Vanessa Soaft, a fourth-year sociology student, speaks about her experience coordinating and developing community service initiatives as a Peer Helper.

My name is Vanessa Soaft, and I am a fourth-year sociology student. This year I am the Community Service-Learning Peer Helper at the Student Experience Office (SEO).  The peer helper program has allowed me the opportunity to work alongside professional staff to gain valuable skills in communications and leadership.

In the past few weeks alone, I have seen myself grow both personally and professionally from being involved in the SEO. When I first walked into the office I felt a little shy and unsure of myself; however, I have since become very comfortable in my role through the process of learning and working with others. In such a short time I have greatly developed my confidence and problem-solving skills through hard work, dedication, and having an incredibly warm and supportive supervisor.

My role as a peer helper is to plan and coordinate Days of Service and Alternative Spring Break, as well as managing the Volunteer Bureau. On a typical day in the office I answer emails and phone calls from partner organizations requesting students for specific projects or Days of Service, advertise Days of Service on the service day calendar, and recruit participants and team leaders. After a day of service is set-up, I create a reflection package for the team leader to lead the participants through in order for them to construct meaning from their experience and to prompt them to open up for critical reflection.  I also validate submissions to the volunteer bureau, which is an online tool for organizations to connect with students in providing opportunities to volunteer and expand their skills.

The biggest challenge that I face in my position is keeping up with emails and phone calls from all of the different organizations.  All of our partner organizations are amazing resources that greatly benefit the Ottawa community, and I find myself forming attachments with them and wanting to respond back to them as soon as possible to provide them with the service that they need. I overcome this challenge in communication by checking my email every evening. I want the people that I am contacting to know that I care about them and their cause, so I don’t mind taking time out of my personal life to stay connected.

One of the reasons why I became a peer helper is because of my passion and desire to make an impact and improve the community and the lives of others. In the past I have participated in all of the CSL initiatives including Carleton Serves, Days of Service, and Alternative Spring Break. I love what I do as a peer helper because I get to be a part of the impact by connecting these organizations in need with students who share my passion. I would recommend getting involved as a peer helper to other students because it supplements what you are learning in school with real-life application. For me, community service-learning provides me with meaning and purpose in life. The memories that I make and the people that I meet while volunteering motivate me every day to appreciate everything that I have and to always put in the effort to make a difference in someone’s day, every single day. I have learned that although I may not be able to solve all the problems in the world what I can do is consciously make the effort with every action I make to improve on these things. Through my job as a peer helper I aim to be a part of the impact by making connections between those who are in need of help and those who are in need to help.

Submitted by Vanessa Soaft, a fourth-year sociology student.

For more information on the Peer Helper program, please visit carleton.ca/seo/leadership-development/peer-helper-program/


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