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Hub for Good

Meet Christine. Christine Riddell (BIT/17) is the director of Carleton’s Virtual Ventures, a not-for-profit organization run under the Faculty of Engineering and Design that offers technology and engineering programs for youth.

Through Virtual Ventures, Carleton partnered with Shopify to launch Link<ed>, an after-school program for Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa (BGCO) members focused on developing computing skills. The program is offered twice a year in 12-week cycles, with sessions being held once a week at BGCO clubhouses.

The winter session this year, though, looks a little different.

“The regular Link<ed> program cycle was cut short due to the physical distancing guidelines,” Christine explains. “That was disappointing—both for us and for our BGCO participants. But we didn’t want to abandon the cycle altogether. We wanted to find a way to stay engaged with our youth, and to provide them with a fun, at-home learning opportunity.”

So Christine and Brittney Oberfeld, Christine’s counterpart at Shopify, got to work on a solution.

“We started brainstorming the idea of at-home kits at the end of March,” Christine shares. “Brittney and I decided on the activities, materials and equipment that would be included in the kits. We also did some research to find local companies that could assemble and deliver the kits to 100 BGCO families recommended by BGCO staff.

“We were passionate about getting this solution in place, so things moved quickly. The kits were developed, assembled and delivered within two weeks of our initial brainstorming session.”

The kit—which contains a 24-page activity book (with extra activity sheets for families with multiple children), a Snap Circuits Electronics kit, Geodesic Dome templates and craft materials—allows BGCO youth to experience Link<ed>-style programming at home. It also gives them a chance to get creative and have fun.

Christine explains: “The activity book is focused on digital skills and engineering. But the intent was to offer a mix of digital literacy tasks and some easier, fun activities like word searches and drawing tasks involving robots and other tech.

“It’s important for these kids, much like us adults, to stay busy and maintain some semblance of routine—like incorporating learning and school-like activities into their days. But it’s equally important for them to just be kids—to play, to have fun and to explore their creativity.”

Chrisitine is practicing what she preaches on the creativity front, saying that finding creative outlets has been helpful for her during this period. “Putting my time and energy into these kits has been a great way to get creative in my work life, and I’m trying to find ways to do the same in my personal life.”

Her takeaway from this experience early in the pandemic is that it pays to focus on the positive and find ways to move forward despite the uncertainty.

“It’s all too easy to tell yourself that this situation won’t last—to wait it out in hopes that things will go back to normal soon. We chose to accept our current ‘normal’ and to do our best to pivot and find new ways to reach youth and their families during this time. It has been empowering and rewarding to take control of the situation and to make the most of it.”

Learn more about Link<ed> and Virtual Ventures here.

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