Community Mental Health and Addictions Worker, Human Services

Experiencing Vancouver Through Volunteering

After hearing a moving speech from two high school students in January 2018, the idea of volunteering around Vancouver for an entire year hit me and I thought it was just that, an idea. As I started doing research and meeting with people, it began to feel a little more realistic. What held me back was time and overthinking the “what ifs” and “buts.” Fast forward to today, and I am beyond grateful I decided to walk this road. Grateful to all of those who encourage me with their kind words and inspire me with their actions.

No “what ifs” and “buts”
Francisco was inspired by Stenberg's CMHAW program and decided to volunteer an entire year to learn and help the community.

For the past couple months, I have been volunteering at BC Children’s Hospital in Emergency where I interact with patients and parents (sometimes in Spanish), set up arts and crafts in the waiting areas, read to kids, and check in on the patients. I’ve also gained insight into what kids like these days, such as popular tv shows like Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig (check out Netflix Kids).

I have taken this opportunity to ask questions that beguile my curiosity and ask the kids things like, “Is Captain Underpants still a thing?” “Please tell me you know Harry Potter!” “Do you know Clifford the Big Red Dog?” Belly laughs are a regular occurrence. This volunteer placement has been a very special experience for me and one that has opened doors to opportunities I hadn’t considered. I think about my life pre-CMHAW program (Community Mental Health and Addictions Worker) and can’t fathom how much has changed, and how much this program has given me in terms of life experiences.

Assignments and growth

Last month my classmates and I did a “walking tour” assignment where we were instructed to choose a marginalized group (my partner and I chose the LGBTQ2+ community), find if they use the four pillar approach, how they practice harm reduction, and to find gaps and resources that are lacking. It was great getting to meet with people who run facilities that cater to this specific group. Not only did we ask our many questions, but we were fortunate enough to partake in the Vancouver Queer Arts Festival. After presenting our findings to the class, I couldn’t help but feel grateful for all the skills I’ve gained by being a student in this cohort, the skills I’ve obtained at the Children’s Hospital and the competence I’ve received on my practicums.

I remind myself that these are not my own accomplishments but a group effort. To have grown with my classmates and have them encourage me with each of their wonderful personalities has been a vessel that continues to shape this entire experience. Knowing that each one of us has an increased passion to work in this field has been a major motivator because it allows me to recall those truths of knowing I am never on my own and my efforts are not mine alone, but a communal one, where new thoughts and ideas are greatly appreciated.


One highlight of volunteering at Children’s Hospital has been recognizing how much kids teach us. They continually remind us to hold onto those characteristics that make us wonderfully unique, to keep things simple, treasure our imaginations, be courageous in the midst of vulnerability, and believe that we can create something out of anything, and be there for each other. And most importantly, to have hope that things can get better.

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