Our History

Student Open Circles was founded in 2001 through a process of listening to students at McMaster and recognizing the need for a respectful space for students from diverse religious and non-religious backgrounds to explore deeper meaning, values, spirituality, and social justice. The Community Volunteer Action weekly volunteer groups were born out of noticing that many students want to get involved in making a difference while often being unfamiliar with the needs of Hamilton.

From 2001-2003, Welcome Inn Community Centre sponsored Student Open Circles until it obtained independent charity status. From the beginning, Hamilton Mennonite Church has been a committed supporter of Student Open Circles. In 2006, St. Paul’s Anglican Church Westdale began supporting Student Open Circles through giving office space and other space for our programs, and partnering with us on various initiatives. We have also partnered with and received support from First Unitarian Church.

Since its beginning, Student Open Circles has facilitated weekly on-campus discussion groups, events, retreats, and provided individual mentoring that has helped students to listen to their own and others’ experiences. Currently over 400 students participate in these opportunities for reflection each year, and students say they value the chance to explore what matters most to them.

During our first decade Community Volunteer Action (CVA) grew from 5 weekly volunteer groups to 20-25 weekly groups, annually connecting over 300 McMaster students to volunteer with a variety of local needs including breakfast and after school programs for at risk children, tutoring recent immigrant youth, working with adults with disabilities, and serving at a soup kitchen. These programs depend on our highly committed and enthusiastic student volunteers and, by reflecting on their service each week with their group, the volunteers learn about issues such as poverty and develop a lifelong commitment to making a difference.

Student Open Circles has maintained a strong emphasis on leadership development by providing ongoing training to over 50 student leaders each year who are involved in facilitating events, volunteer groups, and discussion groups.