The University of Guelph community will be reaching out and checking in on the mental health and well-being of nearly 5,000 first-year students next week as part of House Calls.
The popular program will be virtual for the second year due to the pandemic with check-ins happening on Microsoft Teams from Nov. 22 to 26.
Organized by Student Housing Services, House Calls is in its sixth year and is an effective way of welcoming students to the University and asking how they are doing so far in their first months of post-secondary life.
“Transitioning to University can be an exciting and scary experience,” said Kristin Lennan, acting associate director, Residence Life. “There are many firsts for students and lots of new situations to navigate. We want our students to know that we care about them. Who they are and what they bring to Guelph is important and if they are struggling in any way, we want to be able to help.”
Volunteer U of G faculty, staff and alumni typically knock on the doors of first-year students in campus residences. This year, they will aim to connect with all new undergraduates through virtual calls.
Training is provided to volunteers to ensure successful support for students. During last year’s virtual effort, 181 volunteers participated.
Resources, supports, referrals and involvement opportunities will be shared with the students during the online conversations. Callers will listen to the challenges the students may be facing and let them know that the University community cares about their wellbeing and success.
With exams and the stress that can accompanies them coming up, the program is an opportunity to ensure students have the resources they need to care for their mental health and well-being.
Lennan said House Calls gives students the opportunity to connect with people they otherwise might not meet. Volunteers are from across campus, including professors, deans, upper administration, alumni and staff.
“This is what being a Gryphon is all about – showing that we can all care for one another regardless of what connects us to campus,” Lennan said.
The volunteers are essential for the success of this program, she added. And while students benefit from the calls, callers also report that having the opportunity to have an impact on the lives of students gives them a great sense of purpose and satisfaction.
“Each year, we reach out to nearly 5,000 first-year students and there is no way this would be possible without the help of the Gryphon community,” Lennan said. “Many volunteers come back year after year because of the helpful connections they get to make with first-year students and the things they learn by helping others.”
Students have been very appreciative of the program since its inception.
“We have heard many positive things from students who participate in the House Calls program and we usually get asked when it is happening again,” said Lennan.
Last year, House Calls was adapted to an online format because of pandemic restrictions and expanded to include all first-year students, not just those in residences. The hope is to transition back to in-person calls when it is safe to do so.
“House callers have let us know that although they may not have connected with the same number of students as they would have in-person, the quality of the conversations was more impactful online,” Lennan added.