Following the cancellation of transportation services due to cuts in school board funding in September 2016, McGill Walksafe partnered with Service d’accueil du Centre Multi-Ethnique St-Louis, a daycare linked with FACE elementary school. Although the children were previously able to take busses from the Service d’accueil daycare to the Recreation Association of Milton Park for afterschool activities, Walksafe volunteers will now be accompanying them on their commute.
Walksafe is a volunteer student service under the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) that provides accompaniment from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Friday and 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturdays nights for people walking home around the Downtown campus who feel uncomfortable or unable to do so alone. In addition to their normal duties, volunteers from Walksafe will walk children to the community centre in the early afternoon, after school ends for the day.
The partnership came about at the beginning of October, when Jason Prince, the president of the Service d’accueil daycare program and a McGill alumnus, reached out to Walksafe Operations Coordinator Dani Arellano for help following FACE’s budget cuts. The pair have since been working to officially launch the pilot program next semester.
“The pilot project is very promising, and we hope to extend the project forever,” Prince said. “It’s a wonderful community service that shows the kind of role a university can play in its surrounding neighborhoods.”
Arellano is looking forward to continuing the partnership as well, though she acknowledges the increased burden that it may pose on Walksafe’s volunteer base.
“We are really excited about the partnership,” Arellano said. “So far, it has been working really well, although, we could always use more volunteers. The response we have gotten from Jason [Prince] and the team has been very positive […and] the kids are really awesome and it has been a lot of fun getting to know them. We hope we can continue the program and create a stronger bond to the community through it.”
According to Walksafe Vice-President Communications Ali Akbar, the new partnership provides a unique opportunity for students to help out the greater Montreal community.
“[Walksafe’s] motto is ‘Anyone, anywhere on the island of Montreal,’” Akbar wrote to The McGill Tribune. “However, we focus our outreach program within McGill so although it is true that we do provide our services to the greater Montreal community, no one outside of McGill actually calls us.”
Other McGill offices applauded Walksafe’s project, including Lisa Gallagher, Executive Director of the McGill Childcare Centre, a daycare for the children of members of the McGill community. To Gallagher children’s safety should be the public’s first concern.
“I think that any community initiative that supports the safety of children is a worthy and valuable initiative,” Gallagher said. “A safe and secure environment for children is the first priority for communities in general and particularly within daycare and school settings. I believe in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.”
Another SSMU service, DriveSafe, is also supportive of Walksafe’s new initiative. DriveSafe operates a similar service to Walksafe, offering volunteer car rides to McGill students from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. However, DriveSafe President Sophie Forest acknowledged that it is unlikely that DriveSafe will be able to get involved in this partnership with Service d’accueil due to financial constraints. Whereas it costs nothing to walk, DriveSafe must cover car rentals costs with student fees.
“[Although] we are happy to see that Walksafe is able to help the great Montreal community, unfortunately for DriveSafe, it would be much harder to do something similar,” Forest said. “On our end, DriveSafe volunteers have been given the option to help out Walksafe with the Service d'accueil program by joining the Walksafe team as a walker. Other than that it is unlikely we can do much else to help as we have much higher operating expenses than Walksafe.”