You can’t take things too seriously when you are in Ammar Atheem’s office at the Seneca Student Federation (SSF) headquarters.
To the right of the room is a bookcase full of action figures, at least two shelves of it dedicated to Star Wars. To the left, two more bookcases of action figures line the wall by the window. On display are everything from Ninja Turtles and Game of Thrones to Iron Man, Godzilla and Pinky and the Brain.
There are easily more than 1,000 figures, and more and more, when a student comes into the SSF office at Newnham Campus, upset or in distress, they are taken to this room.
“The first thing they say when they walk in is, ‘Wow,’ and they calm down right away,” said Atheem, Manager, Campus Operations, SSF. “It completely calms whoever walks in here because they are not expecting to see toys. I call it the double shock. I open the door, which forces them to look to the right so they see the one shelf. Then they turn around and they see the other two shelves.”
The SSF office can be a hectic place on any given day. For many students, this is the first place they turn to when they encounter problems, be it school-related, work-related or something else: a broken arm, a late payment, a difficult situation at home. You name it, Atheem has probably seen it.
A graduate of the Business Administration – International Business advanced diploma program and the Student Affairs & Services certificate program, Atheem has been working at the SSF since 2005. His first SSF stint came when he ran for student council and was elected. From there, a one-year internship turned into a full-time permanent job.
While all SSF staff receive mental-health first-aid training, Atheem said their job isn’t to investigate but rather to provide recommendations on procedure or process, whether it’s to do with Counselling & Accessibility Services, the Student Conduct Office or other student services and support.
“A lot of students don’t look at the SSF as authority and we try to help them as much as possible,” he explained. “They look at us as people who are here to help and our goal is to bring them into the room and get them to calm down.”
Many of the action figures in Ammar Atheem’s office were collected when he was in grade school. Since he began displaying them at work about six years ago, SSF staff have also contributed to the collection.
Those who end up in Atheem’s office are transported to a world of characters from Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, Alien vs. Predator, Cinderella, The Chronicles of Narnia, Tarzan and others.
“They are from old movies and old cartoons, they are very helpful,” said Abdul Abdussalam, a Business – International Business student.
The first time Abdussalam set foot in Atheem’s office, he was shocked by the number of action figures in the room. But after working at the SSF for more than three years, Abdussalam, a supervisor, has not only added to Atheem’s collection but he has taken students to see them.
“Once, a student came and she had a breakdown,” he recalled. “She was in a really bad state and we took her to Ammar’s office. She sat there and stared at the toys. She stayed for about 30 to 40 minutes and in the end, she couldn’t remember why she was there.”
Many of Atheem’s toys are vintage, collected since he was in grade school. Once, at an auction, he purchased two boxes full of UFC fighters at $5 apiece. Recently, his staff got him a Black Panther figure and his boss gifted him a Godfather Funko Pop.
Also on the shelves are some old phones, shot glasses, key chains and cameras from the 1970s, including the first digital camera, complete with a floppy disk, purchased by the SSF.
“Since my childhood, I’ve kept all my toys in mint condition,” Atheem said. “I hate leaving them in boxes. I want to display them and show them off. Some of this stuff have absolutely no value, but they make me feel good.”
As they do for the students who find themselves at the SSF when in need of help.
“Once they are in my office, they start talking,” Atheem said. “They sit down and they start talking about the toys and from there, they talk about what’s bothering them. They get a sense of comfort in that, hey, this is a guy I can talk to. He’s got toys.”