What are the Issues that Matter to Youth in Toronto?

Group photo from the Seeds of Change Youth Summit in April 2017

What are the issues that matter to youth in Toronto? From the fall of 2016 to the summer of 2017, NYCH implemented the Seeds of Change project to find out exactly that. 

Through the innovative use of participatory action research (PAR), the project aimed to increase the number of newcomer and low-income youth who are meaningfully engaged in their community.

The resulting report offers a thorough look at the project – and shares the questions, concerns and ideas of the youth involved.

promotional card for the Seeds of Change report

This is their voice. It is a rallying cry for young people to connect with their peers, mobilize, and take collective action to overcome the challenges they face.

Read the full report here:  

The Seeds of Change project was funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation



How to Save Money When You're on Social Assistance

by Jyothi Venkatesh, Financial Literacy Worker at NYCH

re-blogged from Credit Canada 

piggy bank image

The importance of saving money and building a nest egg cannot be over exaggerated. Every individual is responsible for supporting themselves and their dependents in order to build a comfortable future. This simple logic is relevant to everyone – including people on social assistance. However, given the different regulations surrounding welfare schemes, it can force some people to remain in a perpetual cycle of poverty, impeding them from ever building future savings..

In Canada, every province has its own social assistance system. While there are many financial literacy resources available for people of varying income levels – such as budgeting, saving and investing – there isn’t much information for people on welfare programs. This is extremely concerning, especially considering that according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ study on Ontario's Social Assistance Poverty Gap the majority of people living on social assistance also live below the poverty line without any kind of financial assets, so they probably need this information the most if they have any hope of ever rising above poverty. 

Saving schemes and asset limits

Let’s take a look at an example of possible savings opportunities for people on welfare in Ontario.

Ontario has two main social assistance programs: Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Approximately 7% of Ontario’s total population is on welfare, and according to recent reports, this figure is only going to increase. As such, it's important to encourage people on welfare to build up their savings and financial assets in order to help them rise above poverty and secure their financial future.

A welfare case worker always evaluates a potential beneficiary’s financial assets prior to granting them welfare. The financial evaluation includes examining their current financial assets, and then these assets are categorized as either exempt and non-exempt. Exempt assets are typically those that are linked to survival, such as a home, RESPs, necessary household items, etc., and these are not taken into account when determining an applicant's eligibility for income support. However, non-exempt assets are considered when determining a person's eligibility for social assistance programs, and if an applicant has non-exempt assets beyond the prescribed limits, that individual would not be eligible for income support.

The table below provides an overview of non-exempt asset limits under the two welfare plans:

table 1

table 1

*The above asset limits are too meagre to build up any type of savings that would secure the financial future of welfare recipients. Fortunately, the recent 2017 Budget addressed this by increasing the above limits to the amounts listed below, effective as of January 2018:

table 2

table 2

Thankfully, the increase in asset limits allows welfare recipients to actually save. However, according to the social assistance directive on non-exempt assets, these potential savings should be in the form of cash or liquid assets only. This provides some opportunity for recipients to build up their savings or open a Tax Free Savings Account (TFSA), which can go a long way in creating a financial buffer, as well as improving a person's mental and emotional wellbeing.

Tips on how to help 

As a professional dedicated to helping those on social assistance, there are many things we can do, including:

  1. A case worker should be trained to talk about general financial literacy to the applicant and also provide information regarding savings limits under different welfare schemes.
  2. A case worker can provide the applicant a list of settlement agencies that offer free financial literacy services.
  3. Settlement agencies should provide the applicant with information on various eligible savings options, as well as any relevant details regarding these options.
  4. The agency should also provide multiple one-on-one meetings with the applicant as follow-ups.
  5. If the individual on welfare wants further help, such as guidance when opening savings accounts or filling out the appropriate paper work, the settlement agency should liaise with banks on the individual’s behalf.

With effective interventions, asset building is possible for people on welfare, especially when it comes to building non-exempt or unrestricted assets, which can definitely help during a financial crisis. These savings could also provide the necessary financial means to complete training and skills-building programs or to start-up a micro business, which will ultimately allow these marginalized groups rise above poverty.




Eugene: A NYCH Success Story

Eugene came to Canada from the Philippines in 2014, and joined our Employment program to get support in his job search. We asked him about his experience at NYCH – the obstacles he had to overcome, what he learned, and his plans for the future.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced upon arriving in Canada? 

