A Little About My Self
As a quick synopsis of my academic career, I attended Durham college in the advanced diploma program Biotechnology Technologist which I finished. I then came to Brock to initially do a BSc. in biology but within the last year I have switched directions in a way and now I am working through a double science major degree in biology and computer science. Apparently I don’t like sleep or being stress free. I am currently working in both fields, one of my jobs are helping to discern transposons from a genome that is stored in a database here at Brock. Needless to say I am very planted in science and logic, to the annoyance of my entire family. I enjoy looking at both sides and can be said to be a little utilitarian but I do admit to being very empathic. My academic choices reflect who I am very well. The biology aspect is my empathic side, I want to understand living and life, albeit at the genetic level, and my computer science side is my logical side. As for my reasons for taking SOCI2F90 – Foundations for Community Engagement, I will be blunt: it is my mandatory sociology credit. My career is not directed at sociology, though it is an admirable course. I am looking towards web development for my career or software development for genomic research. Now for my portfolio, the two OOCLO’s I have chosen are my experience with Food Not Bombs and Southridge. I interviewed Rachael Dunn and Katelyn O’Brien about the YMCA and also Rebecca Morkunas, Aida MarcAntonio and Kimberly Heykoop about Garden City Productions. Lastly I will close this portfolio with final thoughts on the course.
Food Not Bombs
Recently I had the pleasure of joining a community help group called Food Not Bombs. I initially chose this as I read that it was giving out only vegan food. This intrigued me as my main degree in biology allows me to have a certain understanding of the human body. I know that many vegetarian/vegan diets require supplements to ensure that they get all the nutrients required for a healthy diet. Admittedly if you are committed and can afford the diet and supplements it can be a very healthy path. The important take away here is if you can afford it, and if you are seeking out food, and are unable to provide for that, how are you able to supplement your diet with what you need? The Canadian Food Guide recommends 2 to 3 servings of meat or alternatives (Health Canada). This was what I was interested in, I wondered if Food Not Bombs was more about changing people’s values than helping people in need.
So I decided I would investigate the organization and ask some questions, and I was honestly surprised. I was given a location to meet up with the group, and upon arriving I noticed it was an apartment, one of the members is not only donating their time but also their living space. I learned later that the leader (who refused to be called as such) is the owner of the apartment. Many of the people who were present were young, and eager to involve me in the process. Asking questions I began to see a similar pattern of people who were more interested in social justice and helping people than pushing a message. In fact one of the regular volunteers is not vegan, he can just see the good that is done by the group. Many of the regular volunteers are Brock students, but not just sociology students; there was a good split of Arts and Science in this group. Also it is more than just “activist” type people in the group. Seeing people who are in it to just help is always a positive sign of what’s to come.
When I inquired about the message, and whether or not they were trying to push the vegan diet or the main message of diverting the government funds that create weapons (or any military expenditure) to the impoverished people within our own country, I was told that it is a secondary goal. If a patron were to inquire about the message, then and only then was anything mentioned. The most important aspect was to feed those who came. I was truly impressed, many soup kitchens and other food banks will have a Christian overtone that can alienate people. Though just by the practice of not serving any meat, they send a message, and are begging you to ask: why no meat? They do want to help people but they are still doing it their way and essentially still pushing a message, silently none the less.
When it came to serving, it was jovially mentioned that we are more food “sharers” than food servers, everybody was encouraged to eat, including volunteers. You do not have people giving you food; you instead have people sharing food with you, dining with you. It is not two divisible groups, but instead a community. There were regulars that came every Sunday for this meal and the regular volunteers would take the time and say hello and just talk with them, not separating themselves. The people who came were very glad for the meal and the talk, and even shared a picnic table with each other and would chat. It felt more like a picnic in the park than any kind of charity. This is a great example of bridging what you say and what you do. Food Not Bombs does not do “charity”, it is more like a community gathering, a fine example of the connection of activism and helping people (Baines, 2011).
