Rita Lee at work with her community

Making your project a passion

October 19, 2023

When COVID-19 hit, we all realized the importance of having a local neighbourhood network. Many people experienced major changes in their lives, such as losing their income and social network, or losing access to activities that supported their overall well-being. As a Roots of Empathy instructor who was fortunate enough to have a strong network of support, Rita Lee started looking for more ways to be of service to those around her. Her guiding question: how can I invite more people to have more resilience, more happiness, and to connect with a supportive network in the neighbourhood? Her SFU Student-Community Engagement Project, Happy, Connected, Resilient Neighbours, was just one of her answers.

What's was a fulfilling part of working on this project?

I am a self-made woman who has seen many ups and downs in life, equipping me with rich experiences. It had always been my passion to share these experiences with others to enrich them with practical day-to-day scenarios/issues and their solutions. My project involved a series of wellness workshops, which provided me a live and open forum to interact with my audiences and share my knowledge and personal, lived experiences with them. Here I was able to share my values, insights, and philosophy of life. Active participation and enthusiasm shown by the attendees always made me feel elated and excited. As an example, one of my topics — gratitude — was very well received and moved heightened emotions amongst the participants. The sense of satisfaction after every workshop was indeed a precious experience for me.

What were some of the challenges you encountered?

The diverse composition of my audiences always challenged me to make my talk and the workshop interesting to attract their rapt attention and involvement. I had to be more and more imaginative and innovative for every topic. Inviting them to shed their hesitations and open up, or to shed their inhibitions and share their frank and unbiased thoughts, always demanded ingenuity on my part.

What would you do differently, if given the chance?

To increase the participation, I would prefer more and innovative publicity about the workshops. In addition, I would like to incorporate audio-visual aids and guest speakers during the workshops. To make the workshops more attractive and popular, some sort of individual competitions and prizes could be introduced.

Any wisdom or advice for doing community-engaged projects?

Sincerity and devotion towards the project are the key factors for its success. Unless the project becomes a passion, the best cannot be delivered. Focus on the journey of the project rather than on the destination. Follow this dictum in its letter and spirit. Be creative and open minded. Never shy away when it comes to acknowledging wisdom and constructive ideas. Honour the value of the obstacles you are forced to overcome and the prices you have to pay.

What we didn’t know about Rita until we actually met her was how deeply her commitment to her community runs. We’re honoured to have been a part of her work, but it’s clear she’s got a lot of other work on the go. Check out CTV’s coverage of Rita’s work on food security from this summer (2023) – it’s inspiring.

Update: November, 2023 – Rita was interviewed by CTV again for her work in the community. 


Hey, students  – What would you  do with $3,000?

Up to $30,000* is available to fund SFU students who want to work with community partners to create meaningful impact. Register today – all you need is your name and a brief description of your idea.