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September 27, 2001 Concordia students build bridges to Montreal's poor



Michael Nimchuk and Cristelle Basmaji

Michael Nimchuk and Cristelle Basmaji

Photo by Jean-François Majeau

by Sigalit Hoffman

Michael Nimchuk and Cristelle Basmaji are on a mission.

They are this year’s student representatives on the Concordia Centraide committee, and they’re competing against other Montreal universities in the umbrella agency’s annual fundraising campaign, which starts tomorrow and runs until mid-December.

“Last year, we planned it in a week,” Nimchuk said. The president of the Engineering and Computer Science Students Association (ECA) organized a loonie line that raised $1,800, more than any similar activity in the Montreal compaign. “This year, we are hoping that we can do even better.”

His enthusiasm is matched by that of Cristelle Basmaji, president of the business students (CASA). Like Nimchuk, she has been involved since she arrived at Concordia three years ago.

Basmaji first joined the CASA Cares Foundation, which organizes activities to raise funds for charities like Centraide, Les Oeuvres du Cardinal Léger, and the Cure for Breast Cancer Foundation. Last year, she organized the first CASA fashion show, and brought in $6,000, half of which was donated to Centraide.

“All the money from our events this year will go to Centraide,” Basmaji said.

Centraide raised over $37 million last year, but despite all the goodwill, campaign president Michèle Thibodeau-DeGuire said, “Our goal has been going up from year to year. We know there are sufficient funds in the community to be used for the agency, but you have to convince them to give it.”

Centraide funds 324 charities and projects on the Island of Montreal, and helps over half a million people in many ways, from after-school programs and women’s shelters to citizens’ advocacy and community groups.

The agency has about 65 000 volunteers. Thibodeau-DeGuire said, “We could do nothing without them. They are the essence of the organization,” she said.

For Basmaji and Nimchuk, volunteering is second nature. Basmaji learned the volunteering habit at home, and continued the tradition in university. “It’s very rewarding to do something to help other people,” she said.

Nimchuk agreed. “I try to do as much as I can to interest other students in taking part. I think it’s great that we can add that much more to the Concordia community as students.”

Thibodeau-DeGuire said that Centraide is vital because of the links it builds between Montreal communities. Without it, smaller charities would have to spend between 50 and 70 per cent of their donations on fundraising campaigns. “The agency is a symbol of social cohesion, of solidarity,” she said.

The students are trying to bring this cohesion to the campus. Basmaji is planning another fashion show, and will continue with initiatives like barbecues, food and clothing drives.

Nimchuk is hoping for an even more successful loonie line this year — McGill has just held theirs, and raised $2,555 — and he might plan another fundraiser in the spring among the engineering students.

A former engineer herself, no one understands the need for cohesion better than Thibodeau-DeGuire. “I used to build concrete bridges,” she joked. “Now, I build bridges between people.”

Join Concordia’s Centraide committee at the March of 1,000 Umbrellas at lunchtime tomorrow, at the corner of Ste. Catherine and McGill College Sts.. For more information, call Hélène Cossette, at 848-4883. You should receive your Centraide form in the mail on Oct. 4. The first raffle for prizes — only donors are eligible — will be on Oct. 12.