Giving back and getting ahead

Matthew Spadafora (foreground)
Friday, February 22, 2013 - 1:50pm
Sharon Aschaiek

Anyone who was looking for Matthew Spadafora over Reading Week wouldn’t have found him relaxing on the couch or on a beach, but working in a charity office.

The fourth-year UTM undergraduate student spent the last three days volunteering for United Way of Peel Region, assisting the organization with improving its outreach efforts to youths. He helped enhance the PowerPoint presentations the organization delivers to local elementary and high school students about its activities and volunteer opportunities. He also worked at the organization’s information table at the Youths Making a Difference Conference, which took place on Wednesday at UTM.

“I wasn’t sitting watching TV or on my computer all week—I was actually contributing my skills to making something better,” says the 21-year-old English major and residence don at Leacock Lane.

Spadafora was one of 60 UTM students who took part in Energy Exchange Experience, or E3, the university’s innovative new Reading Week program that exposes students to local issues within Peel Region. Focusing on community service, leadership and social change, the three-day experience is designed to enable students to make a difference in the area while building important life skills.

“We’re not only providing a volunteer experience and linking students with the community, but assisting them with their development in their careers,” says UTM Community Development Coordinator Sarah Memme, who organized the program.

Planning for E3 took place with the involvement of 12 student residence dons, who were invited to be peer leaders to lead groups of students at placements. All participants—primarily undergrads living in residence—received a day of training beforehand to prepare them for the work they would be doing.

Students were able to choose from opportunities at 11 different social service organizations in Peel (see website for details) based on their volunteer interests or career goals. For example, some students wanting to work with children after graduation chose to volunteer at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel. One planning on going into business got to provide strategic planning support to Hope Place Centres, which helps people with drug addictions.

In Spadafora’s case, not only did he build his digital presentation skills, but as a peer leader who oversaw two other UTM students, he also developed his leadership, communication and teamwork abilities.

“My role involved coordinating things, collaborating with other students and answering students’ questions, so it hit a lot of areas in my personal development,” Spadafora says.

Krystine Wickins (background, wearing glasses)For Krystine Wickins, a long-time volunteer for UTM’s Women’s Centre, E3 provided an opportunity to help women in need outside of the campus. Volunteering last Tuesday as a peer leader at Interim Place, a shelter for abused women in Peel, Wickins led a group of three students in researching statistics about local women who had been murdered by their partner within the last year. The information will be used by the organization for its remembrance walk, an annual event in July that raises awareness about violence against women.

“This is something the community needs to be aware of, it can’t be something that stays taboo,” says Wickins, 21, a fourth-year student doing a double major in English and History and the residence don at Roy Ivor Hall.

Because the needs of the different organizations varied, Wickins and her team spent the last two days of their experience at Seva Food Bank, which serves low-income families in Mississauga. Working in the organization’s warehouse, they helped with sorting food products and organizing them on shelves.

“In past years, I’ve gone away on Reading Week, but this feels a lot better than going on holiday,” Wickins says. “I feel good that I really did something for the community that I live in.”