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