By: Namish Modi  

Being an international student from India, Dea Nair (BA ’23) is used to seeing visible poverty. As a Co-op for Community student and philanthropy coordinator with United Way Waterloo Region Communities (WRC), she gained experiences and knowledge, learning about how poverty can take many forms.

Dea in a United Way shirt

“What I realized from this donor funded experience is that poverty in Canada is much more invisible, but equally pressing,” says Nair. “My perspectives have changed, and I feel like I’m able to do some good.”  

Nair’s perspectives wouldn’t have changed without donors, who create awards so students like her can have impactful work experiences.  

Nair, a graduate of the Psychology program, spent two work terms in 2020 and 2021 at United Way WRC thanks to the Co-op for Community program. Nair enjoyed her experiences so much that she is now a full-time employee at United Way WRC.  

Co-op for Community creates meaningful co-op jobs for Waterloo students from all disciplines at charitable organizations that can’t afford to hire. The program is partially funded through Giving Tuesday donations.

As part of Giving Tuesday on November 28, donors can contribute to the Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) Fund. Co-op for Community is one of the beneficiaries of the fund.

Waterloo students are talented, passionate and ambitious – and co-op terms help them realize their full potential as leaders and innovators. But some students really struggle to find jobs due to limited work experience, a lack of resources or social inequalities. 

The fund can help:   

  • Empower students who belong to equity-diverse groups by creating awards for underrepresented students and helping students with similar experiences connect with one another. 

  • Support the non-profit sector by creating co-op jobs at organizations that need young talent and can’t afford to hire. 

  • Create an environment where students have ample resources to support their mental health. 

  • Assist students on co-op who may require emergency funding. 

Here are some student testaments from those had meaningful experiences during their work terms as United Way project coordinators as part of Co-op for Community.

Megan posing on TC staircase

When you donate to the Co-op for Community program, you’re supporting students like me and giving us the opportunity students like me and giving us the opportunity to build skillsets, learn more about the nonprofit sector and help others.

Megan Logan, Arts and Business

Zeeyan standing on stage

I saw this as an opportunity for me to get to know the Waterloo Region community ... I can confidently say that I’m still feeling the benefits, impacts and growth of that co-op experience, even though it ended many months ago.

Zeeyan Bourdeau, Health Studies

Another beneficiary of the CEE Fund is the Waterloo Experience (WE) Accelerate program.  

Launched in 2021, WE Accelerate helps undergraduate co-op students entering their first work term. CEE has partnered with industry partners to help students develop in-demand skills. Students work on real-world projects with companies all while earning a flexible work term credit.  

Donor funded financial awards for students in need allow students to invest in the program and career programming to help students navigate the stressors of work and study.

Business photo of Sahil in a tie

The (award) money has definitely helped pay off certain financial situations, like my residence fees, because I did not have a paid co-op job to help with this.

Sahil Butt, Computer Engineering, Dixon foundation award recipient

My entire university experience changed after WE Accelerate. It gave me the opportunity to further develop my skills and get experience using my skills. Financial awards are very impactful. Students don’t often see the potential and value of the program until they’re in it and donor support helps students like me invest in the program more fully.

Davonic Bailey

Davonic sitting in a chair among green foilage

To qualify as a Giving Tuesday challenge champion, donors make a minimum donation of $1,000 to the fund. This year, our student challenge champion is Ruhuni de Alwis (BMath ’89). 

Ruhuni, along with her husband Barry, say that the connection they have with the university, coupled with the value they see in the co-op program, motivate them to give back.

We both just felt that we would like to give back to something so foundational to us and that has given us our family. We both hire co-op students in our roles, and that brings us back to the university and keeps us connected to Waterloo.

Ruhuni de Alwis (BMath ’89)

Ruhuni, Barry and family standing in front of fall foilage

In 2022, Steve Menich, Mary-Ellen Cullen (BA ’78)  and Scott and Linda Davis (BA’ 81)  were CEE challenge champions for their generosity to Co-op for Community. 

Mary-Ellen Cullen and Steve Menich

Typically, non-profits don’t have a budget to support other services and that is one niche co-op students can fill. From the feedback we’ve received, students have been contributing in a very admirable way, which contributes to their education and the non-profit agency.

Steve Menich 

Scott and Linda Davis with daughter standing in front of body of water.

I want any student who wants to work at a non-profit to have the opportunity to do so,” says Scott. “It's not about academic merit. It's about the need for employment and the need to support both students and employers.

Scott Davis (MA ’88)