Everyone needed a hero for their well-being during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately for the student body of the University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College, IGNITE played that important role as they provided continuous support to propel students through hardships caused by the pandemic.

IGNITE is the University of Guelph-Humber and Humber College’s student-run union. The non-profit organization ensures that all students have access to personal aid whether it is financial security or emotional support through health and wellness initiatives. IGNITE also coordinates events, such as contests and TED Talks, to demonstrate that there is more to student life than class and studying.

“There should always be a lot of fun in coming to school,” said Melany Palacios-Naranjo, a member of IGNITE’s board of directors. “We’re here to make things easier for students.”

Palacios-Naranjo, 20, has been a member of IGNITE since her first year attending the University of Guelph-Humber. She was elected to IGNITE’s board of directors for the beginning of the fall 2020 semester. Her responsibilities are to oversee campus initiatives and organize events for the student body; however, her job was remarkably more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students were forced to quarantine at home during the 2020-2021 school year due to multiple waves of COVID-19 infections in Ontario; yet Palacios-Naranjo and the IGNITE team never stopped working and providing for students during this time.

“Quarantine was a difficult time for everyone financially and mentally, and tuition fees didn’t get any cheaper; so, in order to ensure that students were still getting the same benefits, we had multiple contests and upgraded our prizes from the prior year,” said the third-year justice studies student, Palacios-Naranjo.

IGNITE rewarded students for winning contests and survey participation with prizes such as Uber Eats gift cards, sweaters, and sneakers. Disadvantaged students would email IGNITE to request for a contest or giveaway that would help diminish their hardships due to the pandemic. IGNITE responded by paying for some student’s groceries and textbooks.

“They asked us to come up with contests or giveaways that would help benefit them. Not everyone can afford things others take for granted because they are busy paying for rent and other essentials. When someone needs something, we try our best to help them out,” said Palacios-Naranjo.

Palacios-Naranjo also recalled how some international students were forced to stay in Canada during the 2020-2021 school year due to pandemic travel restrictions keeping them from their native countries. These students found it difficult to cope with the harsh Canadian winter, especially because many were unable to afford winter jackets. This heartbreaking information inspired IGNITE to give away over 100 winter jackets over the course of last year’s winter.

Additionally, IGNITE provided remote access to the Dispute Resolution Clinic. This clinic gives students struggling with any mental health concerns or conflicts with other individuals, such or professors or landlords, the opportunity for specialized help. “So many people struggle, it’s a constant issue that no one really sees,” said Palacios-Naranjo.

An anonymous individual who wishes to be called Amy, is a Humber North campus student that has struggled profoundly throughout the pandemic. Amy lost both of her jobs and was unable to collect the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because of complications with the Canada Revenue Agency. Due to her financial standing, the inability to see loved ones, and lack of a routine, her mental health also deteriorated. Amy said, “I was used to working and keeping busy all the time. Being home alone with my thoughts all day wasn’t ideal.”

Although Amy was aware of the benefits that IGNITE had been offering during the height of the pandemic, she never partook in any of their initiatives. “Looking back, I really wish I had participated because I will take anything I can get at this point. The ball was in my court, and I really wish I would have jumped on that opportunity,” she said.

Despite the fact Amy didn’t involve herself in IGNITE’s initiatives, she remains very thankful for the student union. She explained how IGNITE makes her feel important and recognized as part of the Guelph-Humber and Humber community.

When asked what she would say to anyone who is struggling, Amy crafted a response that offers hope and optimism for the future:

“Reach out to anyone you can. Don’t be scared to ask for help because you’re not the only one going through it. We’re all in this together and there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. IGNITE is there for you, everyone is there for you.”

The pandemic has caused hardships for countless individuals inside and out of the school community; nevertheless, Melany Palacios-Naranjo and others on the IGNITE team proved they can be true heroes for anyone in need.