Last Friday, UTM’s Centre for Student Engagement hosted a movie night in collaboration with Autism Ontario of Peel as part of their community day event programming. The peel chapter of Autism Ontario re-established early in 2011 and is one of the 25 regional chapters of Autism Ontario, according to their official website. The chapter is a non-profit organization, directed and managed largely by a core of parent volunteers who are “committed to ensuring that every individual with autism spectrum disorder is provided with the means to achieve the quality of life as a respected member of society.”

Friday’s movie night was a showing of Puss in Boots. Sheetal Rikhraj says this choice was made simply because it is a good children’s film. The movie was sensory-friendly with the brightness and volume adjusted as required. The movie night event did not have a no-noise rule and the set-up of the room allowed guests to move freely.

The movie night, as mentioned on their event description, aimed to spread awareness about autism and the issues autistic individuals face, specifically in relation to the community they interact with. The event also aimed to provide a safe space for families to come and enjoy their time in a welcoming environment provided by the volunteers at CSE.

Rikhraj, the community engagement activity assistant at the CSE, develops community day events that allows UTM students to engage and build their co-curricular record (CCR). This particular event happened last year and per Autism Ontario’s request, Rikhraj reintroduced it for last Friday. Accompanying the volunteers on Friday night was the liaison from Autism Ontario, Sarah Elkmi, who met the volunteer team and delivered a short speech before the arrival of the families.

Through this event, Rikhraj hoped to give volunteers opportunities to learn about professionalism and representation of their institution to the community. Similar to other community-oriented events, the motivation behind the movie night was for students to obtain meaningful experiences and accomplish certain goals.

Alysha Ferguson, the student development officer for community engagement programming at the CSE, builds partnerships and develops projects. The work-study student staff then is offered the responsibility for organizing, promoting, recruiting volunteers, and coordinating the events. Ferguson says that the CSE already has 85 students who have signed up to volunteer. She hopes that these opportunities will allow UTM students to give back to their community and let them gain skills that will help them continue giving back upon graduation and in the future.

The CSE has a total of eight community engagement ambassadors who helped promote the event by creating posters and organizing icebreakers for volunteers.

General volunteers, who were responsible for assisting the families attending Friday’s movie night, are required to attend each community day event. As Rikhraj mentions, after every event, the team holds a debrief period that helps volunteers reflect on their work, which is also essential for attaining their CCR.

Families arriving at the event were partnered with one or two volunteers, tending to any needs or trying to provide anything the children required.