A: The first struggle that we faced here was, “where do we start?” I mean, this is a new country; new everything. I don’t have a job. I don’t have family or relatives. I don’t have anything.

And then, when searching for a job, it was so frustrating because they always asked me about ‘Canadian experience’. I was a senior accountant…but when I came here it was so hard…they didn’t accept me. They were always telling me, “you need Canadian experience”; “your education must be upgraded”; “you education must be evaluated.”

Q: Which NYCH program did you join?

A: The program that I was involved with at NYCH was about Employment – which was the best that I could have. This is my struggle, about employment, and this is the help that NYCH gave to me – how to prepare yourself for the interview, making a resume, etc.

Q: What did you gain through NYCH programs?

A: I gained a lot at NYCH – but I want to specify about how I “gained myself”. Of all the struggles I’ve been through, NYCH pushed me to be a better person, to be strong enough, to face the struggles that I’ve been through.

I’m proud of being one of the people that NYCH helped. Because it helped a lot to know that this struggle is not a struggle – it is a part of who we are in the future. It is a part of our goal. I landed here in Canada for my dream to be successful – but the road to success is not an easy road. So this is the best thing that North York Community House gave to me. To learn how to be stronger – to achieve your goal even when the struggle is there. I’m proud of it.

Q: Is there an experience at NYCH that stands out in your memory?

A: The best memory is when they opened their doors, and they opened their arms, and they said, “we can help you.” I felt like I was in my home. Because the Philippines is very, very far away from here – and this community is like a home.

Q: What are your plans/goals for the future?

Eugene, NYCH participant

A: My goal is to raise up my family. To give a better future for my children. Because as time goes by, this is the best country that we can raise our children for bright futures. 

I know this country is growing, so my goal is also to add some [pauses]... If they need my talent to be a part of the growth of this country or this community, I will share my talent. 

Then, the most important thing is how you are as a person. So, my goal is to be a better person…to help people, to give back what I got before. Just to give back.



Dragana's Yoga Story

By Dragana Despotovic, Happy Aging

My experience with North York Community House has been life-changing. Seriously. I am not exaggerating this at all. 

I moved to Toronto two years ago from Serbia. A month after I landed, I applied to become a NYCH volunteer. At a volunteer orientation session, I learned that there was a need for chair yoga instructors for seniors. As I was freshly graduated from Yoga Academy this was a perfect opportunity for me to refine my English, meet new people in a new country, get to know the neighbourhood and possibly find a job in the future. Volunteering gave me all of that and even more.

I fell in love with working with seniors and I fell in love with my job.
Seniors Yoga Session, Imdadul Islamic Center, January 2017

Seniors Yoga Session, Imdadul Islamic Center, January 2017

I started with a small group of seniors at the Action for Neighbourhood Change office in Lotherton. Soon after, the room became filled up with many seniors from the area. Last summer, there were so many yogi seniors that we placed the chairs in front of the building and became a Tuesday attraction in the neighbourhood. We were having so much fun learning not only yoga and meditation but getting to know other cultures, customs, languages, recipes, and traditional dance styles! I fell in love with working with seniors and I fell in love with my job. Inspired by all that good energy, I decided to open my own business: Happy Aging.

Meditation time at Black Creek Community Health Center, March 2017

Meditation time at Black Creek Community Health Center, March 2017

Now, two years after my first Yoga for Seniors session, I can proudly say that I have been working with more than 500 seniors throughout the city. Happy Aging was also a part of NYCH's Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers project which has opened many doors for my professional and personal growth.

Even now, with my tight business schedule, I have not stopped coming to Lotherton. 

From my personal experience, I know how moving to another country isn't easy - emotionally, financially, culturally. Undoubtedly, North York Community House played one of the most important roles in making the transition smoother and happier, as well as finding my own professional path in Canada.

It definitely was life-changing!

Thank you North York Community House! Special thanks to Vivienne, Shova and Stephanie - It's been a pleasure working with you! 

Learn more about Happy Aging



The Benefits of Volunteering for Newcomers to Canada

According to the 2013 General Social Survey (GSS), 59% of Canadians aged 15 years and older, have volunteered for a charitable or non-profit organization or group at some point in their lives – and we have seen first-hand what an incredible impact this kind of contribution can have on the community.

...a great opportunity to gain Canadian experience, expand their network, and learn to work with diverse groups.

