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UofGH's Early Childhood Studies program raises $1,000 for the needy

The University of Guelph-Humber’s Early Childhood Studies program and its students recently raised more than $1,000 for Hand Up Toronto’s Kits for a Cause initiative, ultimately helping to create 40 winter warmth kits that provide clothes and other warm gear to protect people in need from extreme cold weather.

The kits – which include things like gloves, mittens, thermal socks, polar fleece blankets, winter hats, fleece scarves, lip balm, body lotion and sleeping bags – are being distributed to people who are homeless, newcomers and refugees, children, youth and family programs, and street outreach programs.

Due to social distancing guidelines, staff in UofGH’s ECS program packed the kits themselves while tucking personal messages written by students inside.

Usually at this time of year, ECS students pack gift boxes to send to people in need abroad. This year, they considered the pandemic and decided to give back locally.

“I think this has been a really eye-opening experience for the students to understand and feel the impact they’re capable of making in their own community,” said Dr. Nikki Martyn, Program Head of Early Childhood Studies at UofGH. “The ECS students are just the most loving and caring group of people. They constantly surprise me and fill my heart with joy over what they achieve and how much they give.

“They’re constantly in a place of giving and a place of gratitude. It’s really inspiring.”

Fostering a community virtually

The Kits for a Cause drive was just one of many examples of ECS students trying their best to replicate the close-knit community feel they’re used to on UofGH campus in a virtual context.

The program opened an online ECS lounge where students could go and start video calls with classmates in their cohort. They organized Netflix watch parties, threw a virtual Halloween bash, and Dr. Martyn along with Assistant Program Head Dr. Elena Merenda both hosted weekly student chats while also gathering for a popular Instagram “Breakfast Club,” in which they’d share their experiences in the field working with children and families, and life more broadly.

“All community initiatives were about getting connected with other classmates, making social spaces, and providing tips and tricks for balancing work and mental health,” said Aren Sammy, Early Childhood Studies Program Events Coordinator. “Overall, the feedback was positive, and students felt supported and loved despite the distance, but nothing can replace that in-person social and learning experience. All students are hoping to be back on campus soon but until then, online community initiatives are helping them feel less isolated.”

While the pandemic did prompt the ECS program and students to focus more of their energy on nurturing an internal community – something that would normally happen naturally on campus – they felt it was important to continue to give back to the external community as well, hence the Kits for a Cause fundraiser.

An UofGH alumna herself, Sammy says that she knows first-hand how empowering it can be to learn that you can get involved in the community and personally make a difference in someone’s life.

“The most beautiful thing about ECS students is they come into this profession because they want to help others. No matter what different experiences brought them to the program, their intentions are all the same,” Sammy said. “Giving them the opportunity to help different populations that are in need cultivates students’ passion and helps them find direction in how they want to help post-graduation.

“After watching this process for four years, I’ve seen students find their place in community support and known that their care work will not just be a semester, it’ll be a lifelong contribution.”

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