York volunteers central to success of Congress 2023 

York community members and volunteers at Vari Hall with the YorkU letters during Congress 2023

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig, YFile editor and Joseph Burrell, YFile communications officer 

York University community members contributed hundreds of volunteer hours to support the University in hosting Congress 2023, Canada’s largest academic gathering, in partnership with the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. 

From May 27 to June 2, York staff, faculty, students, retirees and alumni made up the 400-plus cohort of volunteers at the University’s Keele Campus working to bring the first in-person Congress since 2019 to life. 

“We had an overwhelmingly positive response to our call for volunteers with nearly 700 applications received, surpassing our goal of 500,” says York University’s Liz McMahan, director, Congress 2023. “This is a great opportunity for community members to meet each other and demonstrate their York pride by working together to welcome attendees from all over the world.” 

With more than 10,000 participants at this year’s conference, volunteers were recruited as front-line ambassadors to greet guests, give directions, support events and help with operations.

Congress volunteers lining up to get their volunteer t-shirts
Congress volunteers lining up to get their volunteer t-shirts (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

Volunteers attended a training session to learn more about what they would be doing in different roles, including: event ushers, cultural programming assistants, hospitality assistants, wayfinders, kiosk attendants, accessibility stop assistants, catering assistants and logistics support. Volunteer groups are coordinated by volunteer team leads. 

The effort was led by Congress 2023 Volunteer Coordinator Christine Le, who oversaw the recruitment, scheduling, training and provided ongoing support for the volunteers. 

“The volunteer program has been a huge success, thanks to Christine’s leadership,” said McMahan. “There is a palpable energy that volunteers have been bringing to Congress. We have received many comments about how warm and welcoming they are – and they are terrific ambassadors in their red Team Congress 2023 t-shirts.” 

Diane Beelen Woody
Diane Beelen Woody (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

Diane Beelen Woody, co-president of York University’s Retiree Association (YURA) and retired associate professor and senior scholar from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies (LAPS), says working towards the success of Congress is a “lovely contribution” to make in retirement. 

“Many of our members have spent their entire careers at York, including me,” she says. “I think this is special for York because it is unique in terms of its student diversity, and the themes of Congress are so appropriate for York, and for Canada, at this time. I think it’s a monumental undertaking and the organizers deserve all of the support that we can give them.” 

Dammy Atekoja
Dammy Atekoja (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

For Dammy Atekoja, a student in Schulich School of Business’ MSc Financial Accountability Program (MFAc), the opportunity to volunteer supports his goals of helping people and contributing to society. 

“Personally, it brings me pleasure to know that I’m helping. This is a school that I feel connected to, and when they have events like this and they need students to make sure the event is a success, then I want to be a part of that,” says Atekoja. 

Jodi Tavares
Jodi Tavares (Photo by Joseph Burrell)

For some, like staff member Jodi Tavares, volunteering is an opportunity to show and share pride in the University. “We have the best and brightest minds on campus, and I want to make sure I’m part of the group that shows them how welcoming York can be. If I’m volunteering, then I feel that I’m helping that experience, and helping reflect the values of York. We’re open. We’re welcoming. We want to bring more community here.” 

Tavares, a student of the liberal arts, says hosting Congress is a big deal for York, and helps to increase awareness of York’s successes. 

“York is already on the map – we’re a massive research institution and we have a huge footprint in terms of number of students, [and being] the third-largest university in Canada. But this puts us on the map academically – we have some of the best researchers here, some of the greatest minds, and now we’re bringing the rest of them here. It’s a big deal, I just want to be a part of it.” 

McMahan says she hopes volunteers come away from their Congress 2023 experience feeling proud of their accomplishments with lasting memories of a fun week. 

“I’ve really enjoyed watching our volunteers have fun – dancing to music being played on the Swag Stages, welcoming attendees with big smiles, making new friends, and taking pride in their university and in being part of Team Congress 2023.”