The only issue I could have with how Food Not Bombs operates is with the lack of meat. I don’t believe eating meat is wrong, it is quite normal for many species to regularly eat meat, including us. The reason behind the lack of meat is the aspect of cruelty in the raising of the animals. This is fair; it is unfortunately well documented that the meat industry can be cruel and treat their animals poorly. However there are alternatives to the main meat producers. There are free range meats or cruelty free meat where the animals are treated well. If the problem is the fact that we kill animals to survive , well it is due to the fact that we eat meat that we have evolved to have the mental ability to be able to form these conclusions.
All in all I am blown away by the effort and generosity of this small group of people. They are more interested in helping than preaching, and befriending those they help. It is clear that they would do something like this regardless of the affiliation they have. It just so happens that they are helping through Food Not Bombs as they agree with the ethos of the charity. I am even swayed a little, at least about the funds for weapons and military, it is true that some funds can be diverted but I see this as more of an American situation. Our military is small for a country of our size and making it weaker leaving us open to vindictive or gregarious powers to snatch us up or do great harm. As for the giving up of meat, they are going to have a hard time stopping me from enjoying it.
In my neighbourhood there is a small non-denominational church called Southridge. As we all know churches are supposed to be helpful to the needy, and many are. Excitingly this church is directly helpful; half of the building is also a shelter for those in need. The shelter is not the biggest I have seen, but it is quite large as it is at 35 beds, and they also have separate “dorms” for men and women. This is part security and part for privacy sake. Men can be more comfortable around men and vice versa. However they do not forcefully separate the men and women and they will often participate together in activities. The separation is specifically for sleeping. Southridge is more than just somewhere to sleep and eat. They work collaboratively with Niagara Health and Ontario Works to help their patrons not need shelters anymore.
Southridge will also regularly schedule event nights at the shelter for the residents. These event nights are not just a movie night, they have gone to rock climbing and other interesting and fun activities. This may seem wasteful or expensive but some of the residents are teens or young adults, and some are young at heart. Taking them out helps them feel more part of the community. They won’t feel left out by society and have something to rember fondly or look forward to.
As for the food served, it is quite good. They serve a well-rounded meal with many options that is clearly appreciated. This made me think back to when I volunteered with Food Not Bombs, where they will not serve meat as they believe meat is cruel and abusively obtained. When Food Not Bombs served food to the people in Montebello Park it was quite obvious that the patrons, though grateful, they were missing meat. The lack of meat was a silent message about the meat industry that they were trying to get across. If you happened to be a vegetarian at Southridge, that is completely fine also. They may not have a gourmet vegetarian meal but there is salad and other non-meat items. The idea of pushing an ideology is always a sore spot with me. Though Food Not Bombs were pretty good about not being to overt with their message Southridge is almost better. They do still over something called devotions, which are voluntary. Obviously the message is pretty apparent, the shelter is part of a church, but it is not about recruiting more to join. It is first and foremost a place to receive help.
One last interesting thing about the shelter is that it is not a “walk in” shelter. As in they will help anyone who needs it as long as they do not appear violent or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They door is a buzzer door and you will need to be let in by a staff member. This may seem excessive but the safety of the residents is their main priority. The care of their clients is highlighted by their daily recreational activity. They are actively trying to help the clients become healthier people as well as help them look for work. This is an excellent example of helping the body and helping the mind.
All in all, I was impressed by Southridge. I was hoping to write about how they force scripture down people’s throats and that they are condescending, but this was just my atheist side being exceptionally biased. I am happy to say that Southridge seems like a very positive shelter actively striving to better the people who pass through their doors.
