United We Do More: Camosun Employees Model Community Leadership, Celebrate United Way Day in Our Region
When Camosun Marketing & Communications Strategist Jonathan Ruhl sought opportunities for professional development, he knew he wanted community to be at the forefront.
"As a community college our connections to community are very important," he says. "When I learned about Camosun's partnership with Leadership Victoria and I read about the opportunity to join their upcoming class, I jumped at the chance."
After consulting with his colleague Ivan Watson, an alumnus of the program, Ruhl applied for a Camosun-funded spot in Leadership Victoria's 2017-18 cohort and was accepted into the 9-month, community leadership development program in September 2018. "I worked with and met some incredible people," he says. "I learned a lot about the challenges within the community and how different organizations are working together to address those challenges. And I learned how I can stand up and make a difference. I'm grateful that the college gave me this amazing opportunity."
His cohort of 18 learners tackled a number of challenging topics from homelessness to mental health and addictions to community capacity building. Each Leadership Victoria cohort is divided into teams of five, assigned a group coach and tasked with developing a unique project that will address a pressing community need in partnership with a local organization. Ruhl's group (‘Team FUNN'), worked with Victoria Cool Aid Society to organise a series of public open houses at four of the Society's residence facilities in our region. "Our goal was to raise awareness of the essential work that Cool Aid does in our community working to end homelessness and combat issues related to poverty," says Ruhl. "A big part of it was to dispel myths and misconceptions. One thing I learned is that when people move into Cool Aid's facilities, they are no longer homeless, because they become our neighbours and once you get to know the people who are living in your neighbourhood, it changes a lot of perceptions."
Camosun's emphasis on applied learning aligns with Leadership Victoria's experiential-approach to community leadership development. "You can't get that hands on, human aspect from just studying a textbook," says Ruhl. "There are so many variables that happen when you actually start working on a project with a group of people, and you need to adjust, and learn and shift gears to make the project a success."
Watson, who works alongside Ruhl in the college's communications department, also graduated from Leadership Victoria and later served as the organization's Vice President and Director of Communications. "Learning by doing and leading by example are essential to Leadership Victoria's approach," he says. "And the results are the many tangible legacies that the organization's graduates leave behind after they complete the program."
Since 2000, Leadership Victoria has been the go to organization for community leadership development in the south island region, graduating over 320 alumni who individually and collectively put their skills to work on behalf of our community, in many cases long after graduation.
"After graduating from Leadership Victoria, I served on the Board of Royal Roads University and was elected for two terms to the national Board of United Way Centraide-Canada," says Watson. "While Chair of United Way's national marketing committee, we launched a new national framework that focussed on kids, community and poverty for United Ways across the country to harness our collective power to create systemic, lasting change."
In addition to Leadership Victoria, Camosun is a strong supporter of Greater Victoria's annual United Way campaign. Wednesday, September 19 is ‘United Way Day' throughout our region, proclaimed by the municipalities of Oak Bay, Saanich, Sidney, and Esquimalt. The 2018 campaign kicks off that day at 11am at the Bay Centre downtown, with a strong Camosun contingent on hand to cheer on the truly collaborative community fundraising effort. Watson, who chairs the United Way of Greater Victoria's Board of Directors is excited to launch this year's campaign. "United Way brings the community together to create lasting, positive change. I'm proud to work at Camosun College where the heartbeat of community runs through everything that we do.