May 31, 2022Print | PDF
Going virtual has created opportunities for the Community and Workplace Partnerships team at Wilfrid Laurier University and Empowerment Squared, a community organization that offers social and educational programs to marginalized and newcomer youth and their families in Hamilton, Ontario.
The two teams have entered a new, mutually beneficial partnership to provide Laurier students with community service-learning (CSL) placement opportunities at Empowerment Squared, allowing the organization to reach more participants with virtual program offerings. As COVID-19 public health measures impacted access to in-person opportunities for students in need of placements – and community organizations in need of volunteers – piloting a virtual partnership during the fall 2021 and winter 2022 terms presented a potential win-win situation.
“Our youth see student mentors as role models and people who believe in them. It’s powerful to hear someone say, ‘I believe in you,’ especially when you are new to the country, its language and culture.”
“The pandemic has changed the way that students can fulfill placements required in service-learning courses, which has resulted in many silver linings,” says Sara Darling, a community service-learning coordinator at Laurier. “Virtual placements allow students to learn and contribute in meaningful ways to organizations within Laurier’s host communities and beyond.”
Sixteen Laurier students enrolled in child and youth studies and community psychology courses led online programs developed by Empowerment Squared, including homework help clubs, home-alone safety courses and mentorship circles. Laurier student mentors met twice weekly with groups of 20 to 25 participants for two-hour sessions, devoting time to program curriculum while also building connections with participants.
“Laurier student mentors created a very welcoming online space for our youth,” says Joana Fejzaj, manager of community development and partnerships with Empowerment Squared. “Our youth see student mentors as role models and people who believe in them. It’s powerful to hear someone say, ‘I believe in you,’ especially when you are new to the country, its language and culture.”
The partnership with Laurier is a first for Empowerment Squared. Its success has inspired Fejzaj to form working relationships with six other post-secondary institutions in Canada. Postsecondary students now account for more than 85 per cent of Empowerment Squared mentors.
“The relationship with Laurier is an asset for Empowerment Squared,” says Fejzaj. “Piloting a program with the Community Service-Learning team has allowed us to amplify our services and support our communities of learners in impactful and empowering ways.”
“The pandemic has changed the way that students can fulfil placements required in service-learning courses, which has resulted in many silver linings.”
Student feedback about virtual placements with Empowerment Squared has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I love that Empowerment Squared has activities that give participants space and time to share their stories,” wrote one Laurier student who led an Empowerment Squared online program. “Participants are empowered to love themselves and believe in their talents – that is so important.”
Providing students with the opportunity to work with community organizations is a hallmark of service-learning courses at Laurier and the Community and Workplace Partnerships team plans to provide virtual placements with Empowerment Squared during the fall 2022 and winter 2023 terms. Students can find more information about CSL courses online in the coming weeks.
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