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Dalai Lama visit, actNOW reignite local volunteerism

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With the upcoming visit from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, University of Calgary students will be spreading the message of compassion and collaboration throughout Calgary.

On Friday, Oct. 2, over 200 U of C students will participate in various volunteer activities across the city as a continuation of the two day NOW conference.

Students will take the Dalai Lama's message and engage with the community to learn more about issues surrounding the city. This day of action is part of the university's efforts to encourage students to further engage in the community.

"We're using this day to launch a broader initiative around community service," said U of C vice-provost (students) Ann Tierney.

The launch has accompanied promotions with the Calgary Herald and through Facebook groups, which Tierney described as "a multi-faceted approach to reach out to the community."

While much of the focus is on the Dalai Lama, actNOW is centred on the promotion of student involvement outside of the classroom.

Students who participate will receive up to 20 hours of volunteer experience towards their co-curricular record when they graduate.

Kristen Elliott, a third-year general studies student is one of 18 facilitators working with student volunteers and non-profit organizations during actNOW. She'll be working with the Calgary Counseling Centre to raise awareness about mental illnesses in an event called Walk for Wellness.

Elliott sees actNOW not as a one-time event, but rather as an opportunity for people to become actively involved in their community.

"It's a good experience to get involved. You want to explore things that set you apart from others."

Volunteering in events like actNOW allows students to meet people they wouldn't normally encounter, boost their resume and can positively supplement classroom learning, said Elliott.

Fourth-year sociology major Kieu-Trinh Phan is another facilitator who is teaming up with United Way to conduct a poverty simulation. She has been actively involved in the community before participating in actNOW, with projects like GlobalFest and the Alberta government's Inspiring Education forums. Phan feels that volunteering for community initiatives such as actNOW allows students to gain valuable knowledge and create social networks.

"One of my biggest regrets is that I didn't get involved earlier," said Phan, noting that a student's undergraduate years are some of the most important for learning and development in terms of volunteering.

While many groups will be reaching out to the wider community, some will be learning about certain issues affecting Calgary.

Fifth-year sociology major Alycia Lauzon and her group will go to Fort Calgary to learn about food security and sustainability. They will be helping out at the community garden for the fall harvest, where some of the food will be donated to social organizations like the Salvation Army.

Lauzon said a high turnout at Fort Calgary will have a significant impact on the community.

"It's not just our group of six, but a whole bunch of people going out to make a difference," she said.

The Students' Union will be sending about 10 representatives to participate in actNOW's events.

"[It's an] exceptional opportunity to bring students together," said SU president Charlotte Kingston.

"It's important for the U of C to give back to the community," she said, noting that it is a very positive commitment for the university.

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