1) First things First: What is Katimavik? Click Here
2) My Reasons for Choosing Katimavik. Click Here
3) Oh the places I would go: My three communities and beyond. Click Here
4) My Katimavik Group: Randomly-Selected Brothers and Sisters. Click Here
5) From City Hall, to the organic farm, then back to high school again: My Work Projects
JOB #1: Leduc City Hall & The Leduc Recreation Centre || Leduc, Alberta
“Does these look professional?” I held up a pair of beige pants for Alicia to judge. At a nearby rack, she was diligently browsing through collared blouses.
“How should I know?” She shrugged, motioning to her Birkenstocks and cargo shorts.
We had been in the Salvation Army—or “Sally Arms” as Alicia called it—for close to an hour. Our mission was simple: we had to look presentable. We were among the volunteers chosen to work at the Leduc City Hall, and we needed office clothing—asap.
When I had packed for Katimavik I’d left all my “nice clothes” at home. I imagined that we’d be digging trails and building house frames (hence their suggestion that we bring steel-toed boots), not wearing laminated name tags in a spotless office building. It just goes to show that you never really know what to expect from the program.
Alicia held up a blue collared-shirt. I nodded, laughing to myself. “I just hope the employees at the office don’t recognize any of their old work shirts on our first day.”
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In the first trimester, I worked at both the Leduc City Hall and the Leduc Recreation Centre. Although the people at the city hall were absolutely wonderful, this placement helped me realize that I really—really—didn’t want a stable office job at a “safe” level. Besides, because we were working at such an important place with so many busy people, we weren’t allowed a great deal of autonomy or creativity. Although I was very willing to smile and act happy, Mike, Julie, and Alicia—three very hands-on and results-oriented volunteers—were clearly bored out of their skulls.
To be fair, we were their first Katimavik volunteers ever. And, from the looks of it, they assumed we’d be low-functioning interns. The thing is, we had energy and ideas. We needed more of a challenge. Our employers quickly realized they hadn’t given us enough credit.
One day, as we ate lunch after stuffing literal doggie-bags for a pet-lover’s event, one of our work sponsors approached us.
“How would you like to work at the city’s recreation centre?” said a bright-eyed man named Kevin. We smiled.
The next week we found ourselves in a much better situation. The rec centre (then called the Black Gold centre) really needed our help. We all found our niches, helping where we could. Mike got his fix for physical work out at the rink, becoming especially excited when asked to drive a Zamboni. Alicia worked outdoors and zoomed around in a nifty work cart. I helped Julie—who barely spoke any English—carry out a variety of tasks that involved artwork and children’s programs. We all had tons of fun. And, we got to ditch the collars and wear some comfy t-shirts.
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My three main accomplishments:
- I was put in charge of running a Halloween Carnival. I had to decide what would happen at each booth and figure out how to transform the main lobby into a haunted house. Julie helped me every step of the way, improving her English and offering several really good ideas. The Katimavik crew helped us staff the event, doing everything from running games to managing craft tables. Our carnival was even featured in the local newspaper.
- I was in charge of choosing themes and running several PD day camps for young children. Among other things, we made candy apples, played survivor games and built our own scarecrows. Julie was in heaven because she loved kids. They even learned a little French from her.
- Along the side of the main pool, there was a big, blank (and ugly!) temporary wall because the centre was renovating the kiddie pool. Julie and I came up with a mural concept (painting the wall blue but leaving empty white spaces in the shape of fish) and had several children come in and paint their own sea creature. The wall looked much better and the children were delighted. The wall was HUGE so it took us a very long time but by the end it looked so good we wished it wasn’t a temporary wall!
For a first job, this was really great. We also had our cancer fundraiser on the side and the staff often let us work on it using rec centre resources. In the end, I was completely satisfied with my new job.
JOB #2: L’Amitient, Socio-Therapeutic Farm || St.Jovite, Quebec “
I struggled to remove my rubber boots and made my way to the bathroom. I’d just come in from tending to the girls–seven large dairy cows with their own names and distinct personalities. Specifically, along with Alicia and Mike, we’d replaced their hay, replenished their water, scattered new gravel on the barn floor and removed the, erm, “mess” from their tails. It was a far cry from the office work we’d done in the previous rotation.
At the bathroom sink, I took off my heavy farm gloves and insolated toque. Before I washed up, I paused and examined myself: my nose was bright red due thanks to Quebec’s winter weather, my recently-shaved head was matted with sweat, and my blue cover-alls were caked in mud. I froze.
“Who am I?” I sputtered to myself.
At the beginning of the program my hair was long and highlighted. I never went anywhere without make-up on. I complained when the air-conditioning was too cold and could barely lift my own backpack. Now, I could work in the woods and run after animals like a regular farm kid.
As the shock subsided, I remembered that I had chosen this job precisely because no one thought I could do it. I wanted to rocket-propel myself as far out of my comfort zone as I could possibly get. Even though I was dirty and sweaty and not at all sexy…I felt, for that moment, that I was truly beautiful.
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The Second Trimester I worked at L’Amitient, a socio-therapeutic organic farm in St. Jovite, Quebec. Besides running a self-sustaining farm, the owners of L’Amitient were the full-time caregivers–or more suitably, the family–of several special-needs adults. The “friends”, as we referred to them, were living with everything from down-syndrome to autism but, as I learned over my three-month stint, a human being is much more than the sum of their labels.
