a health professional assists with a blood donation

Challenge Accepted

Last year, in anticipation of Queen’s 180th birthday, we challenged more than seven thousand grads to spend 180 minutes—less than a single afternoon—doing good work that makes a difference. The guidelines were deliberately vague, and the results correspondingly wide and varied, as grads got creative to give their time and use their skills. Here are just a few ways our alumni are getting involved in giving back to their communities— all perfect examples of how anyone can give 180 minutes and change something 180 degrees.  

It’s in You to Give  

Even and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian Blood Services needs donations (call first to book one of 5,000 appointments to be filled per month, just bring your mask and a clean bill of health) but there’s more in your body to give than just blood. Mackenzie Curran, NSc’20, a nursing grad and cancer survivor, volunteers as an Ambassador at Canadian Blood Services to bring awareness to the stem cell donation that saved her life. “I needed a stem cell transplant at 16, and since none of my family was a match, they had to look all over the world.” She found hers in a kind gentleman in Germany, but Curran might not have had to look so far if more people here knew how easy it is to get yourself on the donor list. “You just register online and they mail you a swab,” says Curran. For the nervous or squeamish, she says, “it’s literally a 30-second cheek swab with a Q-Tip that you pop in the mail.” They’ll add your sample to the registry and will contact you if and when you’re a match—the odds of which are very slim. The scientists at blood.ca mostly want a robust register, specifically from people aged 17 to 35, making adding yourself to the list an easy no-brainer to help one of hundreds of Canadian patients searching the registry per day. “Someone might be looking everywhere and you’re their person,” says Curran. “That was me once and it could be you too.”  

Just Be Yourself  

Survival stories like Curran’s are certainly inspiring, but so, too, are the more usual experiences of regular folk. Take Amy Evans, Artsci’20, for example, a health and environmental studies major who landed back at Queen’s after graduation in the Undergrad Admission and Recruitment Office. There, she spent just a few hours online being herself on LinkedIn: “I was featured on the Queen’s Connect Career Network group and just answered any questions from would-be students about campus life,” she says. They asked about internships, balancing school work with a part-time job, learning from mistakes and making the most of your time at school. “I can answer all these questions just by my own experiences,” says Evans, tasked in her role at Career Services with encouraging and empowering high school grads to start university with a better idea of what it might be like. The rest of us can give back in any number of forums—a Facebook group, a Twitter thread—just by opening yourself up to questions from anyone who’d love to be wherever you’re at.  

Embrace (Virtual) Mentorship  

Josh Mosley, Artsci’20, philosophy grad and football player, has volunteered since 2017 with The Autism Mentorship Program. “I’m paired with Jim, a high school kid, and we hang out and take walks and play football,” says Mosley, who leads the program’s Kingston chapter. “But that was all before COVID.” In March, when it became clear that mentor-mentee pairs couldn’t meet in person any time soon, they started to brainstorm what we could do online instead. They decided on the "Learn to Play" video series on YouTube, where mentors teach interactive fitness lessons in everything from Russian Twists to Hopscotch. Less athletic mentors might bond over books, music or movies—or anything else really—and though a formal mentorship program like Big Brothers Big Sisters can help facilitate matches, many of the best friendships are found in unlikely places and formed between different kinds of people. Mentors like Mosley are giving back, of course, but they’re also reaping rewards. “We teach each other, organically, just by enjoying our time together,” he says. “Jim has taught me a whole new way to see the world.” 

Join Together to Make a Bigger Impact 

Rebecca Dann, Artsci’20, is a Junior Customer Success Associate at HiMama—the biggest app you may never have heard of, but parents of young kids know it’s the best way to communicate about the nitty-gritty (lunch, nap, diapers, etc.) with their childcare provider. In the last few years, HiMama has exploded to a team of almost a hundred. “We actually have a fair amount of people here who graduated from Queen’s,” says Dann, who graduated with a degree in Politics. “HiMama chooses a different charity every few months to fundraise for, so the 180 for 180 challenge was a great fit.” Here’s how she did it and you can too: First, pick a cause that matters. “We chose the Black Health Alliance in February, in recognition of Black History Month, and asked for donations from the team,” says Dann. Next, to multiply the impact of this initiative, Dann worked with HiMama’s leadership team to create a donation matching program. For every dollar the team raised, HiMama would contribute a dollar as well. The team raised $500—then HiMama doubled it to donate a cool grand.

Dare to Go Viral  

“Okay, but can you do that in your swim trunks?” quipped a commenter to a silly Snapchat video of Scott Mark, MEd’20, jumping into deep Calgary snow. “I thought, you know, for the right reasons, I could,” explains the forensics instructor, who said this to his students: “Show me you doing a nice thing and tag me in the post, and if I see enough kindness, I’ll jump in the snow in my swim trunks.” They must have really wanted to see it, because 300 students at Bow Valley College leaned in hard to Mark's Kindness Challenge, whether by carrying someone’s groceries or shovelling the neighbour’s driveway. All in honour of fallen officer Sgt. Andrew Harnett, the #KindnessChallenge hashtag took off fast. “The idea spread through the college, then the local news featured us, then I started seeing total strangers engaging on Instagram and Twitter from all over Canada,” says Mark. Two months later, at the end of frigid February, he decided he’d seen enough and the time had come for his part of the deal. “I kept my promise and threw myself into the snow.”