University of Calgary

Students spend Reading Week helping to rebuild shattered lives

UToday HomeFebruary 22, 2013

By Tina Lambert and Casey Blais

Students in the ucalgarycares program immerse themselves during Reading  Week in the challenges faced by marginalized communities.Students in the ucalgarycares program immerse themselves during Reading Week in the challenges faced by marginalized communities.This Reading Week, 53 University of Calgary students visited destinations in Calgary and New Orleans where they learned about homelessness and food security while helping the local community through service-learning projects.

The building community and the food and justice teams landed in New Orleans at the start of Reading Week and began their service-learning experience as part of the ucalgarycares program facilitated by the Centre for Community-Engaged Learning (CCEL).

Erin Kaipainen, director of student leadership development and engagement, hopes students develop an appreciation that community-building is more than just building houses.

Kaipainen says community-building “often requires leaders who can navigate seemingly insurmountable barriers” and she hoped that “learning about another community has inspired our students to look within themselves and around their own communities to determine where their next steps will take them.”

The ucalgarycares program, previously called Calgary Serves, has supported service-learning opportunities for students during Reading Week since 2009, creating leadership opportunities through immersion learning and volunteering.

Ucalgarycares’ relationship with New Orleans began in 2011 with a project called Rebuilding NOLA, which involved rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Following their return to Canada, the Rebuilding NOLA team produced a video documenting the impact the experience had on the students.

“Despite the fact that many of the [people] are still in the process of rebuilding their homes, they continue to keep their faith and profess enormous civic pride,” Caitlin Gropp says in the video.

The programs in New Orleans are running in concert with Homelessness at Home, a ucalgarycares project developed in partnership with the Mustard Seed in Calgary. This program offers students the opportunity to learn about homelessness and mental health in their own city, and complements the 2012-2013 Common Reading Program selection, Bitter Medicine: A Graphic Memoir of Mental Illness.

The immersion programs focus on marginalization, sustainability and justice from a personal perspective. Students often volunteer and live together for the duration of the programs.

Students return to their daily lives empowered with the knowledge and passion to become stronger leaders in our global community—whether by stepping outside their familiar lifestyles by working with urban agriculture projects and examining food security issues, or by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity in the lower seventh ward of New Orleans.

Follow the ucalgarycares New Orleans blog, and learn more about CCEL programming.


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