A collage created by Racing Reader volunteers to welcome new kids in the program


Volunteering goes online at SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre

September 17, 2020

By Kevin Chiang

Thanks to the passion and courage of SFU students, even a global pandemic can’t stop the SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre’s (SFU Surrey CEC) volunteer-run programs.

When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, the SFU Surrey CEC shut down 21 programs and sent home more than 100 volunteers. That’s when dedicated student volunteers and community partners behind popular volunteer-run programs like Media Minds and Racing Readers stepped up to the challenge and helped pivot the programs to virtual sessions on Zoom.

Media Minds, for example, helps Surrey children in Grades 6 and 7 who are from low-income and newcomer families. In this free, after-school program, children develop confidence, communication skills and creativity through film education. The program is offered through a partnership with the Surrey School District’s Community Support Program.

“I remember being extremely disappointed when we had to shut down the program in March,” says Saba Fatemi, program supervisor for Media Minds, who is passionate about the project.

Making the transition

Trisha Dulku, a community engagement associate in the SFU Office of Community Engagement, oversees the SFU Surrey CEC programs. She spent two weeks evaluating how the programs could switch to a model that would be feasible, yet still fun and engaging.

Fatemi, who is interested in animation and media, was thrilled with the news that Media Minds was going virtual. She proposed a program called Pivot Animator to teach animation skills to the kids. The program relaunched in a virtual form and two-thirds of the kids rejoined.

It wasn’t easy to make the transition and decide on the curriculum, but Fatemi says the most important consideration was creating a space where kids could explore their creativity.

“It’s less about teaching them important concepts, and more about ensuring that the classes are somewhere they can have fun, learn, be creative and connect with others at the same time.”

The SFU Surrey CEC has seen a tremendous response from student volunteers. Applications for the virtual programs tripled, with more than 250 SFU students volunteering during the summer semester.

“Virtual volunteering has really opened up the doors for students who would not normally have been involved, maybe due to accessibility issues or travel time,” says Dulku.

Nurturing connection

While the sessions have gone virtual, a key focus of the training is fostering positive human connection between volunteers and kids.

Balroop Chahal, program supervisor for Racing Readers, says the program has shaped her university experience in a positive way.

“We’ve seen students improve their confidence and literacy skills,” says Balroop Chahal, program supervisor for Racing Readers.. “We work with some vulnerable students and they need good role models. The kids really appreciate you being there.”

Racing Readers is a series of sessions that help children in Grades 2 to 5 develop educational skills and physical and social well-being. Children participate in reading, writing, numeracy exercises and physical activities.

Get involved

The SFU Surrey CEC is the only SFU unit that offers co-curricular credit for volunteering with community organizations, and was the first to offer virtual volunteering. Applications for virtual volunteer positions with the SFU Surrey CEC for fall 2020 are open until mid-September.

If you have a passion for making a difference in your community, check out the SFU Surrey CEC’s wide array of programs and opportunities.