Brock University has been selected as an award finalist for Best Youth Engagement in the inaugural CharityVillage Awards.
With categories for both small and large organizations, the Best Youth Engagement Award recognizes non-profit organizations that excel at engaging young people as volunteers, employees or future leaders. Brock is one of 10 finalists in the organizational category for more than 20 employees.
Brock’s Student Wellness and Accessibility Centre (SWAC) applied for the award on behalf of the University, highlighting the Centre’s sustained and intentional focus on student feedback and program co-creation.
“Student engagement is what drives the programs we deliver, including how and when we deliver them,” said SWAC Director Sarah Pennisi. “Our constant connection and dialogue with students at both an individual and group level is why I think we’ve been selected as finalists.”
SWAC regularly involves students in co-creating services and service delivery. A recent example is students helping to establish Brock’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Plan.
“Brock was among the first universities in Ontario to establish such a plan,” Pennisi said. “Involving students in co-creating the plan and in establishing priorities means that we are responding to their needs directly. Needs change all the time, so the most important thing for us is to keep the dialogue going.”
SWAC also regularly reaches out to equity-seeking community groups on campus, such as sex workers and the two-spirit, lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual (2SLGTBQQIA) student population, to better understand their health and wellness needs, seek feedback and implement changes according to their recommendations.
“We want to ensure that the supports, programming and services we offer are inviting, welcoming and safe for these populations of students,” said Pennisi.
Youth are also engaged through SWAC employment opportunities, such as Peer Supports. Student peers are involved in educating, informing and engaging students with information, resources and support regarding mental health, sexual health and accessibility.
Additional examples of SWAC’s ongoing youth engagement include seeking feedback from students via the SWAC Advisory Panel; surveys, such as the Healthy Minds Study; and comments received via the SWAC website and the new My SSP mobile app, which is a one-year pilot partnership with LifeWorks.
Pennisi said the Centre’s focus on student engagement is what has led to Brock being ranked No. 1 among all comprehensive universities in Canada for mental health supports in the 2022 Maclean’s University Rankings for the fourth consecutive year.
“The fact that we’ve been ranked No. 1 four years in a row means that it’s baked in,” said Pennisi. “It is something that is within our service delivery, our structure and our approach — and fundamental to that is our focus on students.”
Pennisi is honoured that Brock has been chosen as a finalist in CharityVillage’s inaugural conference and awards and said that the recognition offers validation that what her team is doing is important.
“This national organization recognizes that when it comes to meeting the needs of emerging adults, a foundation to success is sustained, continuous and genuine engagement,” she said.
Winners of the CharityVillage Awards will be announced Wednesday, Nov. 3 during an online conference.