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Cooking With Caregivers – An NCSC Program

by Marisanna Tersigni

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Understanding that being a caregiver is a tough role to have, I believe that programs like these are not only a good way to relax and make new friends, but it is an amazing support system. This sense of community and belonging is what everyone - not just senior caregivers - want to feel.
— Kelly (Volunteer)

The Cooking with Caregivers program brought together youth volunteers and seniors to learn and share their love for food. The program was part of Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers (NCSC), a North York Community House (NYCH) project of ENRICHES, a collaborative to reduce isolation among informal/family caregiver seniors. It was facilitated by social work student Leneque along with volunteers Leo and Kelly in early 2018 at the Bathurst and Finch HUB. Senior participants learned healthy recipes, prepared meals and were educated on healthy eating and living practices.

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University student Leo chose NYCH/NCSC as his first volunteer experience: “This was my first volunteer opportunity in Toronto, and I am happy and confident to say, it was also my favourite. I joined this program because I wanted to try something new: help caregivers. I enjoyed all the caregivers’ company and they have all become family to me”.

Leneque, a social work student with the NCSC project, has shared how facilitating Cooking With Caregivers has enhanced her skills and made for a rewarding learning opportunity:

When I volunteer, I am filled with joy every time I see a smile on people’s faces. I am able to hone my leadership and communication skills every week. My peers and colleagues tell me that I have become more confident when public speaking. This experience has also opened my understanding of different senior issues and is one that I will take with me in all of the work that I do in the future.
— Leneque

The NCSC team appreciates the time and dedication these volunteers have put forward into creating a successful cooking program. Both the seniors and volunteers have expressed how they looked forward to attending every week.

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The NCSC project also collaborated with the Youth Cooking and Leadership Program at North York Community House, a 5-week long program for newcomer students. One caregiver senior, Filippo, volunteered his time to instruct in Italian cooking. “I have benefited from this program. I think that all senior caregivers could have a great experience here. In these group and one-to-one programs, you can increase your social connection with people.”

One youth participant speaks to his experience learning from the instructor: “Filippo was amazing! The food that he had cooked for us youth was incredible! He is very kind and amazing to talk to. He taught us different things such as: cutting onions without crying, how to safely handle utensils, and how healthy foods like vegetables and fruits can be used as snacks rather than junk food”.

We can learn much from older adults and from caregivers, and discover talents, skills and connections across cultures and generations. Another youth participant noted: “Youth can learn from the seniors because they have lived through so much and they already have experienced being a teenager.”

Filippo believes that involving oneself either as a participant or a volunteer in community programs can give caregivers courage and comfort.

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My advice for caregivers is to accept help and participate in programs like this one. If you don’t, it’s more difficult to find comfort and serenity to move forward. The challenges can become larger than you and you can become isolated. It’s important to surround yourself with family, friends or people who support you.
— Fillipo

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Volunteering is a great way to give back to the community

Deepa has been volunteering with North York Community House's Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers project for the last two years. She is a Social Mentor to a senior caregiver. The social mentorship program was created in 2015 to reduce social isolation among senior caregivers (55+)caring for a family or friend in need.

Deepa has connected her mentee to many caregiver resources and has taught the caregiver how to navigate systems of care for seniors. They stay connected by meeting once a week and by talking over the phone from time to time.

 
I am very happy to have Deepa as my mentor, now I have someone whom I can meet every week, and ask anything I need.
— Caregiver
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Their mentorship relationship is mutually beneficial, as they help one another and enjoy one another’s company. They share everything from their past, current life situation and future plans. Although the commitment for mentor match was for six months, they have continued to see one another every week for the last two years.
 
Deepa came to Canada as an immigrant a few years ago and completed the Social Service Worker program at George Brown College. 
 

Although I could not find job in the social service sector, this volunteer work gave me an opportunity to practice what I learned in school and build my confidence. I hope this experience will lead me to find a job later.
— Deepa

Deepa believes that this Social Mentorship matching program works well to address the needs of the senior community. The program benefits many senior caregivers who are home-bound due to their caregiving role or those who have few social connections.

For those who want to work or volunteer with seniors, Deepa suggests it is best to be empathetic and compassionate towards them. She also says it is important to be a good listener because you can learn a lot from the mentee’s experiences. She encourages others to volunteer as it is a great way to give back to the community and gain a lot of self-satisfaction.

For more information about NYCH or the New Horizons for Seniors Program project, visit us at nych.ca/senior-caregivers and www.enriches.ca.
 

