Friday, 6 January 2012

Building a Community Building Building: An Interview with Ali Maynard

What do you get when you combine a proud Quebecois, a laser-tag champion, a theatre-arts student and a bartender? Well, you get a French-Canadian actress who serves you alcohol and beats you in one of the most entertaining games from our childhood. But Ali Maynard is so much more. As my Senior Don and co-worker of two and a half years, I can confidently tell you that Ali is as good as they get. But try and pass that compliment on to her and she’ll classily shrug it off, citing the efforts of others before her own or using her effortlessly pulled off dry wit to provoke guaranteed chuckles. It’s that deep-rooted humbleness that makes her amazing at what she does. But don’t take it from me – ask one of her residents and they’ll all have their own stories of how Ali reached out and made a lasting impact on their lives during their year at Winters.

A Quebec native, Ali Maynard grew up in Montreal-area before moving to York University to pursue her passion for dramatic arts. Now a fourth year undergraduate theatre major, Ali has amassed a decorated resume that includes managing a Laser Quest, serving at the Hard Rock Cafe in Montreal, doing everything imaginable at the York student operated Absinthe Pub, dedicating her efforts in various theatre and dance clubs on campus, and, of course, going above and beyond as a Don and Senior Don with Residence Life. So, how does she do it? I could try and tell you myself, but I wouldn’t do it justice. Below is a brief interview I had with my friend and mentor Ali Maynard.

1) In a few words, describe yourself and interests.

I’ve always felt that the best word to describe me is ‘Toaster’. It is a common joke among French-Canadians that all mother-tongue French citizens only need to know how to say three words in English in order to speak the language: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Toaster’. Believe me, I would love to know where this joke came from but, alas, it will forever be one of those cultural mysteries. When I was eighteen years old, I was hired at a Laser Quest in downtown Montreal. All employees must wear a nametag with their codename on it in order to act as role models and encourage clients to choose a codename of their own. On a whim, I chose the codename ‘Toaster’ since both I knew that both English and French clientele would understand what it meant. During my time at Laser Quest I met my mentor, my best friend, as well as a number of other amazing people who have all greatly impacted my life. I really came into myself during this time because I had the opportunity to discover and exercise many of my strengths. In the two years that I worked for this company, I found out that I am a great public speaker and animator. Thanks to my killer organizational skills, I was given the opportunity to become an assistant manager. I discovered that my people skills allowed me to go beyond the position and be a fantastic leader. I believe that the word ‘Toaster’ adequately describes me because it represents my cultural duality; I am a proud Quebecoise and Canadian. It embodies my passion for unique sports, teambuilding, and leadership. It’s fun and quirky, like me. And, let’s be honest, toasters are so freaking useful. Where would we be without toast? I’d like to think that, in the grand scheme of the universe, I might be useful too. J

2) Why did you decide to become a Don, and what has kept you motivated after almost three years in your position?

After my time at Laser Quest, I was craving for leadership experience. During my first week at York, my Don informed our House of the programmer position in residence. I immediately applied and, thankfully, got the job. I enjoyed the job so much mainly because I felt like I was an integral part of the community. Though I learnt a ton about event planning, I was still hungry for more. I applied for the Don position because I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to explore my leadership potential, and, at the end of the day, I wanted to help people. And I think that that is what has kept me motivated throughout these three crazy years: the people. My students, my Dons, my managers... they have all kept me going. They have all encouraged me to be the best that I can be.

3) What does community building mean to you?

Community building means impact. By the end of every year, I feel a great sense of accomplishment knowing that, in one way or another, I have impacted/affected/touched my students. When I see them at programs, house meetings, or even in the hallway, I know that I have the power to make their days a little bit better. When I see them making new friendships, sharing ideas, or trying something new, I know that community building proves that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life has meaning and value.
4) What do you think is the most important aspect of a community?

The people. Without people you can’t have a community. People make community. I think that community is the product of our basic human needs for communication, interaction, and acceptance. We all want to feel needed, wanted, and loved. We all want to feel a part of something; to be one part of a bigger whole, to be one facet of a diamond. 
5) What challenges have you faced as a Don, and how have you overcome them?

I obviously love getting involved in extra-curricular activities and oftentimes find myself having a hard time balancing my job, classes, and schoolwork with my passion for leadership. I find that utilizing the many support systems in my life have helped me overcome these time management challenges. My friends and fellow dons have always been willing volunteers to help me manage my everyday stresses.

6) What has been your best resource for success as a community builder?
Programming! Programming! Programming! I cannot stress this enough! Programming events that interest and engage your students will inevitably improve your community as a whole and, most importantly, your relationship with each and every one of your residents. Best secret of the trade: If you keep your students busy, they won’t have the time or the energy to find trouble.

7) Any plans for post-Donship and graduation?

At this point, I’m pretty much open to anything. I’m excited about seeing what life is like without academia since I haven’t experienced that since I was five. I want to travel... pretty much everywhere. I want to backpack, and camp, and hitchhike, and couch-surf, and essentially be a poor beatnik hippie. It’s going to rock bigfoot socks. I want to go WWWOOFing (Willing Workers Working On Organic Farms) in British Columbia, learn Spanish in Peru, and teach English in Japan. I want to take photography and knitting classes. I want to make experimental theatre and learn how to play the piano. Fundamentally, I want to live life and be awesome. 

*Special thanks to Ali Maynard for dedicating her time for this post. I owe you one!

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