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Volunteer profile: Cole Buchanan

April 7, 2019 | Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

“Volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has really shown me how the justice system can have much greater effects on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a ‘systematic issue.’ ”

Cole Buchanan, a student in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary, is a recent addition to the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor. He started volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in January 2019, but the organization has been in the back of his mind since grade school—when his social studies teacher mentioned the organization as part of the Calgary non-profit landscape.

Cole is a globally-minded citizen: he loves to travel and is fascinated by international affairs. When he’s at home in Alberta, he feeds his travel bug with visits to the Rockies. After completing his Bachelor of Arts, he hopes to pursue a Master’s in Political Science. His dream job is a position with the United Nations.

What have you learned by volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

I think the biggest thing I’ve gained from volunteering with the organization is a deeper understanding of the justice system’s interactions with regular, everyday people. I study Political Science in university, which has given me a lot of “academic” perspective, which is often very theoretical and, honestly, sometimes a bit pretentious. Being able to see how real, ordinary people deal with the justice system and the government and how it all functions in real time as a whole is truly fascinating for me.

Volunteering has really shown me how the justice system can have a much greater effect on disadvantaged groups, and it has really humanized the concept of a “systematic issue.” Seeing the difference between someone who can afford to send in a lawyer […] versus some of the clients who fear being unable to pay their rent or afford groceries because they’ve had to miss work for a court date, or seeing some clients who struggle with English […] It really starts to make clear what it means to be at a disadvantage in society.

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for the organization?

Do it! The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is a wonderful organization that carries out extremely important work in our community. Volunteering has been a really positive experience, and as an organization they really care about their volunteers and offer a lot of training and support.


How does your role with the organization make you feel?

I value my volunteer position immensely, because I actually witness the difference I make every time I’m on the court floor. While I’m not single-handedly reforming the entire justice system, I think a majority of clients I speak to learn something that makes their court experience easier on them. Whether that be an opportunity to find free legal representation for low income accused, diversionary measures that can avoid permanent criminal records, or something as simple as where to go next in the court house, I think I’m able to make a difference in individual peoples’ lives every time I’m volunteering.

Volunteer Profile: Alexandra Champagne

| Blog, Volunteer Profile

Written by: Natalie Jovanic

Alexandra Champagne supported the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary as a Calgary Traffic & Bylaw Court volunteer from March 2018 to March 2019. She learned about the volunteer program through a friend. Alexandra decided to join because she wanted to support people who belong to vulnerable communities and who are involved in a court environment. Through volunteering for the organization, she made a genuine and palpable positive impact.

Before joining the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, Alexandra volunteered for the University of Calgary’s Into the Streets volunteer program. She likes to paint, read, try new recipes, and garden. She has high ambitions for her future and will be starting law school this coming September.

“Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has been my most fulfilling volunteer experience to date.”

Empathy is priceless

Alexandra learned that empathy is an invaluable tool in her work as a volunteer. By listening to the concerns of clients and offering sympathy, she helped to ease any apprehensions they had about the court process. She also learned how to most effectively approach others and offer her support. Furthermore, she gained a great deal of knowledge about the legal system and learned how many people are involved in it.

Volunteering for EFry offers many benefits

Alexandra considers volunteering for the organization as a great opportunity to become acquainted with the court environment and justice system. People in the courthouse found her work impressive and wanted to know more about it. She feels she made a difference by providing stressed individuals with the information they needed to make decisions that were right for them.

Her work nurtures connections

Alexandra felt especially touched each time a client told her that they genuinely appreciated her assistance or that her advice really helped them. Volunteering for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has taught her that for each individual in the court system, there is an equally unique story behind it. However, volunteering also has some surprises: one time, a man asked her to marry his son (while he was standing beside him). Obviously, Alexandra was unable to accommodate his request, but nevertheless appreciated his enthusiasm.

