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Student Voices: ARW For Youth Initiative

By Bethany Davis

On February 16th, and until the 18th, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Alternative Reading Week program at the University of Toronto. My assigned mission was to make an impact on the youth that enjoy spending time at a local community center, by creating a few posters that paid tribute to influential yet underrated African-American figures. This gave us the opportunity to not only celebrate Black History month, but perhaps also help inspire these youths to make a positive change in the world.

Upon arrival to our assigned community center, we were introduced to Melanie, the program director of For Youth Initiative, a not-for-profit organization that take steps in assisting at-risk youth in Toronto. She explained to us that for next three days, we would be making a set of posters featuring influential figures. We were told choose successful Canadian figures who we thought may inspire these at-risk youths to work hard, do the right thing, and achieve greatness. Many of these youth, she explained, do not have the same opportunities that we have, and tend to behave irresponsibly as a result. She also told us that a lot of them tend to have spotty criminal records by the time they reached their early 20s.

After a brief period of organization and deliberation between my team members and I, we decided that we would create a total of 6 posters, featuring individuals who had made an impact in: music, sports, politics, art & culture, drama, and writing. Overall, the process of creating the posters went surprisingly smoothly, and everything seemed to come together with ease. This was due to the fact that not only did my team find it extremely easy to communicate with each other, but also the that our project leaders did not treat us like they were our leaders, but instead worked with us and did their fair share of the work.

The environment was overall very laid back and pleasurable. We went to Subway together everyday for lunch and ate together, using this time as an opportunity to get to know each other better and share common interests. Also, at the end of each day, we would all have a discussion, where we would reflect upon our experiences, our opinions of the project, and things that we enjoyed about working together.

I therefore enjoyed this experience because the environment we worked in was easy-going and not at all stressful. I found it to be very rewarding, and I have every intention of volunteering with ARW again next year. I also may consider becoming a project leader, as this will give me the opportunity to be creative and help design and facilitate a new project, so that I may too help make a difference in the community.

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