Caring is Part of Their Nature
You can feel it in the hallways at Cumberland College. There’s a sense of belonging and caring throughout the campuses, and that’s no accident. “We’ve made a serious effort to make our college a place to not only learn, but to be part of a community that cares about everyone within it,’ says Brenda Mellon, Manager, Marketing and Continuing Studies. Cumberland College began this journey in 2014, with a commitment to enhance and improve student engagement.
How It All Began
Cumberland started with its Adult Basic Education (ABE) students, connecting them with practical application experiences related to their career goals. One of these experiences was volunteer work, to increase workplace skills and improve connections between students and the community. It was successful, with both students and the community appreciating the experience.
The next step came in 2015, when Lynette Gerski, the college’s Marketing and Continuing Studies Assistant attended the Ministry of Advanced Education’s annual professional development meeting. Inspired by a workshop, Gerski came up with the idea of “#CumberlandCares”.
#CumberlandCares was born in December 2015, a joint project between the college’s Learner Services and Marketing departments. The program takes the idea of community connections and service to the next level. Its first initiative was collecting toys for the local Salvation Army’s Christmas hamper program. From there, #CumberlandCares took on a life of its own. T-shirts were made, emblazoned with #CumberlandCares and its slogan “Inspire-Be Inspired” for staff and students to wear with pride during their service projects. Since then, students have embraced the initiative and made a big difference in their communities.
#CumberlandCares In Action
“We’ve been involved with many local organizations,” says Corinne Lam Ma, Manager of Learner Services. “#CumberlandCares success comes from the students’ commitment to the program.” Students have been an integral part of the Good Food Box, part of the Northeast Food Co-op Program. Tisdale ABE students assemble the monthly food boxes. “The Good Food Box Coordinator has told our staff and students that the food assembly program would struggle without the college’s support,” says Lam Ma.
Cumberland College students also assist with “Stuff A Bus”, a project partnered with the Salvation Army, Northeast School Division, Beeland Co-op and the Tisdale Daycamps. The program, first implemented by Cumberland College in 2012, helps to address child poverty in the area by organizing a community-wide food and clothing drive to collect items for needy families. Students have also committed time to local Habitat for Humanity projects. The students get valuable work experience while giving back to the community. The college also hosts community barbecues, to raise awareness about college programs and raise funds for scholarships. Students assist with these events, helping the college raise its profile in the community.
Tara Nelson, an employment advisor for the Melfort and Tisdale campuses, sees the impact of #CumberlandCares every day. “Not only do students get to improve their community, they also benefit from the experience,” says Nelson. “Students start to build or enhance a foundation of skills, and get self-confidence in their abilities as they volunteer.”
Making A Difference
Students also get to make connections in their community, which is great for networking. “We’ve even had students connect with employers while volunteering,” says Nelson. “One student on a Habitat for Humanity project impressed a contractor so much he earned a summer job.”
“All ABE students are provided with an opportunity to participate in #CumberlandCares, and our post-secondary students do as their schedules allow,” says Lam Ma. “The benefits we have seen in student engagement can’t be overstated.”
#CumberlandCares has made a difference. Students have better connections to the labour market, improved skills for their resumes, better communication skills, and a greater sense of self-esteem and self-worth.
“We’ve had students gain employment as a direct result of #CumberlandCares, and some students have continued their volunteer work after their education with us has ended,” says Lam Ma. “We can’t say enough about how this project has blossomed into a vital connection between the college, our students and our community. Cumberland College cares, and we see examples of it every day.”