Newcomers to Canada are quick to realize that volunteering is an integral part of Canadian culture – and a really great way to learn more about that culture, too. For the recent immigrants who volunteer at NYCH, the role is a great opportunity to gain Canadian experience, expand their network, and learn to work with diverse groups.

NYCH volunteers are also placed on a mailing list where they receive community news and job postings, which is particularly helpful for new Canadians who are looking to connect with their neighbours or hoping to enter the Canadian labour market. 

Newcomer volunteers can even meet with staff members who will assist them with resume writing and interview techniques, and provide references for job applications. This can be a major confidence boost to newcomers looking for work – and we have seen many volunteers eventually getting hired based on their skills, knowledge, and the experience they gained from volunteering. 

A group of NYCH volunteers

...we provide mentorship because it is a stepping stone to help newcomers reach their goals.

On the other side of the coin, we have seen volunteers who were born in Canada or have lived here for some time, offering their support to newcomers and helping them in their settlement and integration into the community. This has been especially evident in our Mentorship Program. “At North York Community House, we provide mentorship because it is a stepping stone to help newcomers reach their goals.” says Gulcin, NYCH’s Mentorship Program Worker

He is very supportive and helpful, and he answered a lot of my questions...

Volunteer mentors assist newcomers in their professional and social development in a variety of ways, such as providing tips and resources, helping to improve English language skills and expand professional networks, sharing insights into Canadian workplace culture, and quite simply, being there to answer questions when things get complicated.

A recent Mentorship Program Participant described his experience, saying, “I am glad that I got to meet a good mentor like Alex. He is very supportive and helpful, and he answered a lot of my questions, which will definitely help me in my job search. This meeting was very fruitful for me.”

This guidance, in both group and one-on-one mentoring sessions, plays an important part in a newcomer’s journey towards becoming part of the community, finding meaningful employment and building the confidence, knowledge and skills to achieve their goals. 

We are grateful for all of the volunteers who generously give back to the community – and happy that all of this hard work and dedication can make a difference in the lives of so many new Canadians.

Learn more about volunteering at NYCH
Learn more about our Mentorship Program



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Volunteering with Seniors at NYCH

By Besma Soltan, Training Coordinator, Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers

Building on the success of its first year, the Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers (NCSC) project continues to connect volunteers to isolated, newcomer senior caregivers. The volunteers have been a mixture of newcomers to Canada, recent university graduates from health- or social services-related programs, and seniors who were caregivers themselves. This diversity, along with the diversity of our volunteers' spoken languages and cultures, has allowed us to create balanced programs that effectively respond to the needs of caregivers. 

It provided me with a good start to my career, where I developed great experience interacting with seniors.

Feda, Volunteer with NYCH's NCSC program

Volunteering is a rewarding experience, with the reward depending on the volunteer’s objective. All of our volunteers receive a comprehensive training that provides information on the issues faced by caregivers (aged 55+) and the impact of their role. As the number of seniors in Canada continues to rise, and with it the number of caregivers, being aware of this larger context has allowed our volunteers to realize the importance of their role within the program, as well as outside of it. 

Feda is one volunteer who took this experience to the next level. Feda’s interest in working with seniors grew after being matched one-on-one with an isolated caregiver in the NCSC Friendly Visiting Program. She was able to connect her caregiver partner to information and resources, helped her improve her English skills, and created a safe environment for the caregiver to open up about her struggles as a newcomer and a caregiver. This knowledge gave Feda a good start in her new role working in a seniors' home. “It provided me with a good start to my career, where I developed great experience interacting with seniors”, Feda shared.

Other volunteers shared their joy at seeing how enthusiastic older caregivers were about improving their knowledge and skills. “This is an impetus for the volunteer mentor to also support them with computer learning”, shared Minakshi Das, one of our NCSC volunteers. Minakshi has worked one-on-one with an isolated caregiver, and is now matched with a couple to provide computer instruction, which is one of her passions and one of the couple’s goals.

With 8 million caregivers in Canada, the majority providing care to a close family member (, we depend on our volunteers to help connect them (and their care-recipient) to information and available services. We have also been happy to see the benefit for both partners, with the caregivers finding companionship and links to resources which they weren’t previously aware, and the volunteers learning new information themselves and enhancing their transferable skills. 

We look forward to working with more amazing volunteers who enhance the value of the program, and contribute to making the lives of senior caregivers better.