YMCA Critical Review
The YMCA has always been something of interest to me. Years ago my girlfriend worked there and before that much of my family had done first aid and swim lessons at them. I had always assumed that they were just a business that did charitable acts as I know they run a few events for kid’s camps in the communities they exist. Through the interview that I did with Rachel Dunn and Katelyn O`Brien, I learned that the YMCA is actually a not for profit. Ms. Dunn even mentioned she herself did not know this prior to looking into them for the presentatiom and she is an employee there. I found this interesting as this is a gym essentially, they do much more but the main focus is the gym and usually a pool. Every YMCA I have seen has been very clean and professional with up to date equipment, so for a NPO to keep this up shows that it is likely being run well. When I asked how the funds were generated I was told that it is partly from the memberships, which seems strange. I wondered how someone in a lower financial bracket may afford a gym membership as the purpose of the YMCA is to allow access to the under privileged. The YMCA will actually work with a person to determine a fair membership cost and subsidize it as much as possible. They will work on a family to family basis and hand craft an affordable plan. The YMCA also has the Strong Kids campaign which is directed at youth that cannot afford camp in the summer. This is very important as there is likely the need for these children to have some kind of daycare so their parents can work so it solves two problems in one swoop. The YMCA works on the micro level in an obvious manner: each person to walk in will receive help. AS for helping the entire community they offer campaigns to reduce youth gambling, which I was not aware was even a problem. One of the more interesting aspects of the YMCA was that they will help you learn the skills you would need to possibly work at the YMCA. Things like first aid or even life guarding and if you are in need these classes are subsidised. So not only are you learning skills that can be applicable elsewhere, if you are in need you are helped and you may end up with a job out of it. Very effective system, it will remove those who won`t help themselves. As for the presentation aspect, Ms. Dunn and Ms.O`Brien were very knowledgeable. For each question I had they had a thorough answer. Their board was laden with information that covered every topic imaginable, from costs to fundraising to the activism they take part in. The only problem was that the poster was very text heavy, well organized and informative but full of text. At worst this is an esthetic concern and it is probably for the best as many people were reading the information. One thing I thought was quite a good idea was that they were wearing the Strong Kids campaign T-shirts. Clearly they were very thorough and I enjoyed their presentation very much. I feel I am much more informed about the YMCA and that was the entire goal.
Garden City Productions
The second group I interviewed that evening was Rebecca Morkunas, Aida MarcAntonio and Kimberly Heykoop with the topic of Garden City Productions. They had an excellent display. Their organization is a theatre group that allows people interested in theater give it a shot and they designed their board to look like a stage. They also explained that the board itself was organized in a bottom up fashion. The funding was at the bottom, then planning, members and ending with the production that occurs at the top. I was very impressed by that but more so by their knowledge of the topic at hand. My first question was that of the purpose or goal of Garden City Productions, which they told me, was to provide entertainment for the community and a theater working experience for the members of the troupe. Anyone can join however there is a membership fee of 20-25 dollars to be part of the production. Also all the rehearsals were on evenings and weekends. This made me immediately think of how open this is to everyone. Obviously they won`t turn anyone away but an admission fee to work will deter some more financial strapped individuals and the timing really lends to a middle class person with a 9-5 job. To my surprise the group immediately addressed these exact concerns. They agree that it does make it harder for others not in the normal workforce to be a part of the group but if they still want to help there are other aspects such as stage design and carpentry or painting that can be done at any time. As for the membership fee, there was no way around it. They mentioned that there are only two groups of people who get paid and that is the directors and the musicians as they belong to a union so some of the membership fee is used to defer that cost. They do sell tickets also and they range between 18-20 dollars. Again, this is not much less expensive than the for profit theatres in the area, so to price that out for a family of four you will be looking to spend 80 dollars on tickets. Again this is not really a deal for the area, and if the purpose of Garden City Productions is entertainment for the community they are definitely pandering to a middle class crowd. The more I heard of the organization the less I seemed to see it as a benefit to our community. It does not seem to provide as much as others in the area do. I understand there are costs involved but this does not seem to be a charity in my mind. The group even mention3ed that they do see a crowd of a more middle class range, and these people can go to any other theater in the area for a similar cost, so it doesn’t seem to offer something to the under privileged. As for the experience part, there is some merit there. It gives opportunities to those who might get a chance to perform in the for profit theaters, which is good and certainly an aspiring actor/actress can build up a résumé doing this. I am just not entirely convinced that Garden City productions offers a genuine benefit to the community as an NPO, as a theater absolutely but I don’t feel I will donate to this cause. All in all however the group did bring up these issues in their presentation and were not blinded to it. They criticised as much as they gave praise, and their final says was that overall it is a good organization with many return members. I just feel there are much more important things for money to go towards.