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National Volunteer Week 2018

It's National Volunteer Week! We want to thank all of the volunteers who have made an incredible impact across our organization and in our communities. Here's a selection of quotes from some of the amazing volunteers at NYCH:

 Group of participants smiling in the kitchen during a Cooking Program

“When I volunteer, I am filled with joy every time I see a smile on people’s faces. Going to the English Conversation Circles has been the highlight of my week and I feel encouraged when the participants and seniors tell me that their English is improving; it is the fire that inspires me to continue volunteering. I am able to hone my leadership and communication skills every week. My peers and colleagues tell me that I have become more confident when public speaking; this is because of the practice that I am getting with the seniors. This experience has also opened my understanding of different issues, this is an experience that I will take with me in all of the work that I do in the future. I really appreciate the opportunity at NYCH and I appreciate the Newcomer Connections for Senior Caregivers project with ENRICHES.” - LENEQUE, Placement Student/ECC and Cooking Program Group Facilitator

 Amal, a NYCH volunteer

“As a friendly-visitor [in the Social Mentorship program], I have a really great experience with the senior I am matched with. He wants to learn so many things, including the computer. He’s really appreciative of the time and connection we’ve made. This makes you feel really good and makes you want to continue helping others. Volunteering in this program boosts your confidence, self-esteem and makes you feel great about yourself and what you’ve done."  - AMAL, Youth Social Mentor volunteer

 Sundus, a NYCH volunteer

“My caregiver match has started to open up a lot since we first started meeting up. I feel like we are developing a trustworthy relationship, where she shares her past difficulties, as well as her present achievements. She likes to share her feelings and she is very honest by giving me the best advice. I feel like I learn so much from her. She has taught me that sometimes courage means it's time for you to step away (even though that may seem cowardly on the outside). She's a wonderful woman and I look forward to seeing her every week!” - SUNDUS, Youth Social Mentor volunteer

"It has been great to give back to the community especially in a way in which I could see the immediate results. Having been born into the digital age, I had not really given thought to the generational rift caused by technology. The seniors I worked with had a strong desire to be informed and independent and it was fulfilling to give them the tools they needed. One of my tutees was especially excited by Google Translate, knowing that he could now read the Toronto Star and follow local news allowing him to be more civically engaged". - Youth Program volunteer

THANK YOU TESTIMONIALS

“I want to thank you and the volunteers who come here to help with the program. I never knew how to even turn on a computer...now I’m coming here and I’m using my own two hands! (laughs). For me as a senior and losing my husband one year ago last Thursday…this program helps me to come out of my comfort zone and out of my home”. - Newcomer senior, computer program participant
 

 “Volunteers can give us one-to-one help. When there is a teacher up at the front of the class, it’s too fast. We can’t stop and say, ‘I’m lost’. But with a volunteer, we can be slow and ask questions and not feel bad to stop the teacher for questions. Generally, people don’t have patience with older people, but volunteers have the patience; we appreciate the volunteers. This type of program can help especially newcomers”. - Newcomer senior, computer program participant
 

“Ayesha is a very polite and friendly volunteer. She is a good listener and makes time to check with everyone. Ayesha was very involved in the program I was in. She has shared her knowledge and experience and took extra steps to help others." - Newcomer senior
 

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It’s Okay Not to be Okay: Continuing the Conversation on Mental Health

by Doreen Khamo MSW, RSW; RWCS Individual & Family Support Program

“It’s okay not to be okay.”

 "It's okay not to be okay" - Cloud photo by  Laura Vinck  on  Unsplash

"It's okay not to be okay" - Cloud photo by Laura Vinck on Unsplash

A simple statement yet one of the most reassuring and impactful pieces of advice ever given to me.

It happened during a time in my life when I was experiencing many challenges and just couldn’t snap out of it. I wasn’t feeling okay and on top of everything I was going through, I began feeling down on myself and guilty for the mere fact that I wasn’t feeling okay - like that makes any sense – but true story! 

Of course this conflicting thought-process led me to a never-ending cycle of trying to convince my not-so-okay self to just be “okay”: “Why can’t I just be happy?” “Just show up and smile!” “Think positive and things will get better.”  But truth is things were not getting better.  And it seems that the more I pushed myself into practicing the above-noted mantras of positive-ness, the further away from positivity, or feeling happy, I was.  I was tired of trying to forcibly push back my authentic feelings only to make room for fabricated happiness.  

And that’s when it happened.  

