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Fostering a community in UofGH's ECS program
When University of Guelph-Humber alumna Aren Sammy was a student in the Early Childhood Studies program, she took a Work Study position at the program’s Resource Room and soon learned that it contained a large library of toys organized by developmental domains available for students to borrow for their field placements.
A third-year student at the time, Sammy was struck by how potentially helpful this resource was – and also by the fact that she had not been previously aware that the room was actually a community hub for ECS students.
She has since set out to ensure all ECS students know about the library of toys, as well as the many other opportunities available to them. It’s only one of many ways in which Sammy has set out to make a difference in the lives of ECS students, the rest of the UofGH student population, and the community beyond our campus.
“When I started working for the Resource Room, I realized that the program actually provides so much for students, but we just didn’t know,” she recalled.
“I wanted to make all the resources known. We have the opportunity to create volunteer initiatives and create a social community. It was exciting to realize if there was a resource we would find beneficial to the children in our practicum, we could request it and the program takes it seriously and orders it.
“We didn’t know we had this power as students.”
“The Resource Room is a great resource for students,” added ECS Assistant Program Head Elena Merenda. “It doesn’t only provide them with access to a variety of learning materials to plan curriculum for children and bring with them to placement, but it also acts as a community hub for ECS students.
“As a program, it is important to us that we provide students with opportunities to effect change in the lives of children and families,” she added. “We want them to experience and know that their voices and actions have great impact on children and their families, as this is a valuable lesson in preparing to become early childhood professionals.”
Making a difference
Since Sammy took on her post-graduation role in the Resource Room and as a leader of the ECS community, she has been able to help organize a series of inspiring initiatives on campus.
On Halloween, students in the ECS program celebrated Crafting For a Cure, with stations devoted to carving pumpkins, carnival games and a Halloween card decoration station where students created cards to be delivered to children in the hospital.
Also this fall, students in the ECS program hosted a “We Scare Hunger” food drive, they went trick-or-treating with the children at Etobicoke General Hospital, and they honoured Orange Shirt Day, an event during which participants wear a brightly coloured shirt reading “Every Child Matters” to raise awareness about the negative effects of the residential school system.
Finally, ECS students were proud to be involved with the annual SickKids GetLoud walk, which this year raised more than $2.2 million.
Sammy said it was when she first participated in the ECS program’s annual volunteer trip to prepare dinner for the children and families at Toronto’s Ronald McDonald House charity that she noticed an overwhelming desire among her peers to find other similar opportunities.
“Students always asked. They were always curious. ‘Are there any other events we can help with?’” Sammy recalled. “It’s so nice to see their passion just go way above and beyond what I was ever expecting. It’s amazing to see how these initiatives are sparking something in our students. They’re asking questions and they keep going deeper: ‘How else can I help?’”
“All events and initiatives are planned based on student interest, which is why it was important for us to hire an ECS alumni to plan and facilitate the events,” Merenda observed. “Aren has been a great asset to the room, and she worked really hard to connect with students, hear their interests, and plan events based on those interests.”
Finding inspiration in volunteering
For the students who have been involved in these volunteer initiatives, the benefits have been overwhelming.
“Immersing myself into different volunteer activities has really opened my eyes and allowed me to meet so many incredible and passionate people,” said ECS student Carey Wong, who first attended the Ronald McDonald House event before continuing to volunteer.
“I would consider myself to be a shy person, so making that first step to email and say that I wanted to volunteer was difficult, but I was so glad that I did it because now I want to be a part of these amazing volunteer experiences.
“It was so impactful to see how thankful the families were. I just love giving back and broadening my horizons.”
In fact, Sammy finds that many ECS students are similarly motivated to make a difference.
“ECS students have huge hearts. Especially when there’s an opportunity to support the well-being of a child, ECS students run towards that,” said Sammy, who plans to pursue a master’s degree.
“I made it my goal when I started working here to make sure students were aware of what they were capable of.”