How Working With United Way Brought One Student to Ryerson

Photo by Isabelle Docto.

What would you do if you found out you had to uproot your life and move to a different country right at this moment?

Rudhra Persad had no time to think about this as he was forced to flee his native country of Trinidad and Tobago 11 years ago.

He found his refuge in Toronto, but establishing himself in the city was a daunting task.

“I basically packed up my life in three days,” Persad said. “When I came [to Canada] I didn’t know what I was going to do in terms of a career or anything—I didn’t have a plan.”

The 36-year-old second year arts and contemporary studies student is also the mentoring officer for the Tri-Mentoring program at Ryerson. Before he became a passionate student and mentor, Persad was searching for purpose with his new life in Toronto.

His wife, who was his girlfriend at the time he moved to Canada, pointed him towards volunteering so he could become accustomed to working in Canada. That’s when he started volunteering at the YMCA, a United Way member agency.

Persad volunteered as an employment counselor and ran workshops, working with youth who are at-risk. He says that volunteering at the YMCA helped him find where his passion lies.

“I felt very respected and very much included in what they were doing,” he said. “If I can talk to some youth and share my experiences then maybe it might help them make some different decisions.”

Ryerson teams up with the United Way for its annual campaign to raise funds for Ryerson’s student services and community services in Toronto. Stories like Persad’s serve as a great example of how perseverance and some empowerment can take you a long way.

“Those kinds of stories are real life stories and when people see that, or hear that I think it gives them an incentive to give more because they’re seeing what their dollars are doing as opposed to going on hearsay,” said Beverly Marks, administrative assistant in Ryerson’s university advancement division.

Ryerson surpassed its goal of raising $210,000 this year and raised participation from last year’s five per cent to eight per cent.

Persad says that campaigns like this are powerful and needed in the diverse and always growing community of Toronto.

“The work that they do is transformative because they allow people to incorporate themselves in to Canada a little easier,” he said.

Marks adds that Ryerson tries to give back to the community.

“I think President Levy plays a big role, he is very passionate about the United Way and he is a person that likes to see the university grow in different ways,” she said.

Even though Persad hasn’t worked with the United Way in awhile, he says that Ryerson’s effort to give back is good motivation for himself and other students.

“I think Ryerson is an institution that very much recognizes its place within the broader context of Toronto,” he said. “They always are trying to expose their students to the bigger picture.”

Persad’s next project is called “Suit Up for Success,” which provides Ryerson students access to appropriate professional clothing for interviews.