I was confused and tired of mismanaging my emotion-full world when a dear friend of mine said the six-word sentence that would change the way I felt about feeling forever: “It’s-okay-not-to-be-okay.”

As if I was waiting my whole life for permission to just feel my feelings without feeling guilty, ashamed or less-than.

I admit that I have had many “a-ha” moments in my life, and sure enough this was one of those times.  Within seconds of hearing those words, I felt instant relief.  As if I was waiting my whole life for permission to just feel my feelings without feeling guilty, ashamed or less-than.

It was then that I came to the realization that society puts so much pressure on us to be positive and happy all the time, leaving us to constantly compare ourselves and situations to others.  How many times have you been going through something only to be told “You should be happy and grateful because there are others who have it way worse,” or my favourite one (enter sarcastic emoji here) is “pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get going.”  Well as many of you may already know, not all of us have bootstraps, or wear boots for that matter.  

And when it comes to others having it way worse – well, if you really think about it, there will always be someone out there who has it way worse.  So does that mean we should never fully feel our not-so-okay feelings ever again? How scary!

Get ready because I’m about to drop some serious truth here: Just because we are feeling how we are feeling does not cancel out someone else’s feelings, or vice versa.  

Let me repeat that because it deserves an encore:

Just because you are focusing on yourself and embracing the emotions you are feeling does not CANCEL out someone else’s.  We can ALL have circumstances that make us feel not okay sometimes….and that’s okay!

This does NOT mean:

  • We are cruel
  • That we only care about ourselves and no one else (note: self-care is highly recommended!)
  • That we think our feelings and problems are the only feelings and problems in the whole wide world

It simply means that our circumstances, and feelings as a result of, are valid and they are real to us and we are allowed to feel them. Period.

Society puts so much pressure on us to interrupt our not-so-happy feelings, rather than just be with our emotions and try to understand why we are feeling the way we are feeling, how our bodies are responding to these feelings, and so on. We don't always have to have it put together. And we definitely need to disrupt the feelings of guilt and shame that we so often associate with feeling or being something or someone other than what the larger society expects us to feel or be. 

...being present with our emotions, regardless of what those emotions are, is just as important - in fact, it’s necessary.

Understanding that our sadder emotions are just a part of who we are as our happier emotions, and the better we become at embracing all our emotions, the closer we are to self-discovery, self-awareness and self-growth.  And in order to do that, we need to unlearn the unhealthy societal expectations of suppressing our unhappy feelings in order to be optimistic all the time. Don’t get me wrong, optimism is a beautiful thing and is important in life, but being present with our emotions, regardless of what those emotions are, is just as important, in fact it’s necessary. Even better, it’s empowering!

Here are a couple of my other favourite “It’s okay” affirmations for the day:

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It's okay...
…to feel sad
…to feel angry
…to take a break
…to cry
…to say no
…to cancel plans
…to eat the food you love
…to not want to socialize
…to sleep
…to take time out for yourself
...to ask for help when you need it
…to cut ties off with people who drain your energy
…to not want to talk about "it"
…to not answer calls or texts right away
…to not have it all figured out
…and so much more! The list could (and should) go on and on!  

Have any of your own? Jot them down (on paper or mentally) daily, or whenever you want, or don’t – it’s totally up to you! Personally, I find it as a helpful reminder that it’s okay to…just be.

And most importantly, should you find yourself not feeling okay for longer periods of time, if you are having a crisis, or if you just want someone to talk to, know that you are never alone and support is always available.  Here are a few places that you can call:

  • Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600 (open 24 hrs)
  • Toronto Distress Centres: 416-408-4357 (open 24 hrs)
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (open 24 hrs)
  • Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200 (open 24hrs)
  • Spectra Helpline (Contact Centre Telecare Peel): 905-459-7777 (open 24hrs)
  • Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 416-863-0511 or toll free 1-866-863-0511 (open 24hrs)
  • Distress Centre Peel: 905-278-7208 (open 24hrs)

Please Note: If it is an emergency, always call 9-1-1

For more information on Mental Health, you can also visit:

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
www.camh.ca

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://toronto.cmha.ca/

If you have any questions or require additional information, please feel free to contact me at:

Doreen Khamo MSW, RSW
RWCS Individual & Family Support Program
Tel. 416-784-0920 Ext. 3233
Email: dkhamo@nych.ca
 

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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: www.nych.ca/seeds-of-change  

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


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How to Save Money When You're on Social Assistance

by Jyothi Venkatesh, Financial Literacy Worker at NYCH

re-blogged from Credit Canada 

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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:

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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.

