How York’s engagement centre pulls together

Clydesdale horses were on the mind of the executive director of the York University – TD Community Engagement Centre on Oct. 28 as it marked its second anniversary with an annual general meeting (AGM) at Shoreham Public School.

Prior to the AGM, representatives from the engagement centre’s different programs were on hand to answer questions from community residents and York students, faculty and staff.  In her remarks, centre executive director Sue Levesque (right) spoke about how she had learned from a community representative that one Clydesdale horse can pull two tons of weight and two Clydesdale horses, working together, can pull 18 tons.

“Clearly, working collaboratively increases the impact of our efforts exponentially,” said Levesque. “It has been a joy over the past year to see the results of our ‘pulling together’. We have participated in some amazing new projects. [One example is] our Fresh Produce Market at Shoreham Public School, which is a collaboration between parents, teachers and the parents’ council at Shoreham Public School; community agencies and Foodshare from downtown; York University; and the city councillor’s office.”

The market is illustrative of other initiatives underway at the centre, in that it provides an important service to the community and brings residents into contact with York University faculty, staff and students, said Levsque. “Residents now have easier access to healthy, affordable, culturally relevant food, and what is most interesting to me is that students, faculty and staff from York University and teachers, parents and students from Shoreham and residents from the neighbourhoods come together to do this simple everyday thing.”

Above: Community members learn more about the centre’s fresh produce market. Photograph by Errol Young.

The conversations that spring up at the market have led to many tangible next steps, said Levesque. “There is a low glycemic, culturally-relevant, ethno-specific cookbook now underway. The market also provides an important opportunity for the centre to meet and learn about potential new students for York University.”

York University Chancellor Roy McMurtry was on hand to speak to the AGM. An avid supporter of the centre’s activities, McMurtry conveyed his enthusiasm for the centre’s many accomplishments. “I would like to express my own personal appreciation to the many people in this room who have brought the centre along in such an effective manner, and by doing so, have contributed so much to the broader community,” said McMurtry.

Right: McMurtry addresses the centre’s AGM participants. Photograph by Errol Young.

The centre, he said, reinforces the University’s commitment to social justice and the history of strong relationships with the community in the Jane and Finch area. “The recent white paper on York University’s future strongly endorsed the development of a climate where faculty, students and staff unite behind the important vision of engagement. The community engagement centre stands as a very strong example of the reciprocal benefits of engagement for both the community and the University.”

What the community engagement centre has been doing

“I hope everyone had a chance to talk and learn about all the wonderful things we’ve done at the centre over the past year,” Levesque told the AGM. “I am also hopeful that these conversations have inspired you and prompted you to think about how the work that you have been doing – either on campus or in the community – can be woven into the work happening at the community engagement centre. Through this weaving we can enhance our work even further.”

A sampling of the centre’s projects:

  • In 2010, the centre established an opportunity for the York students aligned with it to work collaboratively in inter-professional teams. The student teams are assigned to numerous initiatives. Most recently, Levesque noted, students worked on the Ontario Disabilities Students Program project (ODSP). The project brings students from law, education, nursing and social work into contact with area residents to provide support to residents who are appealing Ontario Disabilities Program decisions.

The students help residents to put forward a strong appeal, work with agency partners to connect residents to other relevant services and advocate for them through the appeal process. “Providing these supports allows our students to learn from the work, from each other, from the rich lived experiences of the residents they are working with, from community organizers and agency experts, while at the same time making a valuable contribution,” said Levesque.

  • The centre, through its Interprofessional Education Subcommittee (which coordinated the ODSP and is chaired by York nursing Professor and Faculty of Health associate dean Leslie Beagrie) has also supported other experiential education activities for York students, including working on community health education in the areas of heart health, hypertension and diabetes. It also supported a successful application to the Ontario government to establish a nurse practitioner-led clinic for the Black Creek area.

Right: York nursing Professor Lesley Beagrie chairs the centre’s Interprofessional Education Subcommittee

  • The centre’s Access Subcommittee, chaired by Professor Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, York’s associate vice-president of academic learning initiatives, and Antonius Clarke, community resident, established a designated York University admissions adviser to respond to referrals from the centre. The subcommittee also is working to establish a program that offers homework support for area youth. Operated in conjunction with Seneca College, the program will provide youth with math and science homework support.

The subcommittee also provided support and outreach to community residents interested in learning more about postsecondary education and how they might gain admission through York’s various access initiatives including the Women’s Studies Bridging Program and the new Transition Year Program (TYP).

  • The engagement centre’s public education subcommittee organized Black History Month events in collaboration with York’s Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples, including York Gospel Choir performances in Yorkgate Mall. It also supported arts-based outreach initiatives, including the Power Tool Drag Racing competition, held in conjunction with the Art Gallery of York University, the Faculty of Fine Arts, and York Campus Services & Business Operations Division.
Above: Lisa Brown of the Black Creek Community Health Care Centre with York Professor Norma Sue Fisher Stitt
  • The Research & Knowledge Exchange Working Group, chaired by York Professors Uzo Anucha, Michaela Hynie and community agency partner Ruth Wilson, also has many initiatives underway at the centre. This working group supported collaborative research activities between York and the centre’s community partners.

    The activities included educating seniors about the use of mobile technology, in partnership with Barbara Crowe, associate dean in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies; a community-based diabetes study through the Faculty of Health; two new violence prevention projects; and the Assets Coming Together for Youth (ACT) project.

    The ACT project brings together the expertise, knowledge and resources of community partners, York University-based researchers and youth. It provides paid research internships to youth from the Jane-Finch community to engage their interest in postsecondary education and possibly, graduate school. It also provides opportunities for graduate students, trainees and post-doctoral fellows to expand their community-based research skills.

For more on the many other programs, partnerships and new opportunities underway at the centre, visit the  York University – TD Community Engagement Centre website.