Volunteer profile: Serena Sajan

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

Serena Sajan has been a Traffic and Bylaw Court volunteer since December 2018. Like many volunteers at Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, Serena is a student at the University of Calgary.  She first learned about the organization while searching for volunteer positions in the legal system, and she hopes to continue on to law school after completing her undergraduate degree.

Between studying and volunteering—for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary and the University of Calgary Business Career Centre—Serena keeps busy, but she saves time and space for the things that bring her joy. A self-described mocha fanatic, she finds happiness in fitness, Netflix, and new makeup.

What have you learned in your time with Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

I have really improved my communication skills, as I regularly explain complex processes to individuals in a simplistic way so that others can understand.

Being emotionally stable is very important as a volunteer. It is so beneficial if you remain calm and patient with those you help, because they can be very expressive. Volunteers cannot take things personally, and having a strong backbone is a skill I have learned so far.

What would you say to someone seeking help from you in Traffic and Bylaw Court?

The greatest insight I have gained from volunteering is that there are no judgements while helping others. You keep your biases to yourself. It’s all about helping other people at the end of the day.

Volunteers are not experts and may not know everything to help you, but we can equip you in the best way we know how to face your matters with ease. We can help guide you through the process and support you, because we know it can be hard being at court, but just give us an opportunity to help you.

How meaningful is your role with Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary—both for you and for clients?

I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone and constantly pushing myself to do the best I can. As a court volunteer, I am doing this. It is a bonus that I am learning more about the law and its processes.

I do feel like I am making a difference in the community, since I can see that my help is benefitting others. I have received great feedback; clients that I have helped come up to me after they are finished with the court process and express how thankful they are for my help. Sometimes when you volunteer, you often cannot see if you are making a difference, but volunteering with Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary has definitely shown me that my contribution matters.


Volunteer profile: Oxana Gryshchenko

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Selwynne Hawkins

“I feel like I am making a difference to people who are very scared of coming to court, I can make them feel like they are not alone or discriminated against, and that I am there to help them.”

Oxana Gryshchenko has always been fascinated by the legal system. Her search for relevant volunteer opportunities brought her to the Okotoks Court House—where she was redirected to Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary’s office. Shortly after her 18th birthday, Oxana started volunteering for the organization in the Adult Criminal Court Program on the Case Management Office floor at the Calgary Courts Centre.

Oxana is currently a student in the Legal Assistant program at SAIT. Between her studies and her volunteer commitments, she loves to read historical books, paint, and play tennis.

What have you learned by volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

I definitely developed the skill of thinking on my feet and being able to come up with a correct and relevant answer to clients’ questions in a short period of time. I gained some knowledge in the legal system which has served me as an asset in starting my Legal Assistant program.

How do you feel about your role with the organization?

I feel like I am making a difference to people who are very scared of coming to court because they do not know what to expect. I am very happy now that I am a volunteer at the Calgary Courts Centre, assisting people with their charges and helping to make their lives a little bit less stressful.

My role as a volunteer and the service that I provide is very important to clients, especially to the first time offenders. I inform clients of the court process, what the next steps would be after their court appearance, and mentally support the clients so they are not stressed about being in court. I provide them with appropriate referrals and make sure to help them as much as I can. I make them feel like they are not alone or discriminated against, and that I am there to help them.

Volunteering makes me feel better because I helped someone with their issue, but sometimes it also makes me a little sad because there is a limit to the help that I can provide people with.

What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary?

Volunteering makes me feel like I am using my time productively by helping other people and making connections. Elizabeth Fry Society is a good place to contribute your time to because of the experience you get, the people you meet, and the clients you get to help.


Volunteer profile: Kelsey Richard

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Written by: Natalie Jovanic

Kelsey Richard started volunteering for the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary in June 2016. While she started out on the Family Law Court floor at the Calgary Courts Centre, she is now volunteering in the Youth Mentorship program. She initially joined the organization to gain experience in the field and loved the legal aspect. Through volunteering, she also found that she enjoyed giving back to the community.

