MacServe Hamilton: Youth Poverty Alleviation 2017 Reflection
With the reading week flying by, I’m excited to let you know about some of the things that have been going around Mac, Hamilton and abroad while everyone was getting a well-deserved break.
This past Reading Week, McMaster’s Student Success Centre’s MacServe program organized and conducted two Service-Learning trips that occurred throughout the week. The two trips were focused on important work that strived to tackle serious socio-political issues such as Gender Empowerment and Youth Poverty Alleviation. The trip focusing on Gender Empowerment took place in San Ignacio de Acosta, Costa Rica; partnering up with a local community partner, VIDA and working closely with the Women’s Association called Grupo Giras. Grupo Giras who works within the community to facilitate more independence for women by supporting the production and retail of natural and organic products. On the other side of the equator, the trip focusing on Youth Poverty Alleviation took place in our backyard; right here in Hamilton!
I had the incredible privilege to be involved with and participate in MacServe’s 2017 reading week trip. This trip, organized and set up by our very own SSC staff Noel and Anushay, worked with local community partners and non-profit organizations to provide students with an opportunity to increase their awareness and understanding about the great obstacles and challenges that many youth in Hamilton face and the opportunities that those with privilege and power (ie. University Students) have to support and learn from them. During the trip, we worked with numerous local organizations striving to support youth within Hamilton. We worked with a range of organizations including:
- Welcome Inn Community Centre (Food Access Centre, Youth and Senior programs, and other programs working to serve the community’s needs)
- Wesley Urban Ministries (Child, Youth & Family Services, Housing & Homelessness Services, and Neighbourhood Development & Newcomer Services)
- Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton & Burlington (Mentoring services for youth and families)
- NGen Youth Centre (Youth Services ranging from programs encouraging inclusivity and support to recreational opportunities)
- Living Rock (Food programs, Work Employment & Training, Recreation, Food Bank, and Support for Parents, Youth and Housing)
- Social Planning Research Council (SPRC; Community Development, Community Engagement, Research, and System and Service Planning).
Each day included a placement, learning about and volunteering for the organization, going out for a team dinner, engaging in a team reflection and finally closing the day off with free time to relax, recuperate and get ready for the next day.
Each placement brought the team a memorable experience regardless of the activity that was assigned for the day. Witnessing the differences within leadership of the community organizations – ranging from how they operate, view the people that use their services and how the people who use their services act while at the facilities – taught us something unique. One particular commonality was that all the leaders saw each member of the community as vital contributors to the health, and sustainability of the programs and services they offered. This created an environment that was not only more welcoming and supportive but created a sense of reciprocity where members of the community not only cared more about investing back into programs and services but also supporting programs to help them run smoother as well and create mutual benefit.
A few other notable experiences and takeaways from the trip included the work that was being done by the Social Planning Research Council (SPRC). The SPRC organized two separate experiences for the MacServe team to join. The first involved attending a youth council meting, working to improve the housing and homelessness issues in Hamilton. This council was made up individuals who have personally experienced homelessness and the challenges that youth face when trying to find housing. Secondly, we met a couple of individuals, at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. A staff member from the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction began by presenting his work around Living Wage (min. wage of $15-16). Community members and roundtable have been advocating for this change within the City of Hamilton since many individuals and families working full time are still experiencing significant poverty due to the gap between wages and cost of living.
We also had the opportunity to meet with a lawyer from the Legal Aid Clinic who came to talk to us about her work and the concerning issues that are going on with gentrification in Hamilton. They talked about how gentrification in the city is forcing many residents to pack up and move to other, cheaper and more challenging environments because landlords want to charge higher rent. Following the presentations and informal discussions, Erika Morton (the organizer behind these incredibly eye-opening experiences) facilitated a community ideation where she presented the facts and concerns that plague youth in Hamilton and assigned us with the task of coming up with strategies to tackle some of these concerns.
The care, compassion and commitment demonstrated by each of these services and organizations have accomplished an astonishing amount for numerous communities and individuals. In a time where capitalism has prioritized profits over people, hearing the stories of struggle, resiliency and teamwork that have resulted in an improved quality of life for many people and have presented us a platform for a better way to move forward.
We all need a sense of community as it provides essential emotional, social and psychological support in these ever-changing times. Whether that community is cultivated with family, neighbours or fellow students, it’s an essential component to our health and well being, and (if we’re fortunate enough) provides the reassurance needed to get out of our comfort zones to pursue ambitious goals such as completing a university education or standing up for the rights of others and against injustice. This trip showed us that the right kind of leadership can establish a strong, durable and resilient community that works to supports its constituents.
Additionally, as one participant mentioned at the end of the trip, this trip reminded her of why she’s at university and has made her excited, giving her hope again for the future. In an environment where the numbers on one’s transcript too often out-value one’s life experiences, it’s easy to get lost in this unforgiving system and forget that people matter.
We all having something to contribute, and this trip provides a very welcomed reminder that doing something for others matters. Would you want someone to help you if you needed it? Would you want to help others if others have helped you? What would happen if we lived in a community that would help those who need it without any judgment? Would we feel comfortable to ask for help? Would our health improve? Would our ability to take on pursuits such as academics, athletics or community related efforts improve? Kindness, generosity and empathy are a contagious and self sustaining cycles within the right environment. Engaging in a program like MacServe program requires a deepening of these skills and a step towards ethical, conscientious leadership. McMaster and those who hold leadership positions have a tremendous opportunity to take on this challenge and immensely improve the quality of life for not just other students that they may lead but also extending that leadership beyond campus and into the community.
Ultimately, this trip turned out to be an empowering experience that has lit a spark within myself and the other participants’. This, however, wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance from the SSC staff, Anushay and Noel, who organized the trip and facilitated the pre-trip trainings. Additionally, the notable actions of the Team Leader, Harman Singh, also made a significant impact on the trip.
Harman, took the notable effort to ensure that the trip was a safe space for each and every participant by establishing a set of expectations for the trip from the beginning. These expectations laid a foundation that significantly encouraged each participant to embrace their authenticity and step out of their comfort zone; challenging their perspectives and finding their voice. This resulted in an incredible week-long adventure, where via the placements, team activities and reflections conducted throughout the week, layers of bias and stereotypes began to peel away, and a group of initially predominantly strangers (with reservations, and distinct histories and identities) became a mini-community, each member with valuable experiences that benefitted the group and the community around them. I’m excited to see how this experience impacts each of the participants along their academic and personal journeys, and with the many inspiring leaders working tirelessly right outside our doorstep (ie. McMaster’s Campus/ ie. the “bubble”), I’m enthusiastic for the future of Hamilton!
If you have any interest in getting involved in experiences similar to this, feel free to check out the websites of the organizations listed, search “volunteer opportunities in Hamilton”, and/or opportunities within the Student Success Centre, and of course – Pop The Bubble!
For more information on MacServe Programs, you can also email firstname.lastname@example.org