My Critical Reflection
Up front I would like to say that I am a jaded person towards many topics. I grew up in a working man’s house and I have worked since I was 9. My family is composed of many hard workers and the only ones who were not I have had cut ties with due to their destructive tendencies and poor ethic. I have seen in my own family people who blame everyone and demand to be given everything. You can imagine my bias. I generally will provide for myself and those I love well before I consider others. I do have empathy but I will always put my family and myself first in any situation. Now that you know where I stand, let us continue. This course has not shown me mush more than I already knew. I have to say that over all one of the major things I learned is that everyone has a solution but no one has a plan. As for personal growth I have to say not much has changed, I was always aware that my clothes are made in a third world country and that the conditions are terrible there. I know this and I feel terrible about it, I am not soulless, but I currently am in no position to go there and over throw some government and generate reform. I need to ensure food is on my table and the power stays on in my house. I admit I am a creature of comfort also; I am a product of living in a first world country. I am glad that there are people who will dedicate their lives to helping others and if I can I will support them financially but there are so many that need help and I have so few dollars to share. I don’t want you to think I am some heartless selfish person though, I just chose my battles. As I said before I have worked since I was a child, I always find a way to make money and some of those ways were very hard labour and very dirty jobs. I do this to provide for those I love, I want to provide the best possible life for myself, my girlfriend and any children we may eventually have. So for all we learned in the class, at the end of the day I have not changed, and likely will not change because I feel what I do is in the right. Am I more socially conscious? Probably, I already hate Walmart and other chain stores, I prefer to by locally if my funds permit, though that’s the catch, only if funds permit. If it came down to starve or shop at Walmart I would go and be glad for their rollback pricing. If I had millions of dollars and my family was comfortably provided for then I think I would be much more charitable, just right now I work two jobs and go to school so I just want to enjoy my spare time.
As for social media I feel it has proven itself as a means for social change. Many of our current revolutions in the Middle East are powered by the idea of mass information, and mass communication. In fact it is so threatening to these regimes that Turkey is currently trying to block twitter and others from being accessed by their people. As it is frequently said, there is no removing something from the internet. I think the anonymity of the web and social media allows people to break stories that they could have been killed for releasing and to leak information the public deserves to know. There is no questioning the power of the internet, we live in a wired age with access to any information with the flick of a few keys, we can tell millions of people by posting something in one place, then they can share it to millions more. That is the most terrifying and exciting part of our current era. Social media is easily one of the strongest tools for any cause to raise awareness.
Bringing about positive change is absolutely something we should all strive for. I know I am not going to fly to the middle of Africa and strike out to get Kony but I will buy a man a coffee if he is down on his luck, or give toys to under privileged children around Christmas. These are things I have always done, as heartless as I sound above, I am always willing to help just in small ways, and some bigger ways for a truly deserving cause. If each person did a little then maybe we would have a little more good. The biggest aspect of the course for me was the guest speakers, I feel the OOCLO’s were good but it is hard to ask tough questions of an organization, especially because most of the time you are with a front line person, not the head of the organization. These people generally do care and are trying to help in their own way. How do you criticize that? The guest speakers however are usually higher up, and surrounded by more of us than them. We are expected to ask hard questions and have support from our peers. The most impactful were the speakers that were there to help their cause not to present their business. My favourite was Nadine Wallace, she clearly was there to help and to inform, she was hoping to help someone. Her genuine passion was unmistakeable. Second to here was Betty Lou Souter, another speaker who has heard all the talk, and knows what she does is good. I felt she was there to forward the cause, and spoke praise about those who helped make Community Care what it was. It was these experience I took the most away from. I feel the passion they had may yet get me to become more socially active. I feel the best thing I can do to bring about positive change is to be as passionate in what little charity I do as some of our speakers are to really make some small difference.