My name is Emma Sullivan and I am the 5 Days Campaign Director at the University of British Columbia. I returned this year to direct the campaign after being a participant in UBC’s 2015 campaign!
I know that writing blog posts typically falls in the realm of the participants but I thought that it would be a great way for me to reflect on this campaign. (Warning – brevity has never been my strong suit so expect this to be very long).
Going into the fall I had a lot of momentum coming out of my experience last spring. There was so much I loved about the campaign but also so many aspects that I wanted to change. Here are some of things I decided to focus on this year with the campaign and with the participants; my hope was to build a foundation and a structure to grow even more in the future:
– Building empathy / awareness and sparking a conversation – Even in the context of this campaign, our participants benefit from privileges that the homeless community doesn’t – being able to stay on campus without being kicked out, having food provided by friends, being able to easily access a bathroom, knowing that the campaign is only 5 days…the list goes on. The participants have seen a small part of the picture which helps develop empathy in them and in UBC but the point is to use our privilege to draw attention to an issue that isn’t normally observed or recognized in the privileged UBC community.
– Don’t put people in a box – If there’s one thing I learned from the campaign this year and last, it’s that everyone has their own story. It’s not in my place to judge anyone or to make assumptions. Rather, I should take time to listen and that’s where the best conversations and learnings happen.
– Understanding that we aren’t a voice for the homeless – Our participants have never been homeless. They don’t claim to speak for the homeless. Rather, the goal is to act as a whistle-blower and to draw attention to an issue that slips under radar on this campus.
– Land acknowledgment – We would like to acknowledge that we are and have been learning and un-learning on the ancestral, traditional, unceded territory of the Musqueam people. (It is incredibly important for us to understand that so much of homelessness comes from systemic problems – it is up to us to change them).
– Sponsorship – It will be important for future campaign directors to consider where sponsorships come from; are sponsors contributing back to the issue of homelessness? (This year, 100% of donations came from private individuals although the Manchester was kind enough to host our launch party).
I think these improvements went a long way in addressing issues brought up in previous years. It was really frustrating for me when people would come up to us (mostly in the first and second days of the campaign) and criticize us based on outdated information of how the campaign was run. It’s so hard not to take the criticism personally and I had some emotional lows in the first part of the week.
However, it was clear that my participants were having great conversations that really conveyed these changes and reflected the issues involved because there was much less criticism as the week progressed. One thing that is interesting to note is that donations are significantly lower on-site when participants focus on the issues surrounding homelessness rather than on their own personal struggles.
On that note, I want to thank my lovely participants – their energy and passion this week is what had me getting out of bed before 8am every morning (something that most of my friends would agree is a feat in and of itself). I really value the little moments we had together: laughing at Jason’s low-key humor, Elaine’s presentation to our sorority, my inside jokes with Cam, hearing about Hajar’s celeb crushes, rolling my eyes (but smiling) as Jordan tried to get me out of my comfort zone, watching Rad play guitar, appreciating Adeline’s donut-eating finesse, temporarily borrowing Peter’s sleeping bag while he was in it.
Something that was really unique to the role of Director was the ability to watch everyone’s growth from the very first interview with me to the final day at the end of the campaign. Each participant came in with such a genuine desire to learn – to make a difference – and that inspired me when I was pushing through the exhaustion of managing the campaign and monitoring negative criticism. Throughout the week, I was so proud to see the quality of the conversations develop as participants learned from their experiences and channeled that into their future interactions. I admire how everyone leaned on each other during the hard conversations, when the exhaustion hit, when approaching people felt uncomfortable, etc.
One of my favorite parts about this year’s campaign was the way that my participant team this year bonded into ‘The Fam’ and formed true friendships that I know will last beyond the scope of the campaign. I count myself very lucky to have been able to be a part of that. I hope that in future years, everyone will come back together to support the campaign as it continues at UBC!
As the campaign finishes up, I want to give a huge ‘THANK YOU’ to everyone who has supported my team and I (whether it be in the months leading up to the campaign where I was losing my mind planning out every detail or in the week of the campaign). S/o to my amazing planning committee for doing everything I asked of them and more!
To anyone that hasn’t already, it would be amazing if you could support me in something I’ve put my heart and soul into all year by donating online to support Directions Youth Services. (Thank you!)
I’ll leave you with one final thought – something that we originally heard from our visit to Directions Youth Services and something that has stayed with me through the entire campaign:
“If homelessness is someone’s solution, what is the problem?”