When you hear Omar Al-Dib talk about his passion for supporting his community, you can’t help but smile. So, it’s only fitting that his volunteer initiative is called CU Smile.
Over the years, he’s volunteered at numerous organizations around Ottawa. A former Carleton University student, Omar is dedicated to engaging youth through team-building efforts, which is why he created CU Smile. This philanthropic, student-run organization has inspired more than 100 youth volunteers to tackle all kinds of local issues. From helping with food banks to running clothing drives, CU Smile is there to lend a hand.
Omar was recently awarded a Community Builder Award from United Way East Ontario. This award is given to people who have demonstrated a strong ability to mobilize their communities, going above and beyond their regular volunteerism. They also represent the kind of quiet determination and heroism that inspires others to act—leading by example.
We sat down with Omar to learn more about how he got into philanthropy and why he loves helping his community. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Your volunteer work is dedicated to creating equal opportunities and bridging the gap for folks who don‘t have access to basic needs like school lunches and clothing. Why are you so passionate about this work?
A. My dad would always call me the “ideal citizen” because I would pick up trash and go up to people and offer my help since I was young. When I came back to Canada to study at Carleton University, I was in, I think, my second year, and I decided I wanted to do more.
So, I started CU Smile and put aside my idea of just going to school for academics and created something more that would have a greater impact on the community. We are now at 220 events/fundraisers with CU Smile, over 10,000 lunch bags have been created, and we continue to plan into the future, ready to support our community.
Q. What challenges did you face when you were starting out and searching for supporters/additional volunteers? Were there any surprises along the way?
A. I put my whole focus into CU Smile and reaching out to people by using my connections. We started with five or ten people volunteering their time at events, but now we have been able to grow enough that CU Smile is a dedicated nonprofit organization. The more volunteers talked about it with friends, the more supporters and volunteers we got because they could see the impact we were making. The pandemic was a huge surprise, but it meant we had to work harder and smarter to overcome the barriers of gathering limits and online events.
Another surprise for me, personally, was time management. I was switching from being a student to working a full-time nine–to–five job and running CU Smile. I keep working with CU Smile because there is always something else you could be doing or planning to help our community. In the evenings, I sometimes work until 11 or midnight because I want to make sure I have done everything I can to ensure CU Smile has what it needs.
Q. GenNext brings together folks who want to get involved in their community and tackle the tough problems—whether they‘re a recent grad or a just getting interested in local philanthropy. What advice do you have for young people who want to go further to support their communities? Where do they start?
A. Some advice that stuck with me when I started CU Smile is that what you are doing matters. As little as it seems, you are still helping people. Even if you don’t notice it, you impact the people around you, so try to make that impact positive. You, of course, aren‘t always going to be positive because you are human. You have emotions, but try to be as positive as possible because it may make someone’s day.
When you start looking at basic life necessities, like the food you eat or the clothes you wear, think about how people within our communities don‘t have that and start there. Don‘t be afraid to start something, yes, it may be difficult initially, but no matter how small the deed is, it‘s still having a significant impact on people‘s livelihood.
Young philanthropists like Omar are a force to be reckoned with! Their passion and hunger for change has no limits and they work tirelessly to support their communities. That’s the sign of a Community Builder. Do you know any local volunteers who deserve to be recognized for their work in Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County?