Good neighbours: At exam time, stress is for the dogs

De-Stress Fest gives UVic students a chance to unwind before end of term

Every little bit helps for students trying to keep calm and stay focused during exam time at the University of Victoria.

Enter the UVic Student Ambassadors, a group linked to the UVic Alumni Association that helps foster school spirit and generally does good around campus.

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The ambassadors joined with the African and Caribbean Students' Association, the UVic Students' Society and the Graduate Students' Society in advance of exams to put on De-Stress Fest - a good-humoured effort to give students a chance to take a collective breath and share a smile.

Starting Thursday and running through Dec. 20, thousands of students will be writing end-of-term exams, said Linda Nicoll of UVic Alumni Relations.

The idea for a "de-stressing" event surfaced last year about this time, and an event held for students living in residence was a big hit, she said.

"After that, we opened it up wide for all students."

One of the more popular segments has been dubbed Doggy Playtime. Dogs from animal-rescue organizations and groups like Citizen Kanine meet with students for some joint affection.

Research shows that a little time spent with a pet can be a real boost to relaxation, she said. "The owners love it, too, because they're happy to show off their dogs."

Part of the purpose of the event is to let students know the importance of de-stressing.

"So many of them are not only doing their academics; they're also volunteering, they're working," Nicoll said.

"They've got a lot of balls in the air, and it's important to take some time to look after your body and your mind."

Also on the schedule during the three days of festivities were breakfast in the graduate students' lounge, a visit from Santa, a multicultural celebration in the Student Union Building and free 10-minute massages from the West Coast College of Massage Therapy.

VICTORIA UNVEILS UPDATED PLAYGROUND

The re-invigorated Cook Street playground at Beacon Hill Park has its official opening Wednesday.

Aging equipment at the popular spot has been replaced with apparatus that meets current national safety standards. The new layout includes swings, climbing nets and a 25-metre cable ride - all designed to give hours of fun to kids between the ages of 18 months and 12 years.

For parents, there is an adjacent outdoor-fitness circuit to use while children play. The nine-piece circuit, made by Kompan, has three exercise stations and can be used by up to 15 people at a time.

"It goes along with the community-wellness theme," said Doug Demarzo, Victoria's manager of parks planning and design.

New benches, picnic areas and bike rack have also been added.

Ronald McDonald House Charities and KidSport Greater Victoria contributed to the cost of the playground, while the fitness circuit received funding from the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development through its Community Recreation Grant Program.

About $300,000 has gone into the playground, a figure that includes a significant amount of concrete work for pathways and other needs.

Demarzo said two playgrounds are upgraded most years, but it was decided to have a single, comprehensive project to help mark the city's 150th anniversary this year.

Wednesday's opening event runs from 1: 45 to 2: 30 p.m. and includes refreshments and giveaways.

HOSPICE NAMED TOP CHARITY PICK

Victoria Hospice has once again earned national recognition as a worthy charity.

Hospice was one of just 45 groups from across the country to be named a Top Pick Charity in an annual report by Charity Intelligence Canada, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping people make sound decisions when they donate.

This is the fourth time Victoria Hospice has been honoured by the Toronto-based organization. The 2012 selections were pared down from a pool of over 250.

Greg Thomson, director of research for Charity Intelligence Canada, praised Victoria Hospice in a statement.

"Victoria Hospice excels in addressing a social issue, is cost efficient and, most importantly, has a track record of producing outstanding results for Canadians in need," Thomson said.

CRD EXPANDING IDEA ARTS GRANTS

A good IDEA is getting better. The Capital Regional District Arts Committee has announced that its Innovate, Develop, Experiment, Access grants have been increased to a maximum of $2,000.

The grants are intended to spur new arts-related activity by supporting innovation and one-time opportunities and helping organizations that aren't covered by other programs.

Applications must be from not-for-profit groups based in one of the eight supporting municipalities - Victoria, Saanich, Oak Bay, Esquimalt, Metchosin, the Highlands, View Royal and Sidney.

The next deadline for applications is Feb. 28.

Among the grant recipients in 2012 were the Dogwood Initiative (for the inaugural Creatively United for the Planet Festival), the Esquimalt Lantern Festival (for general festival activities), the Friends of Music Society (for the establishment of a new ukulele group) and Pacifica Housing (for a large outdoor mural).

For more details, call 250-3603215 or go to crd.bc.ca/arts.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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