Getting Out of the Bubble
(reflection from Community Volunteer Action)

by Marybeth Leis Druery

Serving breakfast to children at Beasley Community Center is a new placement for some of our Community Volunteer Action groups this year. This downtown Beasley neighbourhood has an unemployment rate near 45% while 56% of residents live below the Statistics Canada poverty line. It’s a richly diverse neighbourhood where many of the 5000 immigrants who arrive in Hamilton each year make their home. And in recent years, Beasley has become home to the James St. North arts community. Each CVA volunteer group has a faciltator who weekly facilitates group reflection on societal issues and who meets the group at Mac, making it easier for students to “get out of the bubble” and engage with our community. While the breakfast program is just around the corner from my house, it takes me about an hour to get there in the morning as I go to McMaster to meet my group members and travel together to our volunteering.

Riding the bus from downtown Hamilton to McMaster at 6:30am, I’m surrounded by support staff going in for the early shift – parking booth attendants, cleaning staff, many recent immigrants. As the bus speeds through rainy streets past dark houses, silent ghosts before the dawn, I think of all the students deep in slumber whose lives work because of how my fellow-riders serve us all, making breakfast, cleaning up after us, fixing what’s broken. I wonder how many notice this anthill of support underneath our campus lives.

Waiting for my volunteer group to arrive, I watch the colony of ants scatter in all directions. Streaks of light break across the horizon while volunteers slowly trickle into the bus stop. Heading off towards downtown, retracing the path I took to meet these students, I share my reflections in hopes of stirring attention within them; attention to the systems of which we are all a part, that support our lives, and that often keep others at a distance as “the other.” The volunteering we do together has great potential to raise this awareness.

For most of these first year students, our first venture into the downtown Beasley neighbourhood was their first time off campus. The children at the breakfast program are the first non-McMaster Hamilton residents they have met. The contrast with the “bubble” of campus life didn’t escape their notice as they got to know children who have grown up in refugee camps and others whose parents are in jail. Their worldview is visibly rearranging as they tell me how different this volunteer experience is from what they had expected and yet how glad they are to be able to be there for these kids who really need the attention of older role models in their lives. I notice that first year students often still see themselves as kids. In just a couple of months time, I’ve already noticed changes in these volunteers as they cross the threshold into seeing themselves as adults with responsibility for their actions in the world.

During our debrief discussion this morning at a nearby coffee shop, the conversation flowed with insights as the volunteers opened up: “These children have been through so much in such little time! They really need us to be there for them, listen and talk to them, and show them that they’re important.” Another shared: “I’m learning so much from this about what kids need. If I’m a parent someday, I know I’ll be a much better parent because of this experience!” The conversation continued volleying around the table: “These children are so young and vulnerable. They need SO much positive attention from us! I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow through being there with them every week.”

And I am looking forward to continued growth in all of us, to seeing how we shift our view of the world and our place in the systems that carry us all.

Community Volunteer Action (CVA) is an OPIRG working group, a branch of MSU Open Circle, and is supported by To volunteer with one of CVA’s 30 weekly groups, go to

Marybeth Leis Druery creatively expresses her commitment to a world where we value and care for each other — through her art and through her work with Student Open Circles, bringing together a diversity of McMaster students to discuss life, spirituality, and social justice and to make a difference through local volunteering. She offers individual spiritual companioning as a supportive space for listening to where meaning is emerging in one’s life and discovering meaningful spiritual, creative, or social justice practices.

To view Marybeth’s art and reflections, or to order art, cards, gift sets & prints in support of Student Open Circles: