Bella on Four Months at 612 Main Street

Bella with alumni facilitators from the English and computer programs

Why were you interested in working at the Learning Exchange?

I was interested when I saw that the job posting said I would be working closely with Downtown Eastside community members. I’d worked in the DTES before and met a lot of cool people, so I was excited to be working in the community again but this time in a different kind of environment (a ‘learning environment’ where you get to know people better as opposed to a soup kitchen where you volunteer to serve but don’t have the opportunity to see the same people again and again).

What did you do?

I basically helped out wherever I was needed, and that formed a routine of sorts. I helped out with Computer Workshops and in the afternoons when people would come to use the computers. I facilitated ESL conversation workshops, helped students out with the activities they were running, and assisted at the reception desk.

What was the highlight of your time here?

I really enjoyed working with and getting to know patrons, so basically my entire stay at the Learning Exchange was a highlight! I loved facilitating the short stories ESL workshop, I loved working as a team to develop the garden plot, I loved hanging around at the Drop-In and chatting with everyone like we were all hanging out in a giant living room. It was great.

What did you learn?

If I had to make a list of everything I’ve learned, I’d fill five pages. Here’s the short version: I learned that not everyone knows how to turn on a computer (a skill I’ve taken for granted), I learned how to help people learn for themselves as opposed to telling them exactly what to do, I learned that no one is ever ‘too old’ to learn (I found out that one of the ESL learners I’d been working with is 79 years old!).

What surprised you?

I’m surprised at how many people I got to work with. At any other workplace, I would have gotten to know ten or maybe fifteen new people. At the Learning Exchange, I can safely say that I’ve gotten incredibly fond of about fifty people, and I’ve learned something from every one of those people.

What advice would you give to student volunteers about community placements?

I would definitely recommend it, even if you don’t think you’d be ‘good at it’ or comfortable in that position. Experiences that you’re unsure of always end up being the best learning experiences and make a bigger impact on your life.

What will you do next?

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do next, but I would love to work in the DTES community again in the future. In the meantime, I’ll probably be visiting the Learning Exchange often to help out with the garden or to just sit down and chat with everyone at the Drop-In 🙂

Bella was a UBC Arts Co-op student at the Learning Exchange from January to April 2012 and worked with many activities for community members and students.

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