Kelsey leads a busy life: while volunteering, she is working full time and taking classes through the University of Victoria. Her goal is to obtain her Master’s degree and gain employment at Alberta Health Services Mental Health Diversion Program. In her spare time, Kelsey enjoys yoga and running by the river. If she finds time in her schedule, she finds herself going out to the mountains.

Volunteering set a new path for Kelsey’s life

Kelsey’s greatest insight from volunteering at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is to never judge a book by its cover. She found out that those you least expect can be the most loving and amazing people. Volunteering also taught her to step out of her comfort zone. Kelsey has learned a lot about herself, especially that she is capable of more than she originally thought. She has grown as a person and learned that everybody has a story. Volunteering has also influenced her career goals: while she initially learned lots about the legal system, she also gained knowledge in the mental health field which she has now realized she wants to pursue as her career.

Mentoring makes a difference for youth

Through her volunteering, Kelsey gained significant insight into the legal systems and family law as well as the laws and programs designed to support families. Kelsey’s role is very important as she is assisting youth in the community to make healthy choices. She takes her role seriously as she is aware that her mentees count on her. With youth she works with, she needs to show them that they have somebody in their life they can rely on. She finds volunteering can sometimes be emotionally difficult but in the end it is always rewarding. She fully recommends others to volunteer for Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary.

Building trustworthy and supportive connections

Kelsey absolutely loves her role as a mentor and her mentee has said they enjoy the time they spend together. Her mentee has expressed how important that their connection is. Kelsey feels touched when somebody is genuinely grateful and happy and she thinks the staff of the Elizabeth Fry Society is great because they are always in touch and eager to help.

Volunteer Profile: Aymen Sherwani

| Blog, Volunteer Profile, Volunteering

Aymen Sherwani is an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary who hopes to one day go to law school and pursue a career in criminal law. In 2018, she started volunteering as a Program Resource volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, having now moved to a new position as a Traffic & Bylaw Court Volunteer.

Aymen first became involved with the organization because she wanted to gain more knowledge and experience within the legal system while giving back to the community and understand racial inequality in Canada. When asked why Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary was her choice of organization to work with, she replied “At the time, I was looking for a meaningful cause to dedicate my energy and time towards. I applied to the Elizabeth Fry Society with the understanding that I would be volunteering to directly aid previously incarcerated women, or women in need…” In addition to volunteering for a school newspaper as an opinions columnist, Aymen publishes articles and poetry, and practices karate.

What has working with the Elizabeth Fry Society taught you, both in your personal and professional life?

Through volunteering with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary, Aymen has gained extensive knowledge about the legal and criminal justice system. She has honed important life skills, such as interacting with strangers confidently and staying composed even in a chaotic situation. An important insight gained from her work with the Society is that “Life is unpredictable, so be thankful for what you have, and never stop fighting for what you aspire to achieve.”

Why do you believe the community should be supporting the Elizabeth Fry Society?

Aymen wants the community and potential donors to know that the Society “is very wholesome” and she also recommends volunteering with the organization, saying that “it is worth it”. She wants the community to know that “I feel like if more people were involved and actively trying to be a part of the solution to the objectives that the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary is attempting to achieve, change would happen quicker.”

How has your role with the Elizabeth Fry Society changed you as a person? How do you think it has changed or impacted those who’ve come to its doors seeking help?

Working with the organization has affected Aymen, in that it opened her eyes to how much truly needs to be done in the world. “I feel that there is so much more that can be done to aid women escape the cycle of poverty. Enforcers of the law should definitely be involved in discussions and be a part of the solution in an effort to not only reduce the rates of crime, but also successfully rehabilitate previously incarcerated women into society again to prevent repeat crimes.” However, she does feel that she is making a difference in others’ lives, even if it may be a small one: “As a Program Resource Volunteer, many women came into the office asking for food and bus tickets, and I was happy to be able to help them in a moment of need like that. At the courthouse, I am always happy to help individuals who are coming to the courthouse for the first time and don’t understand how to navigate the system.”