Breakfast of Community Champions

EVERY DAY, community organizations in Winnipeg provide vital services to clients of all ages and backgrounds.

They also help U of M learners. Community organizations collaborate with the colleges of the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences to develop, deliver and enrich the colleges’ educational programming. That has a direct impact on the students who will be tomorrow’s health-care professionals.

In February, the Rady Faculty said “thank you” by inviting representatives of 85 local organizations to the Bannatyne campus for the second annual Community Partner Recognition Breakfast.

The gathering, hosted by the Rady Faculty’s Office of Community Engagement, acknowledges and celebrates the roles nonprofit organizations play in the education of students in the health sciences.

Hosting members of the community on campus also demonstrates that the university is an inclusive, accessible and welcoming place.

The invited organizations serve clients such as inner-city youth, seniors, Indigenous people, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and people experiencing poverty, homelessness, addictions and violence.

“By instilling the values of diversity, inclusion and health equity, our partner organizations prepare U of M learners to better serve our community and the wider world,” U of M President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard said at the event.

One initiative that involves community partners is the service-learning program in the Max Rady College of Medicine. During the first two years of medical school, each student spends 46 hours working with a community organization. More than 220 students work with 36 organizations each year.

“It’s been really successful from the student perspective,” said Ian Whetter [B.Sc./01, MD/05], who co-leads the Office of Community Engagement. “Community members are experts on their own well-being, so students can learn from that expertise.

“It also grounds students in the realities that people face day-to-day – the barriers that people face all the time in trying to access health and well-being.”

Ken Opaleke, executive director of West Broadway Youth Outreach, is grateful for the range of students who help at the organization. People with different perspectives and life experiences affect the kids’ lives in many positive ways, he said.

“With volunteers in our corner, honestly, there is very little we can’t accomplish,” Opaleke said. “They’re the foundation of what we do.”

Yoo Jin Kim [B.Sc./17], a second-year medical student, completed her service-learning placement with the Fort Garry Women’s Resource Centre and also volunteered with West Broadway Youth Outreach.

“In didactic classroom learning, it’s really hard to learn about some concepts or see the relevance,” she said. “It’s kind of difficult to connect when I come from a very fortunate background.

“So working with people who are going through those troubles, actually seeing people in these conditions that are unimaginable to me, and making the connection from what I’m learning in the classroom to real life, is really enriching my experience in medical school.

“It’s helping me formulate what kind of doctor I’d like to be.”

First-year medical student Sandhini Lockman [B.Sc./17] had a service-learning placement with the Rady Faculty’s Biomedical Youth Program. She said the program gave her a better understanding of the social determinants of health that are just a list in the classroom.

“I enjoy working with youth in my community,” she said. “Service learning provides an opportunity for me to make a difference in a meaningful way through a reciprocal learning model that differs from traditional volunteering.”

Karen Hill [BSW/91] is a coordinator with New Directions, an agency that provides services and supports to children, youth, adults and families. She said she sees mutual advantages to working with the Rady Faculty. “We get a lot of benefit from the students, and the students take back from what we have to offer, and in line with that, they build lasting relationships,” she said.