It’s a sunny Tuesday morning during Reading Week at UTM. Students dot the tables of Davis and Kaneff, making use of the time off to do homework. Others chatter away their time in the cafeteria or make up for lost hours in the gym.
But in a quiet, closed-off room on the fourth floor of Deerfield sits a small group of volunteers registered in the Department of Student Life’s Alternative Reading Week program, diligently working away on a laptop.
“Where should we put the name?”
“Why don’t we put the RAWC over here?”
“No, here. Here’s another picture.”
With the blinds drawn and the door shut, fourth-year economics student Ayesha Nadeem and her group of volunteers work on a presentation for the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“We’re trying to make a strategy to encourage the youth to come out to fundraisers and support mental health, because we haven’t being seeing a lot of that in the past,” says Nadeem, the leader of the group.
According to the department’s website, the Alternative Reading Week, recognized on the co-curricular record, aims “to enhance students’ experiences with community engagement, leadership, social change, and community development”.
Participants select a theme, such as children and youth or sustainability, before attending a meet-and-greet and training at the end of January. In partnership with a variety of local organizations, the program itself ran the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of Reading Week and will conclude with a reflection, celebration, and online survey.
Why would students choose to volunteer during “relaxation time”?
“You get to work with organizations you’re interested in,” says Anjali Patel, a third-year psychology student. “And it’s more doable over Reading Week when you don’t have classes to go to.”
“It’s nice to be able to learn about issues that you don’t normally see in the classroom and plan your week according to you,” adds Parsheila Narain, a fellow third-year psychology student.
And as for balancing schoolwork and volunteering during reading week, it’s just a matter of time management. “I volunteer in the afternoon. After 5 p.m., that’s when I go to the library and when I get tired, I usually go meet friends,” says Patel.
But it’s not just UTM encouraging its students to use their week to volunteer. Another group of students is busy at a small Habitat for Humanity store in Meadowvale.
Of the many small businesses that occupy 1705 Argentia Road, Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore seems the busiest. Cars sit alongside the building and banners sway in the front. Customers roam the store, hunting down furniture or china. Between them, small groups of volunteers in green shirts hurry to finish various tasks.
“I’m actually a fourth-year student working on my thesis in interior design,” says Humber student Maya Amalsadia. “So working here is a part of my curriculum and gives me experience in my field.”
“I’m less busy because I take online courses, so this is a way for me to work with my hands and make new experiences and connections. It’s better than staying at home, at least,” says Kathryn McTavish, a life sciences student at Waterloo.
With this kind of attitude, students don’t have to choose between a social life and volunteering. “I volunteer here three days a week and it’s fun to interact with other volunteers and network with them,” says Chris Purificacion, a first-year nursing student at Humber.
Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit corporation that helps build affordable homes and sells used goods at their ReStores to generate funds. Anyone can volunteer at any time (not just during Reading Week!) at a building site or store. University students are especially welcome to bring their friends and family to volunteer with them.
If you want another reason to procrastinate, then why not at least do some good for the community at the same time? I’m in.