Students empowered by community volunteer project

A commitment to helping the community and practicing their faith in a meaningful way gave a group of UWindsor students the impetus to devote two months this past summer to living and working as a group.

The Empower project, an initiative of Assumption University Campus Ministry, saw eight young people living rent and expense-free in a home paid for by Assumption University from mid-May to mid-July, in exchange for service to local community agencies and a willingness to develop a long-term strategy for community service in the west end of Windsor.

“This program was created because I recognized, from my vantage point, that we sit at the crosshairs of many different organization that haven’t historically done a very good job of working together,” says Rev. Chris Valka, Assumption University’s Campus Minister, and the project’s coordinator. “We are one community in this part of Windsor – West Windsor, which incorporates Sandwich Town; Assumption Parish; Assumption University and the University of Windsor –all of these organizations have a great deal that we can learn from each other.”

Valka says he worked with members of the UWindsor community to address neighbourhood challenges and talk about community partnerships – identified as a key priority in the University’s Strategic Plan.

“The question was how do you build a grand sense of community among all these micro-communities – is it even possible?” he says.

The students were given the task of finding out – and in the process poured sweat equity into the Sandwich Teen Action Group (STAG); the Windsor-Essex Community Health Centre, and the Campus Community Garden, to name a few.

In spite of the challenges of sharing a home among eight people, the group managed to get past themselves to find a meaningful experience.

“Part of the reason the house worked was that we had a goal,” says team member Alex Petric. “We weren’t just spending two months there; we were going to do something worthwhile. We were all united in this one effort so we had to overlook a few things that otherwise we might normally get upset over. You just have to look at the bigger picture.”

The group said they shared their common experience as UWindsor students and their Catholic faith.

“I told the students, ‘this is not a roommate situation. You are united by a common purpose, but otherwise you are incredibly different people. You are living in a religious house for two months and we will live as a religious community,’” says Valka.

Each day for the students started with Mass and community time – an early start to the day the students eventually grew to enjoy

“It gave us structure and consistency, and although it’s difficult to be up and at mass at 7:30 a.m., you know that you’re going to see a loving person and share that time together,” says Empower student Nichole Swain. “So you have something to look forward to that’s going to start your day on a positive note and you can be ready for the day ahead.”

At the end of their Empower experience, the students sat down to team-write a proposal for how Assumption Parish, the University of Windsor, and west-end stakeholders could best work together to meet the unique needs of their neighbourhood. They came up with a 13-page recommendation presented to members of Assumption Parish Council, as well as a priceless life experience and fast friendships forged by hard work and a shared purpose.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the work these students were able to do and the way they did it,” Valka says. “They came together and accomplished something really valuable.”

How I spent my summer logo

Editor's note: this is one of a series of articles about students who were engaged in cool research projects and other scholarly activities this summer.