University of Calgary

ucalgarycares puts students in front lines of social issues

UToday HomeMarch 22, 2013

By Brittany Vine

University of Calgary students got involved with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans — one of three Reading Week initiatives. Photo by Erin KaipainenUniversity of Calgary students got involved with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans — one of three Reading Week initiatives. Photo by Erin KaipainenHomelessness, disaster recovery and food insecurity are growing public concerns.

During Reading Week at the University of Calgary in late-February, more than 50 students participated in ucalgarycares (formerly Calgary Serves), engaging directly with these pressing issues.

ucalgarycares provides a unique service-learning experience for students, culminating in an immersion program of volunteering and learning in the community. This year the university’s Centre for Community-Engaged Learning hosted three programs over reading week: Building Community in New Orleans, Food and Justice in New Orleans, and Homelessness at Home in Calgary.

The Building Community program focuses on understanding what makes a strong community, while learning about the multifaceted issues facing New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina. Volunteering with Habitat for Humanity’s A Brush of Kindness program, this group addressed urban blight, providing painting and minor repairs to homes in the New Orleans area. Students experienced a breadth of community in the city while visiting Musician’s Village and the historic Treme district.

The Food and Justice program focuses on connections between food insecurity and social issues. Post-Katrina New Orleans is a hub for local food movements, providing students the opportunity to volunteer and visit four different urban farming and community development projects. Students developed an understanding of the systemic social justice issues that are tied to food insecurity in New Orleans, while connecting their learning to the understanding of food systems in Canada.

Through the Food and Justice ucalgarycares program, students visited the Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans, a program that integrates hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school curriculum. Photo by Erin KaipainenThrough the Food and Justice ucalgarycares program, students visited the Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans, a program that integrates hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school curriculum. Photo by Erin KaipainenThe Homelessness at Home program was an intense four-day immersion experience in downtown Calgary. Volunteering at the Mustard Seed, students participated in learning activities such as Day in a Life to gain appreciation for the issues of mental health and homelessness in the city.

“Perhaps the most enlightening of experiences was a night spent without heating, followed by a day ‘evicted’ onto the streets,” reflected Zahra Clayborne, a third-year psychology student and Homelessness at Home participant. “When it comes to us and those on Calgary’s streets, we are far more alike than we are different.”

Throughout the program students participate in reflection activities and group discussions encouraging connections between the programs, their fields of study, and personal experiences. Some of these reflections are shared on the program blog.

Students interested in participating in ucalgarycares programs next year can submit applications beginning September 2013 and are encouraged to watch the CCEL website or Facebook for updates about upcoming programs and applications.

 

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