University of the Fraser Valley

Peer Resource and Leadership Centre helps students in many ways

Peer Resource and Leadership Centre helps students in many ways

The PRLC is staffed by coordinator Ashley Hayes (centre), and student coordinators Albel Deol and Sarah Gabor-Martinez.

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to being a successful university student. Sure, there are course and assignments to juggle, but you’ve also got to find strategies to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health, handle your finances, and have some sort of social life.

Fortunately for UFV students, there is a lot of help available at UFV. But for first-year students, asking for help or finding the resources available can be challenging.

That’s where the UFV Coast Capital Peer Resource and Leadership Centre comes in.

Located near the north entrance inside the bustling Student Union Building on the Abbotsford campus, the PRLC‘s mandate is to provide holistic help for students. Student peer leaders will help students find information in a safe, welcoming, and inclusive space by identifying resources available to them and providing peer-to-peer support and mentorship.

Ashley Hayes

“We provide a first-point-of-contact, storefront-style conduit into the many services offered by UFV, in an atmosphere that is perhaps less intimidating for students than the traditional office environment,” notes Ashley Hayes, the Peer Resource and Leadership Centre Coordinator, who hires and supervises the student workers and volunteer peer leaders who are the heart of the centre.

“Students get to approach fellow students to ask for help and information. Our peer leaders can then direct them to the appropriate resource at UFV.”

Students can drop into the PRLC from 10 am to 4 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and from 10 am to 6 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Peer leaders also trained to be aware of community organizations that can help students, including physical and mental health resources and LGBTQ support groups.

Hayes, a recent UFV BA graduate, has been on board since late 2015, laying the groundwork for the brand new centre. She has selected, screened and trained 18 peer volunteers, as well as two senior student coordinators, Albel Deol and Sarah Gabor-Martinez.

“Our peer leaders’ jobs are to offer one-on-one peer support, to listen, and to refer. There are some topic areas where they might be comfortable offering direct advice, such as study skills, but when it comes to relationship advice, or concerns about safety, they are trained to refer and in some cases immediately deliver the student to the appropriate resource,” she adds.

Not all the referrals relate to counselling or academic advising. Some students are unaware of resources such as the Financial Aid office, the Fitness Centre, the Advising Centre, or Supported Learning Groups. Peer leaders are trained to brief them on these and other resources.

There is also a leadership component to the Peer Resource and Leadership Centre, as the name suggests. Partial funding for the centre is provided by Coast Capital Savings, which has helped foster the development of leaders at UFV since 2008. Over the years, Coast Capital Savings has contributed $300,000 to student leadership initiatives at UFV.

The PRLC provides a central leadership training hub for students from a variety of UFV groups.

“There is beginning to be a very large peer mentor community of practice at UFV,” notes Hayes. “There are components of it in the Arts Peer Mentor program, Supported Learning Groups, the Academic Success Centre, the Student Engagement Team, and Friends Without Borders, to name just a few. We can all benefit from the various training, education, and support we provide to our student leaders.”

The PRLC is planning a day-long leadership training session on October 14 in partnership with Student Life, International, Residence, and Counselling. These training sessions are open to all students, particularly those who are looking to move into leadership roles on campus.

And it will provide support to other groups on campus as they present opportunities for student wellness, such as mental health workshops offered by Counselling, and the Student Union Society’s planned Art of Coming Out workshop.

It was also a co-presenter of the Benjamin O’Keefe presentation that kicked off the President’s Leadership Lecture Series this September.

As part of the leadership development emphasis of the PRLC, Hayes will be taking some students to national leadership conferences. This year, Deol and Gabor-Martinez will be presenting on the joys of opening a peer resource centre at the Canadian Conference on Student Leadership in Niagara Falls.

In essence, the PRLC is all about reaching out to students.

“Our mandate is to help students,” says Hayes. “How that occurs will be fluid and changing as we develop.”

Maureen Young, Senior Manager, Community Partners and Investment, Coast Capital Savings, was on hand for the announcement of the centre last year.

“The Coast Capital Savings Peer Resource and Leadership Centre is helping students to develop their leadership skills and provide each other valuable peer support,” says Young. “In addition to the educational opportunities that the centre offers, it really brings something new to campus as the university helps support students in managing life’s stresses while pursuing a post-secondary education. At Coast Capital Savings we promise to help build a richer future for youth in our communities and by investing in partnerships like the one we have forged with UFV, we are certain we are making good on that promise.”

The PRLC was developed under the direction of Jody Gordon, UFV VP of Students and Enrolment Management, and Kyle Baillie, Director of Student Life.

“UFV is very pleased to continue offering new ways of helping students succeed,” said Gordon. “It is well documented that peer-to-peer engagement helps students learn and further develop their skills. Providing these resources at critical junctures means students are more likely to persist and ultimately succeed.”

Find out more about the PRLC here.