Being the Change: at home & around the world

by Marybeth Leis Druery

Be the change you want to see in the world — Gandhi

“I wish I’d become more involved sooner!” I hear this repeatedly when meeting individually with graduating students to reflect on what they are taking with them from their experiences in Open Circle and CVA. Listening to their stories of transformation, we’re reminded of how you are “being the change” through your support of Student Open Circles.

I’m learning to see the beauty in everything, in the kids I volunteer with who are so amazing and full of love.

Students often note how the accepting and non-judgmental conversations in our leadership training meetings are in sharp contrast to the rest of our society. One student spoke of how she values connecting with other student leaders compared to how awkward it is relating with her peers outside CVA who take refuge in their phones and where it feels silly to talk openly. But at our meetings, she gains so many insights as everyone genuinely wants to talk and share openly. Celeste and Kathy co-facilitate a volunteer group at the LAF afterschool program. Celeste talked about how the community we are building has helped her to see beyond the competitiveness so prevalent in her academic life, saying: “I now feel more integrated instead of being an individual competing against other individuals.” Kathy shared, “Being around people like you who are down to earth and value the simple things in life has helped me to realize that life is not just about money and getting into med school. I’m learning to see the beauty in everything, in the kids I volunteer with who are so amazing and full of love. Before I had only noticed the ugly sides of Hamilton but my experiences have helped me see the beauty in people living with challenges.”

I’ve become more open – my parents even notice!

For many students in volunteer groups, this is the first time anyone has ever invited them to reflect on their lives. We hear over and over again how this has transformed them. One CVA facilitator mentioned that, even more than the skills training in our leadership de-velopment meetings, he values the activities that invite him to reflect on deeper meaning in his life. Shankari, who at first wasn’t so sure about the reflection that happens every week in her volunteer group at Eva Rothwell afterschool program said that: “For me, the idea of reflection was learned through CVA. Now I tell everyone about it! Everyone needs reflection in their life for them to grow. I’ve become more open – my parents even notice!”

Bianca Ciobotaru (CVA student), left, helps Abdulnalik Bashir with his homework at the YMCA Newcomer Youth Centre. Photo & excerpt from the Hamilton Spectator: “The YMCA offers homework club through a partnership with Student Open Circles… It’s common for immigrants and refugees to arrive with little or no English… If they were raised in refugee camps, they may never have attended school before arriving in Canada.”

Many students identified how Open Circle and CVA have played an important role in their spiritual growth. One person said that before he joined a weekly Reflection Circle he didn’t know that there were others who had similar spiritual longings. Having a safe place that encourages spiritual reflection has accelerated his growth and helped him to be open about his own values outside of Open Circle. Sharon, who facilitated a Reading Buddies group in the east end, shared how being involved in volunteering with at risk youth has helped her Christian faith to move from being a distant faith to being a faith that is in action as she realizes how important love is to the kids she is relating with: “I see below the sur-face of their actions to recognize that all they want is to be loved and how, when that need isn’t met, they turn to destructive behaviors to try to fill the void. Being part of a group that radiates love and acceptance is part of healing the issues these youth struggle with.”

You don’t need to be Mother Teresa to make a change. Just being there is enough.

I was amazed to hear how our local action is having an impact around the world when one international student shared: “In China I had heard of various social issues from the media or others in the daily walk of our lives, but my volunteer experience with CVA at the YMCA homework club really reshaped my thought on giving back and raised my social awareness. My family has been donating for charitable causes since I was really young, but scholarship provided by individuals is a relatively novel concept to most Chinese (most financial aids are given by the government directly, but the resources are inadequate). After what I saw through volunteering with CVA, I convinced my father to set up several scholarships in China for students who are too poor to go to school, including children of the factory workers for whom my father is responsible. In addition, my father worked for the education bureau, and he agreed to promote this event in the bureau and to those education supplement suppliers to encourage them to give back to the community in some capacity. So now, there are a bunch of scholarships and financial aids in various forms in my hometown.”

As these students graduate, we ask them to think about how these experiences might influence their future path and hear responses like: “Now I will plan my life to serve as many as I can” and a reminder that “You don’t need to be Mother Teresa to make a change. Just being there is enough.”

Thank you for being there through your support and encouragement to create these opportunities for change both locally and across the globe!