To volunteer, please contact Besma Soltan, Training Coordinator for NCSC, at or 647-459-0547. If you are a caregiver or know of one, please contact Shova Adhikhari, NCSC Outreach Coordinator, at or 647-208-9733.


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Meet the Settlement Workers Helping Syrians Build New Lives in Canada

As of January 2017, over 40,000 Syrians have been resettled in Canada – and up to this point, the focus has largely been on the magnitude of this one number. But for the people whose job it is to ensure that refugees are thriving in their new country, this number is measured one family at a time.

In discussions of the refugee experience, there is an understanding that the resettlement process will be difficult. There are many challenges that most newcomers to Canada will face - from learning to speak a new language, to finding a place to live, to getting a good job. On top of that, arriving Syrians will have their own unique stories – with different backgrounds, different educational levels, and unfortunately, different traumas. 

With such a diverse community, and with so many facets to building a new life in a new country, how does each refugee get the support they need? Enter Nabila and Sabrin – two Settlement Workers who are playing a crucial role in helping Syrian refugees build new lives in Toronto. 

I speak Arabic. I could do this. I want to be part of this process.

Nabila and Sabrin

When Sabrin, who is originally from Israel but received a Social Services degree in Canada, saw that so many Syrians would be arriving in Toronto, she thought to herself, “I speak Arabic. I could do this. I want to be part of this process.” Together with Nabila, who has a Master’s Degree in Social Work, the two were hired by NYCH to deliver settlement services to Syrians. 

In NYCH’s work with Syrian refugees, much like its other programs and services, staff members try to be responsive to the needs of the community. This has led to Nabila and Sabrin working from various locations, travelling across the city to meet with their clients. "We have a great amount of flexibility in our work. We go to where people are...we listen to the families and respond however we can." 

...Nabila and Sabrin act as the bridge between the Syrian community and the support networks, school system, and other institutions in Canada.

Syrian group on a field trip with Nabila and Sabrin 

With their knowledge of the language and the culture, Nabila and Sabrin act as the bridge between the Syrian community and the support networks, school system, and other institutions in Canada. "We do a lot of talking with school staff, for example, to tell them the backstory of what Syrian families have experienced and why they might be hesitant to do certain things, why children might be acting the way they are, etc."

They get to know each family they work with, and support them through individual issues as they arise. They speak with school principals if Syrian students struggle in the classroom. They connect parents who are looking for work to local employment support programs. They advocate for families if they need financial assistance.
"Now that the families are here, they are eager to move on. They want to progress in their new communities." Ultimately, Nabila and Sabrin are there to understand the hopes and aspirations each refugee has for the future – and do everything they can to help them get there.

Learn more about NYCH's services for refugees




Andreina: A NYCH Success Story

Meet Andreina. Originally from Venezuela, she lived in Spain while studying for her MBA - and ultimately, decided to settle in Canada with her husband in March 2016. 

We asked Andreina about her journey as a newcomer to Canada, and how her experience at NYCH has helped her achieve her goals. This is what she had to say:

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced upon arriving in Canada? What were your goals?

A: We came with a lot of dreams but also with fears, because we had never been to Canada before. We didn't know if we were going to like the country, or the weather, and we had savings for few months. Also, we had impressive CVs, but no Canadian experience and we had to improve our English. Our challenge was to find a job related to our professional experience, so we had to adapt our CVs according to the positions we were applying, as well as prepare ourselves for the interviews.

Q: How did you hear about NYCH? Which programs were you involved in?

We had to improve our English level so we read on the Internet that we should take the CLB test before applying to free ESL courses for newcomers. So, we went to YMCA at the Finch location, and then we met with a representative who recommended NYCH services for newcomers

The following week, we met with Lucy from NYCH and she explained to us all of the options we had available. We decided to enroll in the NYCH Employment Success Workshop with Annie and we went to the English Conversation Circle at North York Central Library. The next month, we also enrolled in the ELT Sales and Marketing Program, as well as the OSLT Entrepreneurship and Marketing Program at George Brown College - following the recommendations we received from Lucy. We were incredibly busy but definitely committed to achieve our goals.

Q: What did you gain through NYCH programs? Which achievements are you most proud of? 

NYCH programs gave us an orientation and the confidence we needed to go forward. They worked along with us on the path we had to follow. Particularly, the NYCH Employment Success Workshop gave us the structure we were looking for to start our job applications. Also, the NYCH English Conversation Circle, as well as the ELT and OSLT courses recommended by NYCH, were key factors to gain confidence with our English level. 

