News & Updates

Empowerment Squared Volunteer Impact – Lucas McDonald

Jun 4, 2024 | News & Updates

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to volunteer with Empowerment Squared?

My name is Lucas McDonald. I am a fourth-year student at McMaster University studying Justice, Political Philosophy and Law. Outside of school, I love playing sports, reading, and community involvement. I am a Senior Academic Mentor with the Empowerment Squared Homework Circle program.

My journey with Empowerment Squared began in the Fall of 2022. I had just returned home to Hamilton after spending a year on the East Coast playing varsity soccer for the University of New Brunswick. After suffering an injury, I transferred to McMaster for the Fall 2022 semester. My brother had just graduated from McMaster the previous year. As the first members of our family to attend university, despite my disappointment with the injury, part of me was excited to return home to Hamilton and follow in his footsteps. Now that I was no longer playing soccer, I decided to reallocate the time that would typically be spent at late-night practices and weekend competitions to initiatives I was passionate about. My first step involved identifying organizations that spearhead such initiatives. That is where Empowerment Squared came in. After attending an online volunteer fair at McMaster and reading about the organization’s mission, I was immediately inspired by the vast support that Empowerment Squared offers both in Canada and internationally. In particular, the Homework Circle program reminded me of the pivotal role that after-school programming played in my life at a young age. It allowed me to learn and grow academically and athletically and provided me with a comfortable space just to be myself. With those reflections in mind, I decided to sign up as a Mentor with the Homework Circle program at Empowerment Squared in hopes that I would be able to provide that same environment for youth in the community.

What about the Empowerment Squared’s mission and vision spoke to you, and how does it align with your dreams and aspirations to build a better world?

The Empowerment Squared mission greatly aligns with my interest in human rights and international affairs. During Mentor training sessions, a key organizational value is always used to describe the culture at Empowerment Squared that tends to stick with me. It is the Ubuntu philosophy – the notion that ‘I am because you are’. It honours the diverse set of social relationships that make us who we are and allows us to flourish. It is a lesson that I think can be carried over to many of the complex challenges faced by our world today, where the solutions exist in recognition of our shared humanity and dependence upon one another. While studying this philosophy at McMaster, I found volunteering with Empowerment Squared to be a wonderful way to bring UBUNTU to life.

How has your involvement with Empowerment Squared enriched your life personally and professionally?

My involvement with Empowerment Squared has had a greater impact on my life than I could have imagined when I first signed up. First and foremost, it has been a privilege to get to know and learn from members of the E2 team. Everyone I have had the opportunity to meet has been super compassionate, enthusiastic, and inspiring.

My involvement with the Homework Circle program has been a very enriching experience. Working with and witnessing the passion and creativity of participants has been wonderful. Seeing how hard the participants work to improve their skills makes me want to do the same. In addition, the space has helped me develop a variety of valuable interpersonal skills. It has made me a better communicator by allowing me to teach tricky concepts to young people in ways that respect where they are in the learning process. It has allowed me to develop teamwork skills through working with other mentors to support participants. It has allowed me to develop leadership skills through the extra training sessions and active collaboration with the Senior Academic Mentor position. The team at E2 has also sought to empower volunteers directly in various ways. I have had the opportunity to attend E2 events with guest speakers such as Lawrence Hill, author of the Book of Negroes, and Saladin Allah. The team members have even been kind enough to support a networking event that I ran at McMaster for students in my program. In this way, it is amazing to see how E2 has also prioritized the learning and growth of its volunteers. All of these moments have had an immense impact on my personal growth.

Professionally, the Career and Skills development team at Empowerment Squared has offered previously unimaginable opportunities for further development. Last summer, I participated in the Empowerment Squared/KPMG Community Development Internship Program. The experience was an eight-week internship working with the Management Consulting team in the Operations Practice of KPMG’s Toronto office. I contributed to operational reviews of private and non-profit sector clients throughout my time at the firm. This work provided me with important technical skills that have empowered me for future professional employment opportunities. It also allowed me to network with and learn from other interns, consultants, and partners at the firm. This opportunity took place against the backdrop of wraparound support from Empowerment Squared. I could always reach out to a team member for help where it was needed. There was never a moment where I did not feel supported. Recently, I was hired by KPMG as a management consultant intern for this upcoming summer. I am excited to start and continue my growth at the firm.

What support have you received from Empowerment Squared that has made a difference in your volunteer experience?

One of the things that sticks out to me about the volunteer experience at Empowerment Squared is how well-organized it is. The training sessions that are run at the start of each term have been useful to get to know other mentors and learn techniques that can be used to provide a meaningful learning experience for participants. Before the Homework Circle session each week, the agenda and learning curriculum sent along by E2 staff make the process straightforward while allowing us the flexibility to help participants at their own pace. As a volunteer, I feel that all the hard work that has gone into perfecting these small details is truly noticeable. They have given me the confidence to do my best to support participants weekly.

I remember when I first signed up, I was nervous because, at heart, I am quite a shy person. I did not know what it would be like and wondered how well I could support the participants. The team was very welcoming from the start, and the materials provided allowed the sessions to run smoothly. The mentors I worked with were also other university students, and we could all turn to each other when needed so that we could rely on each other’s strengths to provide the best environment possible. Over time, the process became easier and easier. It has allowed me to meet some cool mentors at McMaster and other universities across Canada.

For the E2 kids who will be reading your story, what do you want them to know about themselves and you as a mentor?

To the E2 kids who will be reading my story, I want them to know that they are valued and capable of whatever they set their minds to. So, continue to dream big. The education I have received at school and in the community has been an important part of achieving my goals. As an E2 Mentor, I am excited to continue working with you each week through the Homework Circle program to help you achieve your goals and dreams.

What advice do you have for future volunteers reading your story considering joining us?

For future volunteers considering joining Empowerment Squared, I encourage you to join the organization. The other day, Joana from the E2 team told me that community is all about showing up. I would agree with that sentiment. Community is not just about living amongst others; it is about embracing the environment and leaving your mark on making it a better place. Empowerment Squared has been an excellent way to show up for the community and impact many people’s lives.