This article was originally featured in the February 27 print issue
Deem Waham, Howl Staff
On Tuesday morning of Reading Week, around 200 U of T students gathered bright and early in the OISE auditorium, waiting to meet their “Alternative Reading Week: Days of Service” Team Leaders; 20 students dressed in ARW’s signature orange colour. Destination: Mount Denis, a neighbourhood in the York region about 45 minutes north-west of U of T on the TTC.
The Centre for Community Partnerships at U of T has been facilitating this event for the last three years, in conjunction with Mt. Denis’ Learning Enrichment Foundation (LEF), an organization that provides an accessible community space as well as an outlet through which many services are provided, such as career training, skills development, and daycare for community members’ children.
There was a mixture of anticipation and nervousness – people were excited to try something new, but they were unsure of what to expect from three days in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. The concept of community service is one that many of the students, especially those who didn’t grow up in Canada, hadn’t experienced before.
“I’m not really sure what it’s going to be like,” said Jessie, a student in her first year, “I’ve never done anything like this before!”
“Back home, we don’t really have this type of thing,” said Marina, an international student, “but I think it will be fun.”
A total of 43 projects were scheduled, with each participant doing one project on Tuesday after keynote speeches, two projects over Wednesday afternoon and evening, and finally one project on Thursday afternoon before the closing celebration that took place at LEF. The themes for the projects range from children’s activities, to language classes with adults, to serving meals at homeless shelters. Some of the projects that took place this year are: origami, reading, sports activities and salsa classes with children and youth; research opportunities in various topics, such as employment needs and marketing strategies; painting and building projects in community spaces and offices; creative photography, website design, painting murals and video making; and various other projects that benefit the community, such as “What to do if…”, an educational workshop on how to react in emergencies.
At the end of the three days, students expressed how pleased they were that they got to spend time interacting with community members, and in many cases, working alongside them to provide a service that would benefit the community, whether directly or in subtle ways. The community of Mount Denis continues to grow; Alternative Reading Week contributes to that growth year after year.