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Meet Stefania Baccarella - a CSS alumna making a difference

I was always drawn to working with people, learning about people, and helping people.



More than five years ago, University of Guelph-Humber Community Social Services alumna Stefania Baccarella and her friend, Veronica Marziale, saw a social-media challenge tasking people with performing a random act of kindness.

The challenge had been posted by an account connected to the Jordana’s Rainbows Foundation, a Canadian not-for-profit named in honour of Jordana Fiorini that was looking to raise money for childhood cancer.

Baccarella and Marziale decided to start a fundraising campaign around homemade wish bracelets. Their goal? To raise $500 for Jordana’s fund at SickKids.

Nine months later, the pair had raised more than $40,000 (and the Jordana’s Rainbow Foundation has gone on to raise more than $1.5 million since). Baccarella and Marziale were inspired to continue, and their not-for-profit — called Love and Above — went on to raise more than $50,000 for research into diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (a type of brain tumour that disproportionately affects children) and donating $23,000 in gift cards during the holiday season.

When Baccarella originally decided to take on the fundraising challenge — working feverishly with Marziale to stitch together enough bracelets to keep up with demand — she had just graduated from UofGH and recently started the University of Toronto’s Master’s degree program in social work.

In other words, she didn’t really have time to tackle such a major charity project. But characteristically for Baccarella, she just couldn’t resist an opportunity to help people.

Focused from a young age

Baccarella is now a social worker at Mackenzie Health in York Region, and she can honestly say that she is living her childhood dream.

For as long as she can remember, Baccarella wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a social worker. She still has vivid memories of seeing her mother in action professionally growing up. She saw her mother’s daunting workload – how her desk was always piled high with documents, how her inbox was always packed with emails – but she also saw the difference her mother was making in the lives of her clients.

Baccarella knew the challenges of the job would be worth it.

“I remembered people coming into her office and asking to sit with her for a half hour. I knew she didn’t have the time, but she always said: Yes, come on in,” Baccarella recalls. “I remember every minute she spent with somebody, that person would feel like the centre of the world.

“I was always drawn to working with people, learning about people, and helping people.”

Baccarella began her undergraduate study at a different University, but began to feel that she was not making enough progress toward her career goals.

“At that University, I remember feeling really lost about how my degree would connect to a career,” she said.

So Baccarella decided to transfer to the University of Guelph-Humber. The highly focused Community Social Services program, the supportive and close-knit environment at UofGH, and the opportunity to gain professional experience through a series of field placements were just a few of the factors that contributed to her decision.

As it turns out, the placements Baccarella completed gave her exactly the kind of sense of career direction she had been looking for.

Baccarella’s first placement was at a retirement home, where she was grateful to have the chance to speak one-on-one with Holocaust survivors, whose stories and experiences she has carried with her. Next, she had the opportunity to work with an entirely different demographic at 360 Kids, where Baccarella got more valuable experience helping risk youth.

Her final placement, as it turns out, was also formative, as it was with her current employer: Mackenzie Health. Although there were a few years between her field placement and her eventual employment at the hospital, Baccarella says that going into her job interview with previous work experience at Mackenzie was a major help.

“I spent my interview talking about my undergrad experience at the organization,” she recalls. “It was such a huge foot in the door.”

Now, Baccarella finds herself in a fast-paced position at the hospital where no two days look the same. She works as part of a multi-disciplinary team of healthcare professionals who work tirelessly to support any number of patients and families around the hospital.

Baccarella loves her work, though the pandemic has made a difficult job even more challenging.

On the harder days, Baccarella thinks back to her courses at the University of Guelph-Humber, where her instructors imparted important lessons about the value of self-care.

Those lessons still help — and so does the social support network that she formed at UofGH, which has endured years after Baccarella’s graduation.

“It really helps having friends in the field and, honestly, I made incredible friends at the University of Guelph-Humber,” she said. “We were essentially in the same lectures together all day, every day in school. Now, we keep in touch. Even though we’re all over Canada, we’ll still get together once a month and do a FaceTime call and talk about both good things and our frustrations.

“They help me so much. No one understands what you’re going through like someone in your field. I definitely think those friendships and relationships will last well into the future.”