A dedicated group of students, along with Service Learning Coordinator Rachael Brownell-Swain and teacher John Teolis, worked with New Circles Community Services, a not-for-profit organization in Scarborough providing social services, education and training. New Circles also runs GLOW (Gently Loved Outfits to Wear), the largest clothing bank in Canada, where eligible clients can shop for free by appointment.
To prepare for their work at New Circles, Challenge Week participants spent Monday in a design thinking workshop focusing on social justice issues in Toronto. Students learned about areas of concern in Toronto and what some specific problems are in those areas, such as lack of access to affordable transit and daycare. They then created an action, innovation or invention to deal with a specific social justice issue.
Students also explored the idea of privilege through an activity where they had to “buy” privileges with a fixed amount of money; this encouraged students to consider which privileges they feel are most valuable and what it would mean to not have those privileges.
With a deeper understanding of social justice issues in Toronto, students headed to New Circlers, where they spent the remainder of the week assisting with daily operations. In addition to sorting through the donation pile (affectionately dubbed “Clothes Mountain”), they ensured clothes were sized appropriately, placed clothing on racks and helped visitors to the GLOW store.
“I found it very rewarding,” Marshall Leishman (‘19) says of volunteering with New Circles. “We were able to see the physical difference we were making when we would go out on the floor and help customers find the specific clothes they needed. They provide a very necessary service that is especially great around the winter season.”
John Teolis agrees. “I feel Challenge Week was a valuable experience for our students, because it demonstrated a perspective where, when assistance is given with dignity and respect, all involved can gain a sense of accomplishment and worth."
Throughout the week, students learned more about the catchment where New Circles is located and about the programming they offer, including settlement support. Their work also showed them some of the challenges New Circles faces, such as donations of damaged, soiled or seasonally inappropriate clothing. Greenwood aims to provide students with authentic opportunities make and strengthen connections with many different communities. Challenge Week allows students to immerse themselves in one of these communities, learning first-hand about its needs, challenges and successes. This experience led students to think deeply about ways they can continue to make a difference within their own communities and beyond.