs for a few blocks until we reached a church, beside the church was an old house. Once inside the house we separated girls upstairs and boys down stairs, after this long day I could not wait to rest and honestly I was so looking forward to what tomorrow had in store for us.


-Crystal Caneus (Homelessness at Home 2016 participant)

Posted in Homelessness at Home 2016, Student Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment