Alternative Reading Week is an annual tri-campus initiative run by the Department of Student Life, which took place this year from February 16 to 18.

Approximately 300 UTM students applied to volunteer with about 30 campus partners in various areas of the community such as children and youth, food projects, sustainability, and physical community development. Some of the organizations that took volunteers included Big Brothers Big Sisters, Volunteer MBC, United Way of Peel, Studio 89, Peel Aboriginal Network, Newcomer Centre of Peel, and Ecosource.

Alysha Ferguson, a student development officer in UTM’s student life programs who entered her role in January, has been impressed with the turnout this year and the effort her Community Engagement team has put into the project.

“On my end I’ve been very lucky. The ARW team has been unreal in the amount that they’ve been planning,” said Ferguson, who has mainly been in charge of logistics and communications for the event.

“Our volunteer training session was filled to the brim, and that was such a great problem to have because it means that students really want to do this. And the fact that they’ve stayed on means they’re going to go out into the community and make an awesome impact, which is amazing to see,” Ferguson said.

In terms of the individuals involved in this initiative, Ferguson headed a team of community engagement ambassadors who oversaw individual project leaders, who in turn coordinated the volunteers for each community partner.

Kanupria Seth, a second-year biomedical physics specialist and statistics minor, is a project leader this year and is working with Safe City Mississauga. Seth has been involved with ARW for the last two years, having worked as a volunteer last year.

“We are working on research and development for the content of websites for two campaigns: the White Ribbon campaign, which supports awareness for Violence against Women, and the Future Grad campaign, which encourages high school students to graduate and not drop out,” Seth described. Her team includes three volunteers and one other project leaders.

As a project leader, Seth described her role as “coordinating with the organization, planning the day and transport, and ensuring the volunteers are involved and happy about working”, along with facilitating discussion and ensuring a positive volunteer experience for each of her team members.

Fatima Alvi, a second-year biology specialist and project leader, led a team of 24 volunteers through the week. Alvi and her team participated in a mental health initiative at New College at the St. George campus, in which they committed to three different art projects to raise awareness and start conversations about mental health and stigma. Volunteers participated in making ‘zines, painting, and spoken word.

“All the people on my team were really excited. After listening to the presentations on the first day and going through a full day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they realized how meaningful this initiative was. We connected really well and it was a genuinely safe space. To me, that’s great because as a project leader, you want your team to be happy,” said Alvi. “I was like the link between UTM Student Life and the participants. I was there as a leader, mentor, friend, or whatever they needed me for.” Alvi has also been involved with ARW for two years, as a volunteer last year and now as a project leader.

James Tinamisan, a third-year accounting specialist, was a volunteer this year. He was part of a team of 33 volunteers at Studio 89, the local non-profit fair trade cafe and youth-friendly workshop space, helping with event creation and marketing for the space.

“I was part of the video creation team, which is very exciting because I have little experience with creating videos,” said Tinamisan on his involvement. “Studio 89 also promotes global change and awareness, which is something I believe to be important in the lives of the youth of today.”

ARW is a space for UTM students to get involved in their community and have a unique reading week experience. All participants receive notations on their co-curricular record for being involved.