Giving back to York students through the United Way

By the nature of their roles as academics and administrators, York University faculty and staff give back to students every day – in the classroom, the lab, the library, on the football field etc. Yet many members of the York community reach beyond their professional roles to give back to students financially through initiatives such as regular fundraising campaigns to York’s faculty and staff. The funds raised are used to enhance student financial aid, University Libraries, research and innovation, the art gallery, student services or an individual Faculty or department.

York’s current United Way Campaign is another opportunity for York faculty and staff to give back to students. York faculty and staff can designate their United Way gift to York by directing funds to the York University Foundation on the back of the first page of the pledge form.

The funds will be used to address areas of greatest need and help to ensure that the needs of York’s growing student population are addressed in the years to come. Faculty and staff can also specify to which Faculty or area they wish to direct their funds.

One way York’s faculty gives back to students involves looking beyond the Keele campus into neighbouring communities. In 2005, the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) Trust and YUFA members decided to take a huge step toward ensuring that students from the local community have access to a York education. They made a collective gift of approximately $400,000 – which was later matched by an anonymous donor – to create the YUFA Trust/YUFA Jane-Finch Community Scholarships, Awards and Bursaries.

In the coming years, these funds will be awarded to students from secondary schools in the Jane-Finch community, with preference given to students who have successfully completed the Advanced Credit Experience (ACE) program.

Faculty of Arts undergrad, Rita Napoleoni (right), entered York with financial support through preliminary funds from YUFA/YUFA Trust, as well as through the assistance of the ACE program. In the absence of either, she says, it is questionable whether she would have gone on to postsecondary education.

In grade nine, Napoleoni got involved with a bad crowd. She started skipping school while barely scraping by in her classes. “I used to think about going to university,” she says, “but I never actually understood what that meant, financially or academically.”

In grade 10, Napoleoni’s teachers at Emery Collegiate High School in North York identified her as an at-risk student and recommended she participate in the ACE program. Ready to make a change, Napoleoni agreed.

The following year, Napoleoni began a semester of study at York along with high-school teacher Daphne Adolph as supervisor, and 25 high-school students from grades 11 and 12. Some students were enrolled in a half course in political science and they attended lectures, wrote essays and participated in tutorial discussions. Others took a course through Seneca College.

“No one knew we were high-school students,” Napoleoni says.

On the days they were not in lectures or tutorials, the students worked on the Keele campus. Napoleoni held a co-op position in Commercial Facilities in York Lanes, entering data and answering phones.

At the end of the academic year and as part of the program, ACE students returned to their communities to give back. Napoleoni worked as a second grade teacher’s assistant at a local elementary school.

Encouraged by her teachers and her family, and with confidence through her experience at York, Napoleoni returned to high school for grade 12 and elevated her grade point average to 88 per cent from 56 per cent. She was enabled to apply to universities. She chose York.

Upon entry to York, Napoleoni was rewarded for her hard work through the ACE program and for her high grades with two scholarships totaling $4,500.

“The ACE program and these new scholarships are a perfect example of how a university can create new avenues of accessibility so that at-risk students can imagine themselves at York. Once here, the possibilities for their success are limitless,” says Paul Evans, Chair of the YUFA Trust.

This article was submitted to YFile by Carrie Brodi, senior communications officer, York University Foundation.