This story is part of the #UWCommunity National Volunteer week series, profiling University of Waterloo members who give their time and talent by volunteering in our community.
Cristy Aponte is incredibly inspiring.
She is currently gearing up to start her Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) this September at Waterloo’s Renison University College after just completing her honors undergraduate degree in the Social Development Studies program last Saturday. Cristy came to Canada 7 years ago from Colombia as a refugee and uses her background to help mentor, support, and teach a range of skills to new immigrants in our Waterloo Region community.
“Seeing people in the community willing to help you, makes you feel a part of the community. As a refugee, having a social worker help us was just really meaningful to me and made me want to do that for others, which is why I volunteer.”
Cristy couples her real-life experiences and her eagerness to connect with local individuals going through similar circumstances with a strong desire to give back to the community that helped her and her family. She’s especially interested in programs designed to support refugees, allowing individuals who are new to our region find community-driven resources they might not have known about. Above all, she loves the feeling of making a difference in someone’s life, which is why she’s consistently given her time every week over the last 3 years to the Pathways to Education Program® program through Carizon Family and Community Services.
The Pathways to Education Program® helps youth in low-income communities graduate from high school and successfully transition to postsecondary education or training. Pathways addresses systemic barriers to education by providing leadership, expertise and a community-based program proven to lower dropout rates.
Through her involvement with Pathways, Cristy has gained volunteer expertise in tutoring, mentoring, and their literacy program. She also spends her spare time providing office support and helping children and families become more comfortable with English as a second at the local YMCA, as well as the Mennonite Coalition for Refugee Support. She has a soft spot for mentoring, as it allows her to build strong relationships with high school youths and work with them to build their up confidence levels, providing workplace and life advice through interactive activities.
“The kids write me letters at the end and when I see them on the street, they always say hi to me, which is so nice. And I was learning with them too.”
Dale Gellatly, Director of Community Engagement at Carizon, is so thankful to work with dedicated people like Cristy:
“As a volunteer tutor and mentor in the Pathways to Education program at Carizon, Cristy has a genuine interest in spending time and developing bonds with the youth in our Pathways to Education program. She always brings great energy and enthusiasm and her willingness to participate and try new things inspires our youth to do the same.”
Cristy acknowledges that general encouragement goes a long way and loves seeing the results of her volunteer support. She’s able to share in the realities of being in a new country and can relate to our community’s newcomers in a direct way, which helps them gain a true sense of belonging.
“It only takes 3 hours of my day, but it might mean so much more to that other person. It’s so rewarding. Giving back just makes you feel good.”
Dale from Carizon recognizes just how much their volunteers benefit the organization, and more importantly, the individuals and families utilizing their services:
“Volunteers are an essential part of the team at Carizon in all our programs, including Pathways to Education. Volunteers do not just contribute time and talent, but also their belief in what is possible. Each volunteer has a unique contribution to make and with their help, our programs make a real difference in the lives of our clients and program participants. The vision at Carizon is Hope, Wellness, Community. Our volunteers help us to work towards achieving that vision each and every day.”
Cristy’s life has been touched by community services and dedicated volunteers, and now she’s committed to paying it forward. Aspiring towards achieving a masters in social work with a community focus, she recognizes the significant impact of sharing her time, knowledge, and wisdom with our community.
“If you’re good at something, why not share it with others?”