This was definitely the most challenging yet most rewarding placement I had during Katimavik. I not only learned to appreciate the decent treatment of animals and underestimated human beings, I also changed fundamentally as a young woman. I developed character, learning what it truly means to earn a good night’s rest after a hard day at work.
Again, I had the good fortune of working with Mike and Alicia (Julie had recieved a placement at a job-seekers kiosk) and thus got to know them even better as we sorted beans, chased after cows, and took long tractor rides. There were so many moments of beauty and discovery that I would need a whole blog to express it fairly.
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My Three Main Accomplishments:
* I worked a great deal with a 14-year-old autistic boy named Mathieu. It’s hard to explain how much I learned from the boy who would never speak to or look at me, but I have to sum it up by saying that I feel like he eventually grew to trust me…and that is a quiet but powerful accomplishment. I hope to blog about Mathieu himself sometime.
*I learned how to appreciate food from its very source. I had never seen beans in their pods, large carrots still covered in dirt, or the milk coming directly out of a cow’s udder. As a meat eater, it was also important for me to see a pig get slaughtered for its meat. It got me thinking about how I never really imagined everything that must happen for the food to magically appear on store shelves. Also, because it was an organic farm, I learned about the importance of growing food with respect to the larger system of which it is a part.
*I had never pushed my physical limits to the extent that I did on the farm. I always joked with Alicia and Mike about earning my “farm arm”. City life is so disconnected from the sweat and labour of the people who work for our convenience that I really needed to see, first hand, how hard it can be and how much I should appreciate it. I was only one small cog in a big family that worked together, lived together and actually cared for one another. It was so real.
JOB #3: Bathurst High School, Healthy Lifestyles Room|| Bathurst, New Brunswick
Bonnie, our supervisor at BHS, unlocked the door to what appeared to be a regular classroom. When she flicked on the lights, the room proved to be anything but. The walls were orange and green and yellow. There was a pool table in the corner and several well-worn but appealing couches. Educational posters lined the walls, describing everything from the hazards of smoking to GLBTQ rights. Everywhere I looked, there was something a high school student could appreciate. It was like a super cool version of a teacher’s lounge.
“A Katimavik volunteer thought of this room. He painted it and brought to life” said Bonnie with a sparkle in her eye.
Mike and I were looking at the Healthy Lifestyles Room, a student space where students were encouraged to hang out instead of getting high or chain smoking on breaks and spare periods. It was going to be our job to create a positive space and fill the room with the activities that kept the students coming.
I thumbed the large paper lanterns in the corner of the room. I couldn’t believe one volunteer had started all this. After him, several others worked on the room and continued to make it amazing. With Katimavik running it instead of teachers, the room felt like real student space–a place where students were actually trusted and allowed to be themselves.
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In my third Trimester, I worked as a peer-advisor at Bathurst High School with Mike. Having had all the same jobs by chance, Mike and I joked about being unofficial twins. We even bought matching red jackets to wear as a gag.
I was a bit nervous about working in a high school setting. I hadn’t had a bad high school experience, but I’d always relied on “looking the part” in order to feel like I fit in. Then, at the age of 19, I was not that much older than the students I’d be working with. I began to feel a little self-conscious about the second-hand clothing and short boyish hair I’d come to aquire during the program. Then I realized: this was my chance to do high school again the right way. I would be myself, have confidence and encourage others to do the same.
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My Three Main Accomplishments:
* I designed and implemented the “Yeah, You’re a Smoker BUT...” campaign. Every week we had a different theme. During “Yeah, you’re a smoker but you’re also an artist” we had arts and crafts stations set up and we painted many of the remaining white spaces in the room. For “YYASB you’re also a musician” we invited several bands to play at lunch hour in our room. Kids showed up in droves to eat popcorn and enjoy the music of their peers. For “YYASB you’re also an athlete” Mike ran badminton competitions in the gym. Basically, we wanted to stress the point that smoking is only a habit, and it doesn’t define you as a person. The idea was to give the students something better to do and trust them to decide for themselves instead of lecturing them.
*Mike’s pet project was to re-open the obsolete weight room in the school. As he broke his back (figuratively) hauling out the useless and outdated machines from the room, he put me in charge of fundraising for new equipment. We even got the whole katimavik crew involved; they helped us with a big car wash to raise money. In the end, we not only cleaned up and painted the room, adding new mirrors and new/donated equipment, we opened a brand new door for all the students at BHS that would encourage yet another great thing to do instead of smoking.
* We spoke to the students in their own language and made some lasting connections. When asked by teachers to give talks about responsible partying for instance, we didn’t pretend we were perfect. We took common sense approaches that highlighted the need to keep yourself out of stupid situations. We also talked to the students one on one when they came to the room, offering our sincerest advice whenever they asked for it. Some really opened up to us about very serious issues, and we helped work through their tears and assure them that high school is only one brief stop on a very big adventure. Our advice was simple but sincere…and I think it was effective because it was coming from two young people who had, very recently, been there and done that.
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In short, every job taught me something important about myself, my community, my nation and my world. When I returned to York University I knew that I wanted to study Professional Writing and Communications. My plan was to become a journalist so that I would never have to pick only one trajectory but instead weave stories about them all. With a new-found focus, I ended up having an even higher GPA than I did before Katimavik and can now say that I graduated with the highest honours whilst still remaining an active volunteer within my school community. I hope that people considering a gap year come across this post and consider, perhaps for the first time, the education can–indeed must–happen everywhere we go.
“Don’t laugh at youth for [her] affectations; [She] is only trying on one face after another to find [her] own.” ~Logan Pearsall Smith