What do you find most challenging about your role?
“Trying to truly promote wellness proactively among students. We’re in a world, in a school, and in a system that can be stressful by its very nature. Not that stress is always bad, but it can diminish people’s wellness. It takes a cultural shift to do the work well. And obviously a cultural shift is no easy feat. That’s the hardest part, trying to change culture. It involves a lot of unlearning on the part of students. We’ve learned a lot of behaviours around mental health, we’ve internalized a lot of harmful messaging around sexual health, we learned to normalize alcohol and shame people who use other drugs. So, it’s about unlearning and recognizing that alcohol can also be harmful. Unlearning the harmful messages we’ve been told about sexuality being immoral and unlearning the messages about stigma and shame associated with mental health. That’s a big challenge.”
Wil Fujarczuk, Wellness Educator
What’s the best part about your job?
“I love working in a university. I love working with students. It keeps me young quite honestly, and I really like that. These are young people who are at a critical point in their lives where they are making their transition coming from high school to university or leaving university to go out into the world. It is such an honour for me and a privilege to work with them and hear their stories and help them navigate some of the challenges they face. For me, it is why I get up everyday.”
Debbie Nifakis, Psychologist and Associate Director of Counselling
What is your hidden talent?
“I am an amateur singer songwriter, but more than playing solo I enjoy strumming with friends on my front porch or in my living room. I have met with a great group of guys every Monday over the past several years. We spend time talking, strumming, singing, and solving a few of a world’s problems while sharing a few beverages. We have found that there is a John Prine tune for just about every situation we encounter. Music is a tonic for the soul.”
Nathan Cooper, Counsellor
How have you grown in your role?
“I don’t think I have because I feel there are always things that you have to learn. I’m always surprised by different aspects of mental health. I used to be very one sided about mental health, but then I learned about its different intersectionalities. There are different issues behind it. There are collaborations, which are very necessary. For example, the Student Wellness Centre collaborating with the Pride Community Centre or the Food Collective Centre. There’s different intersections, so I don’t think your role is ever done or that you’re ever fully accomplished. You always need to grow. I think that’s very important for someone, and myself, to realize.”
Ange Bitwayiki, Summer Program Support Assistant
How has your perception of life changed since you were a teenager?
“Probably the biggest thing is that life isn’t linear and not everything can be planned for. When I was in high school, I was very fastidious student and for me I had to know how my life would plan out with every second in every detail, that’s how I lived life. When I entered university, things took different courses. Things I was interested before changed drastically. My values changed, who I was as a person changed. The biggest oversight I got was that rather than knowing exactly where I wanted to go, I think it’s more important to focus on developing myself. When you find yourself, you find your own path.”
Harshini Ramesh, Summer Program Support Assistant
What is one dream you have yet to accomplish?
“Growing up my grandparents lived right beside my house. My uncle and my cousin lived a floor down, so I was always very close to my family. But now that’s not the case. My dream is to buy off a bunch of houses in one street, move my parents in one, my family in one, and all my close friends in one street so it’s close and convenient. If they all agree to it, I would love to accomplish that dream one day given, you know, I can buy off an entire street.”
Ilayda Ulgenalp, Peer Educator: Food Literacy
If you had a free plane ticket, where’d you go and why?
“I’m a bit of a traveler, but recently it has consistently been the one destination; my nephew’s place in Kuwait, halfway across the world. He’s six and likes to come up with these wild theories about the world and every time I fly down there, he has something new to share. This last trip, he was convinced that doctors are aliens, because humans couldn’t possibly fix other humans!”
Maryam Rahat, Counsellor
What is your greatest accomplishment?
“I feel really accomplished when I do something creative. When people think of their greatest accomplishment, it would be along the lines of “I got really great marks.” But for me it would be art projects that I’ve completed. For example, I did a really great magazine design in grade 8. I just love being creative. In the Student Wellness Centre last year, I used the white board and drew what events were happening that week. I’m really proud of them still and I would like to continue going on with that.”
Bonnie Liu, Co-Team Lead: Mental Health
What memory instantly makes you smile?
“I work at McMaster’s PACE, an exercise rehabilitation gym where I work with clients with spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, and cancer. One of the clients that I’ve been consistently working with for just over a year is the sweetest person and she puts in so much time and effort into her rehabilitation program. She texted me a little while ago in the summer when I wasn’t able to work with her, and she was so excited for me to come back during the school year. She told me that I made a really big difference in her life and that she wouldn’t be at the point that she’s at right now without my help. Thinking about that always makes me smile. Every week when I see her, she’s so enthusiastic and ready to go, it’s infectious! Feeling like you’re actually making a difference in someone’s life is such a special thing.”
Sitara Sharma, Peer Educator: Active Living
What is the most memorable moment of your life?
“A big thing was both starting and finishing therapy. At the end of high school, I started therapy for social anxiety. I was in therapy for two years. So, starting that was a big deal and a big change in my life. So it’s very memorable. But then at the same time stopping therapy with that person after two years and trying to take on the world without a therapist was also really memorable and again, a big change and a big realization that I can do this.”
Jaime Delaney, Co-Team Lead: Sexual Health
What inspires you to keep working here?
“Obviously this position is a job and there are tasks to be done, but I also see it as a huge learning opportunity. Not only am I helping other people see how they can improve their wellness, but how to also improve mine. I can see how multifaceted it is, where we talk about pathways to care, how there are so many different pathways, and where there is no end or start to that. I think thats been my journey while working here.”
Jin Ming Wang, Program Support Assistant
What is the best part of your job?
“The best part of my job as a counsellor with Student Wellness Centre and Indigenous Student Services is being able to witness people in a process of healing and meaningful change. I feel so honoured to be trusted with the stories of the many amazing and unique people I work with. I learn so much each day from every person I see and I am always amazed at the innate resiliency that exists with the people I work with.”
Brittany Vincze, Counsellor through Student Wellness Centre and Indigenous Student Services
If you could be any character from a novel or movie, who would you be? Why?
“I really admire Carl from the movie Up. He not only stood up against gentrification within his neighbourhood but also he went through such an emotional crisis and still allowing himself to open up later when he travels to paradise falls with all the other characters. I think it’s a great story of how people get to where they are and also the journey of what happens when you question something that you always thought was solid ground, but you are really just allowing yourself to think that it’s solid. The journey and the process of always learning I think is very admirable.”
Taylor Mertens, Program Support Assistant
What small things make you happy?
“I love photography. I’ve liked it since my aunt gave me a camera back when I was thirteen. I loved it since then. I can drive to work and see something and think “that would be an amazing picture!”. You have to have an eye for it too. I love taking pictures of old barns, just about anything, and taking candid shots of people. My grandkids seem to be the focus of many of my pictures I think I would like to pursue that when I have the time.”
Marina Fleming, Medical Secretary