In all of these programs, we could meet other newcomers with similar experiences and goals; we learned how we could transfer our previous professional experience, studies and skills; and we understood the expectations for CVs, cover letters and job interviews to finally get our first jobs in Canada. 

Now, we just had our first anniversary in Canada and we are very proud of what we have achieved so far. All of the support we received and all of the effort we did was worthwhile. In just 6 months after we came to Canada, both of us were working in our professional areas. My husband started working as Business Analyst and I got a job as Digital Account Coordinator. 

Q: Is there a person/program/experience at NYCH that stands out in your memory?

A: We are very grateful for Lucy Santos and Annie Sun from NYCH. They gave us a lot of ideas and recommendations, as well as the next steps we should follow - and it helped to build the confidence we were needing. 

Q: What are your plans/goals for the future?

A: We want to gain more experience and continue improving our English. But now, we are sure that our future is here in Canada.

Learn more about the programs and services NYCH offers to new Canadians




Family Day at NYCH

For over 25 years, North York Community House has supported the positive development of families - from our After-School Programs which create a safe space for kids to learn and be active, to workshops that provide knowledge and resources for new parents.

We believe that communities are stronger when residents are part of healthy families and have opportunities to connect with their neighbours. It is in that spirit that NYCH brought the community together to celebrate Family Day.

Learn how we're building strong communities through our Healthy Living programs for families.



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#BellLetsTalk: Dealing with Feeling Better

It’s taken me a long time to admit this to myself, but feeling better isn’t always easy.

by Bonnie HunterDirector of Talent & Innovation at North York Community House

I used to write a blog about depression; I did this for a few years and then I stopped. The reason I stopped was because I started to feel better, and I didn’t know how to write about that or even if I should. It’s taken me a long time to admit this to myself, but feeling better isn’t always easy. 

I should say from the start, I am not – NOT – complaining about feeling better. I cannot tell you how good it is to not feel bad, especially after a long haul of bad. It’s just that, for most people with mental health issues, ‘feeling better’ is not a linear, permanent state. My intent here is just to highlight the complexities around ‘recovery’ for people who love, live and/or work with someone with depression, because if it’s confusing for us, I’m guessing it is for you too. 

It’s like taking the first tentative steps on a frozen lake – slowly, gently moving forward, one eye glancing behind in case the ice starts to crack.
Photo of frozen lake by Andrew Ridley via

Photo of frozen lake by Andrew Ridley via

When I’ve been in a relapse or dark period and start to come out of it, I’ve learned the hard way to not celebrate too much too fast, or give in to the temptation to believe that I’m cured. It’s like taking the first tentative steps on a frozen lake – slowly, gently moving forward, one eye glancing behind in case the ice starts to crack. Feeling a mixture of fear and exhilaration and hope,  it takes a while to trust that it will hold and not disappear beneath my feet. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, which is maddening in its unpredictability. And sometimes the uncertainty is accompanied by irrational guilt, because while I’m feeling better I know others who aren’t, and I don’t want my better to make their bad worse.

On the other hand, I don’t want to live in a constant state of anticipating the next round of bad. When I start to feel more energetic and stable and happy, I want to do everything, go everywhere, see everyone, without focusing on the fact that I might not feel this way tomorrow. So it’s a bit of a balancing act – for me, it’s really about being grateful, ‘living in the moment’ to use an Oprah-esque but fitting cliché, and being realistic about (and preparing for) the future as best I can.

I can now recognize patterns and know that, even though the good days might not last forever, neither will the bad ones.

A few years ago, a friend of mine mentioned in conversation that this was probably a chronic condition that I’d have to manage for the rest of my life. To be honest, it hadn’t occurred to me at that point, so even though it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, her comment hit me hard. But once I got past the shock and accepted that truth, it helped to start seeing this as a marathon instead of a sprint. I can now recognize patterns and know that, even though the good days might not last forever, neither will the bad ones.

So forgive me, and please be patient if I tell you in a hushed and somewhat hesitant voice that I’m starting to feel better. It’s not that I don’t want to enjoy those moments fully and freely, I just need to feel like the ice will hold before I start skating.

If you or someone you know is in distress right now, call 911, or contact Toronto’s 24-hour crisis support line at 416 408-4357.

For more information on mental illness and available support services, visit:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Canadian Mental Health Association
Mood Disorders Association of Ontario