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Community outreach day benefits agencies and students alike

VOLUNTEER WORK: Students from U of T Scarborough volunteered to paint at a youth group home for East Metro Youth Services, one of several community agencies where students spent a day. (Photo by Vinitha Gengatharan.)

by Stephanie Kang

Every little bit helps, and when more than 100 University of Toronto Scarborough students volunteered their time with a dozen community agencies this fall, they made a big difference.

Celebrating its second year at the Scarborough campus, the oUTreach volunteer day is organized twice annually — once in the fall term and once in winter.

Two years ago, Vinitha Gengatharan, assistant director of student affairs, wanted to arrange a volunteer outreach day specifically at the Scarborough campus instead of sending students downtown to the St. George campus, which had been done in the past.

“I know that there is a lot of need in the local community because I work with various Scarborough agencies,” said Gengatharan. “As well, many students show an interest in volunteering, so putting these two groups together is a good approach.”

“The agencies are always happy to have volunteers from U of T Scarborough because our students come with a certain skill set that many other volunteers may not have,” said Gengatharan. For example, she said the Heart and Stroke Foundation needed help with accounting, so the Management and Economics Students' Association sent business students to provide their expertise to that organization.

At the same time, she said many students helped out with tasks like painting, yard work, and general maintenance -- tasks that many organizations need to do but lack the budget or resources to take on themselves. This year, a total of 112 students gave a day of their time to such causes.

The day not only benefited the organizations, but also served as an eye-opener for the students, said fourth-year public policy major Sumita Kanga. Agencies such as Juliette’s Place, a women’s shelter for victims of violence, and Rosalie Hall, a home for teen mothers, opened the eyes of many female students to some problems that affect women their own age and even younger, said Kanga. This outreach event helped students to see firsthand how they can help to address social needs that they might not have realized exist in their very own community, often within walking distance, she added.

Kanga served as a student coordinator for the fall event and will continue coordinating for the upcoming outreach event, Reading Week Reach Out, which will take place in February. “As university students, we read in our textbooks about problems like social inequality and poverty, but it’s important that we use our knowledge to actually do something about them,” Kanga said.

Students can request an organization with which they would like to volunteer, and efforts are made to accommodate their preferences based on the type of organizations: environmental, child services, senior services, health, social justice, poverty and homelessness. With such a wide range of agencies, students have the chance to explore opportunities in their field of study.

Second-year management student Lauren Wan says, “I have always liked volunteering, so if there’s an opportunity I always try to take it, and I think other people should do the same because it just feels good. You cooperate with other students and you meet new people.”

Fourth-year biology and health studies student Sara Damji volunteered at Goodwill Services. While oUTreach is primarily directed to the Scarborough community, Damji’s assistance with the sorting of toys and clothes will also aid children in Africa. “Goodwill gets a lot of donations and the stuff that is not sold to the local community is sent to places in Africa,” Damji explained. “It definitely made me feel good that Goodwill is helping out not only the local community, but also in a larger international setting as well.”

Students receive a certificate for their volunteer work, in addition to the inner satisfaction of knowing that they helped give back to the community. Sumita Kanga added that a volunteer placement at the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health will look pretty good on a psychology student’s résumé.

The next community outreach volunteer day at U of T Scarborough will be called Reading Week Reach Out. It will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008, so mark your calendars.

To sign up as a volunteer, contact Sumita Kanga at sumita.kanga@utoronto.ca or Vinitha Gengatharan in student affairs at vinitha@utsc.utoronto.ca.

Stephanie Kang is a third-year English student at the University of Toronto Scarborough. She is currently working as a co-op student in Marketing and Communications.












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