Have you ever thought about starting a club, but found yourself demotivated when you realize you might not have the training required to approach community partners? Alternatively, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of students signing up and may find yourself trying to find opportunities to practice your leadership skills.

However, if you happen to be a student at U of T’s St. George campus, you would not be struggling and asking these questions, thanks to the previously established Centre for Community Partnerships program.

The CCP program is involved in research on community-engaged learning and also provides training for responding to community-identified needs. Inspired by CCP’s success and following the same model, UTM’s Student Life has recently introduced a similar program for UTM student organizations, the Community Outreach and Engagement Network, this fall 2015.

The primary purpose of COEN, according to Marlo Young-Sponga, a community engagement activity assistant for Student Life, is “to create a network for student organizations involved in community engagement, to offer them training to help them do what they do better”.

The sessions are largely focused on skill building, with an emphasis on improving interclub relationships. While the first session focused on using community engagement to create an impact in your organization, the second session focused on effective communication and conflict resolution.

Although the COEN program is geared towards developing beneficial strategies for the expansion and effectiveness of clubs, Young-Sponga also believes that a predominant benefit of the club will be through an exchange of ideas.

“COEN is a place to share and improve ideas; learn new approaches to leadership, communication, and planning; and recognize the great initiatives that student organizations are running on our campus,” says Young-Sponga.

COEN will run throughout the year to serve as a space for discussion on logistical problem solving and effective marketing for events. While CCR notation (upon attending three out of four sessions) is an additional incentive for club members to participate, the program also helps to provide connections to relevant community partners if they are required by a club.

“I think COEN is a good opportunity for individuals from different student organizations to meet up and share ideas and resources,” says Peggy Cao, a third-year computer science and professional writing and communications double major. She describes her experience at the first COEN session as an opportunity for people passionate about contributing to different areas of the community to help one another achieve their goals.

Cao adds, “Personally, I’ve been able to network with student organizations [that] I’d otherwise never have had an opportunity to meet, learn about what they do, and find ways to collaborate in order to impact our local community.”

With leadership development and communication skills as the initial component of the program, it will also focus on showcasing student initiatives in an effort to get more students involved. This component has been designated as COEN Week, taking place in February 2016.

“We hope to have one or two active events each day, and one event ongoing throughout the week,” says Young-Sponga. The theme for COEN Week will be youth engagement. The events planned aim to engage youth both within and outside the UTM community.

COEN aims to have an umbrella effect—only when effective networks exist within existing initiatives will they propagate onto the larger community.