Gabriella Luongo helps out at one of the cooking workshops she established to help SFU's international students overcome social isolation.

Volunteering opens doors to unforeseen possibilities

October 05, 2016

Volunteering is in Gabriella Luongo’s DNA. Since high school, the health sciences student has been heavily involved in the community, sometimes juggling up to three volunteer stints while undertaking a full course load.

Whether she is working with children who have developmental disabilities, seniors with dementia or low-income residents, Luongo’s dedication to the most vulnerable and underserved in society is unwavering.

But during her fourth year at SFU, her interest in volunteering also dramatically changed her student journey.

She became a peer health educator with the health promotion team at SFU’s Health and Counselling Services and, inspired by her interest in nutritional health, began leading cooking workshops for international students, a group at high risk for social isolation.

“I wanted to apply what I was learning in the classroom, and volunteering as a peer health educator offered an excellent opportunity to do that,” says Luongo who graduates this month with a bachelor of science, with a concentration in Population and Quantitative Health Sciences.

With encouragement from health sciences lecturer Rochelle Tucker, Luongo integrated her work as a peer health educator, and her cooking workshops, into an honours project investigating the role of food in post-secondary institutions.

“Beyond exhibiting better nutritional habits, students who participated in the cooking workshops gained confidence in various aspects of their lives,” says Luongo. She notes the students were willing to try new foods, and found it easier to make new friends and orient themselves in unfamiliar environments.

For Luongo, integrating community work into her academic endeavours has opened doors to valuable opportunities that would not otherwise present themselves. Earlier this year, she presented the cooking workshop initiative to post-secondary administrators, staff and students at the Healthy Minds, Healthy Campuses 2016 Summit and shared her honours findings with faculty members, Health and Counselling Services, and International Services for Students at SFU.

“Being actively involved in the campus community has brought my student journey to full circle,” says Luongo. “It was extremely gratifying to see the health promotion concepts I learned come to life through my work as a peer health educator.”