University of Windsor students pass up spring break to volunteer

University of Windsor dramatic arts instructor Simon du Toit asked students to spend their spring break working at either the Windsor Downtown Mission or Walpole Island. The response was astounding.

Volunteers will be working at the Downtown Mission and on Walpole Island

Simon du Toit and Victoria Mahon are part of the "Alternative Spring Break" program. (Windsor Morning)

Some students from the University of Windsor are taking a pass on the typical reading week and instead taking part in a program called "Alternative Spring Break."

Instead of heading to Florida or binge-watching Netflix next week, students will be volunteering their time working at one of two places: the Downtown Windsor Mission and Walpole Island First Nation.  

Political science student Victoria Mahon applied to the program last summer. She's been working with the organizer, School of Dramatic Arts instructor Simon du Toit, helping to advertise for volunteers and form the teams.

"It's always been a passion of mine to volunteer, as it has a lot of the students who are going on these trips," she said, adding she's actually excited to be working over the break.

The group volunteering at the Downtown Mission will be working on their Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser. Mahon is part of the team going to Walpole Island. They will be mainly working in the community's Heritage Centre organizing and cataloguing artifacts. 

Du Toit said Mahon's group is in for a busy week. "We've learned that there is more material there to be sorted out and catalogued than we could possibly deal with in a one-week experience."

"We've also been learning a lot more about how Indigenous people look after their artifacts," said du Toit, adding they have been studying a specific type of cataloguing specifically developed for Indigenous artifacts.

He said they decided on the type of work they would do by consulting with Walpole Island officials. "It's been really  important to us from the very beginning that we have this partnership, that we decide on the work together, that it's a collaborative effort." 

Listen to Mahon and duToit talk about Alternative Spring Break

Simon Du Toit, a University of Windsor Professor, and Victoria Mahon, a 3rd year Political Science student, explain the "Alternative Spring Break" program. 8:41

Mahon said she's excited about spending time in the Walpole community. She and her group members will be staying in a lodge for the week and will be working along side some alternative education students from the island.

"We'll even get an opportunity to partake in a ceremony at the end of our trip," she said. "A lot of us haven't experienced anything like that before so that will be really great for us."

Call for volunteers gets huge response

Du Toit said he was so swamped with applicants for these projects he could have had four teams go to Walpole Island.

"I think students are very much looking forward to the opportunity to give back to the community." 

He said volunteers are being asked to record their thoughts using WhatsApp, adding that students have already been using the app to talk about what they are learning.

Students from several different different areas of study applied — from political science to nursing to business. "People who have a vision to give back to the community come from almost every walk of life," he said.