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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 13 | September 6, 2001

Eastside initiative increases opportunities for outreach

Learning Exchange orients students to volunteer work

by Hilary Thomson staff writer

Year-round training and recruitment as well as more placement opportunities are among the recent developments in the Trek 2000 volunteer program, part of UBC's Learning Exchange, a storefront resource in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"We're trying to make it simpler for students to participate in the program right away while their interest is high," says Shane Tryon, program development intern at the Learning Exchange. The facility is part of UBC's commitment to community outreach found in Trek 2000, the university's vision document.

Fourth-year Arts student Elmira Mafi is one of 65 volunteers in the program.

A volunteer since May, she teaches English language skills to adults every week at the Storefront Orientation Society or SOS. The society provides outreach, advocacy and pre-employment assistance to refugee claimants and new immigrants.

"I've always been interested in teaching," says Mafi. "This gives me an opportunity to help where it's really needed."

About 10 adults attend each of her two-hour weekly classes and ages range from 25-70 years. Lesson plans are provided by SOS and focus on day-to-day needs such as visiting the library or shopping. Mafi says she tries to make learning fun by using charades, written exercises and students' own experiences to explain everything from sunny side up to popcorn and block and tackle.

Mafi praised the volunteer program's interview and selection process and says the orientation helped dispel her misconceptions about the community.

"It's good to find out what actually goes on in your city," she says.

A day-long workshop that focuses on information about the community, safety and partner organizations as well as a tour of the inner city are designed to help new volunteers feel more comfortable in the downtown core.

Mafi says she now has a better understanding of different cultures and appreciates the struggle required to achieve what most of us take for granted. Her involvement has also built her confidence and broadened her perspective, she says.

"I was sort of intimidated at first but now I feel comfortable in this community -- you've got to talk to people to get past the stereotypes."

Some of the organizations that accept Trek volunteers include a pre-employment counselling agency called Skills Connections and RayCam Co-operative Community Centre. The Trek program will also be filling four paid student positions to assist in program development and to start new projects such as a Trek volunteer newsletter.

More information

For more information on the Learning Exchange or to become a Trek 2000 volunteer, contact 604-822-0076 or 604-408-5183 or check the Web site at www.learningexchange.ubc.ca.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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