Community volunteerism provides powerful learnings
RDC students participate in community-wide initiative
When Red Deer’s 2016 Point-in-Time homeless count took place in October, RDC students were a major part of the volunteer contingent for the event, with approximately 55% of the volunteers being College students.
“RDC students were an integral part of the Point in Time Count – both in the planning and on the night of the count. Without the student volunteers, we would have been unable to visit all of Red Deer’s neighbourhoods,” says Scott Cameron with The City of Red Deer. “We believe that students gained a deeper understanding of the complexity of homelessness in our community through their involvement in the count.”
The Point-in-Time count is coordinated by The City of Red Deer, and it takes place every two years, providing a community-wide snapshot of Red Deer’s homeless population. In October, the event occurred over a two-hour timeframe in the evening, when volunteers counted and conducted face-to-face surveys with people experiencing homelessness. For the RDC students, their volunteerism during the event provided a wealth of learnings.
“Whenever students have the opportunity to engage in applied learning that helps the community, it provides a powerful experience,” says Dr. Torben Andersen, Dean, School of Arts and Sciences. “In this case, the student volunteers were from a wide variety of programs at Red Deer College, from sociology, psychology, social work, business and more.”
Brandon Briault, who volunteered for the event, learned about the Point-in-Time count through his sociology class. “I had heard about this before, and when the opportunity came up, I knew it was something I wanted to do,” he says.
Briault and all of the volunteers participated in a training session and First Nations smudging ceremony before the count, and then they were assigned a specific neighbourhood in the city to complete their tasks. During his time volunteering, Briault had the opportunity to connect with many people experiencing homelessness. “I learned so much about their situations and what their lives are like – many of them are experiencing this city in a way most of us couldn’t even begin to understand,” he says. “I truly believe the Point-in-Time count is an essential tool because it will help to enlighten people and provide more opportunities and programs to help people who are homeless.”
Dr. Choon-Lee Chai, Briault’s sociology instructor, received similar feedback from other students who volunteered. “This particular opportunity really resonated with the student volunteers, as many of them considered the concept of homelessness on a different and much more experiential level,” he explains. “I had several students express that what they learned impacted them personally and that they would like to participate in this type of experience again.”
While Briault echoes this sentiment, he also feels his experience has helped him consider options for
his future career. “I’m enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program for next fall, and I’m now considering other areas of nursing, like working with the local team that connects with homeless people,” he explains. “Everybody deserves a fair chance to access the same level of help and services.”
The City of Red Deer released its preliminary results for the Point-in-Time homeless count on November 29, 2016; complete details are available at redder.ca/PITcount.
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