Social Support Worker, Centre 454 - A Ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa
Bachelor in Environmental Studies 2020
“Take advantage of Student Counselling, Health & Well-being services. There are many resources available to students, ask questions and advocate for yourself, because there are staff and faculty who will help you along the way.”
What made you choose your program at York University? Why did you decide on your major?
Initially I wanted to pursue a career in fashion. Ever since I can remember I have wanted to be a fashion designer. But as my eyes opened to pollution of the fashion industry, I realized I could not be a designer in good faith, until I learned about sustainable fashion and sustainable practices. After I finished my program/certificate at George Brown college, I looked into many Universities offering Environmental Studies programs. York had a great reputation and the Faculty was small and felt like a family. I was offered some great entrance scholarships, that really helped me during my 1st year.
When I was exploring Undergraduate programs, I appreciated that my questions were answered on time and that I had the opportunity to have a personalized tour of the University led by a staff member and current student peer mentor. As a Black woman, it resonated positively with me to experience diversity at York prior to becoming a student, as my personalized campus tour was led by a Black female staff member.
What experiences from York helped shape your career journey?
I got resume and interview practice help from Rosanna Chowdhury, the Experiential Education Coordinator at the Faculty – she was so helpful. But even more importantly, my studies were so much more than just environmental studies, they taught me about the liberal arts and provided me with knowledge about social justice. The courses demonstrated the diversity of fields available to graduates from Environmental Studies in multiple industries and sectors – public, private, environmental sustainability to community engagement.
An example of how the program prepared me is reflected in how I came to be the current Youth Program Coordinator for the Ethiopian Community Association in Ottawa (ECAO). Being of Ethiopian descent, I gravitated towards this community organization. My studies allowed me to critically examine some gaps and enabled me to think about the ways I could support or fill those gaps. I took the initiative to approach the association and mentioned that there is a gap in their programming and that the could benefit from a Youth Program. I presented the ways in which they could create this by putting into practice the education I had in social justice, as well as the professional skills I developed through presentations and report writing. In this role, I’ve helped the Association to rebrand their website, create a Twitter and Instagram account as well as a number of other resources to serve Ethiopian Youth in Ottawa.
Ultimately the people you meet at York might be your future bosses or have a friend who can connect you to a job. When you’re struggling they can provide you with interview tips or general support. If you grow up with no connections or access to resources (social or financial), it can be difficult to find opportunities.
Describe a project you are working/worked on that you feel contributed to positive change. How would you describe the work involved to execute the project? Why are you proud of the project?
I’m really proud of becoming the Youth Program Coordinator for the ECAO. Because our culture is very religious and a lot of our events are centered around the Mosque or the Church. That’s how youth spend quality time together, that’s how they make friends, and I felt like there was a gap in secular programming which brings people together regardless of religion and based on common interests.
I’m proud that I’m hearing people tell me ‘I didn’t know you guys existed until you got an Instagram’. In January we had a feature of Ethiopian Owned businesses in Ottawa to garner support for them during the pandemic, we also raised funds for ECAO capacity building by selling hand-painted face masks with the colours of the Ethiopian flag, and we established a yoga program for youth. In February, we started a tutoring program as well. I’m proud of all of these things but I am really looking forward to meeting people face-to-face.
What was your post-graduation Journey like?
I was struggling to find work, right after graduating in June I applied for everything under the sun, and I was not hearing back from anyone. That’s realistic because we’re in a pandemic. One day, I saw a volunteer opportunity as a podcast host for Relay – a Green Charity. Even though the position was unpaid, I saw it as a great learning opportunity and I had to apply, and I’m so glad I did, because I was the successful candidate! While I was volunteering, I learned more about networking through interviews with green professionals. Because I was also actively looking for full-time employment, I managed to get an interview and was approved to be a candidate for a position to work as a Social Media Coordinator for a different Green Non-Profit. However, when the job funding fell through and I was asked to do the same work for no pay, I respectfully declined. I mentioned this incident to my supervisor at Relay and he listen and empathized with me.
After a few weeks, my supervisor mentioned to me that there was an Eco Canada Fund available to pay me for the work I’d already been doing as a podcast host. He completed the application and I became a salaried worker at Relay for 6 months. That was amazing and I was glad he was thinking of me – it was a reminder that when networking it’s okay to share the challenges or opportunities that you are experiencing. The purpose of networking is to connect genuinely with people without expectation, but with purpose. In this case, I shared a story of frustration with a colleague, and I had no idea this grant existed or that he was going apply on my behalf for this grant. Although my internship ended after six months, it was a lot of fun and I learned a lot.
Now, less than two months after that internship ended, I have found a new role as a Social Support Worker for Centre 454, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa. Centre 454 is a day program serving people who are precariously housed or homeless in the Ottawa area.
What interests do you pursue in your spare time? What are some of your passion projects or hobbies?
I’m a fashion designer at heart. I tried to walk away from it, and I was like “No! Climate needs me, the planet needs me right now. I need to sacrifice this thing that I love.” I learned that you don't always have to pick you can do several things in moderation. So, on January 1st I made New Year’s Resolution to open an Etsy store, and I did. It’s called Trisu Vintage and it’s a size inclusive, unisex store where I sell vintage items and I’m also going to start making masks out of upcycled fabric. And I love it. For me, this is fun.
What advice would you give current/prospective students?
Really take advantage of Student Counselling, Health & Well-being. That was probably the biggest help that I had. If your mind is right then homework, friends and everything else will just fall into place. I had an amazing counsellor who was a certified psychologist. The quality of help I got from her was incredible. There were a lot extra steps at the beginning, but now it’s much more streamlined and on a drop in basis. The point is that there are resources available to students, ask questions and advocate for yourself, there are staff and faculty who will help you along the way.