 

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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.


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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
Website: http://happyaging.ca/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/happyaging.ca/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/happyagingca


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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 (carerscanada.ca), 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 bsoltan@nych.ca or 647-459-0547. If you are a caregiver or know of one, please contact Shova Adhikhari, NCSC Outreach Coordinator, at sadhikari@nych.ca 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


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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


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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 www.unsplash.com

Photo of frozen lake by Andrew Ridley via www.unsplash.com

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


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What Does Community Mean To You?

From our staff, to our volunteers, to the residents we serve in northwest Toronto, we worked with so many amazing individuals last year. And, we are incredibly proud of the work we did together. In 2016, we welcomed Syrian Refugees to Toronto; we helped newcomer seniors feel less isolated; we organized awesome youth performances; we encouraged families to make healthy lifestyle choices; we provided opportunities for newcomers to improve their skills; and we watched as community members became leaders of change in their neighbourhoods. 

When we asked some of the people we worked with what "community" means to them, we were inspired by their responses. Watch the video to see what they had to say. Their idea of community, as a welcoming place that is full of opportunity, echoes our vision of a strong community where all belong and thrive - and strengthens our resolve to keep working towards it.

As the new year gets underway, we are happy to continue providing vital services that have made a difference in so many lives over the past 26 years. And, we are excited to offer several new programs that will support newcomers and their families in achieving their goals. Being able to work together to help people settle, integrate and lead successful lives is, ultimately, what community means to us. What does community mean to you? 

Learn how you can get involved and support our organization.


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Make A Difference on Giving Tuesday!

It's that time of year again...

No, we're not talking about Black Friday or Cyber Monday - we're talking about Giving Tuesday! On Tuesday, November 29, people all across the globe will be welcoming the Giving Season by rallying around their favourite charities and causes. Whether you make a donation or volunteer your time, it's a day to remember that each and every one of us can have a positive impact in the world. 

At North York Community House, your generosity makes a big difference. This year, over 20,000 people will come through our doors to access the programs and services we offer. With the support of our community, new immigrants and refugees will receive free, one-on-one settlement help; immigrant professionals will develop their skills for workplace success; newcomer youth will feel more welcome in their new schools; and families in under-resourced neighbourhoods will be encouraged to get active and stay healthy.

Take a look at some of what we've been able to achieve in the past year:

  • 100% of the 231 participants in our Employment Programs feel more confident and are able to market themselves more effectively
  • 573 participants are involved in our Healthy Eating & Active Living activities, with 95% reporting that they are making healthier choices
  • 372 students are learning English in our LINC classes, with over 70% increasing one or more Canadian Language Benchmarks

In donating to NYCH, 90% of your gift goes directly to the programs and services we offer, making it an integral contribution towards building strong, vibrant communities. Here's how your donation will help:

  • $12 will provide two hours of child care for a pre-school child
  • $50 will allow a child to take part in an after-school program three days a week
  • $120 will provide three individual or family settlement counselling sessions
  • $200 will pay for a 30-hour women’s leadership training program for one woman
  • $450 will provide a 35-hour digital storytelling training workshop for one youth

Join the movement and find your way of giving back! Make a donation to NYCH or apply to become a volunteer.


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Digital Storytelling with the NOISE Project

In August 2016, we worked with youth from the NOISE Project and supported them in developing single-photo Digital Stories about the issues that matter to them. Youth participants wrote, crafted and edited their stories with the intention of speaking their truth, and finding common ground with those who may watch their videos.

For over six years, we have been using Digital Storytelling as a tool to engage the community in a meaningful way. The process involves storytelling circles, script-writing, story-boarding, taking photographs and finding imagery, recording narration, using video editing tools, and screening the final videos.

But creating a Digital Story is more than just making a video - it is the opportunity to tell your unique story, in your own words. The result is often very cathartic, and can help individuals deal with a wide range of experiences, from depression, to life in a refugee camp, to growing up LGBTQ. Sharing these stories can bring these issues to light, and establishes touch points that can connect community members with one another.

The New Opportunities for Innovative Student Engagement (NOISE) project is "a research-informed model for enhancing the academic success of youth from the Jane/Finch community and York University Social Work students through engaged learning opportunities that energize and support their civic engagement and psycho-social well-being."

Working with the NOISE project provided a great opportunity to expand the scope of output from our Digital Storytelling process. The youth storytellers covered a wide range of topics - from finding inspiration, to playing basketball, to joining the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ultimately, it is our hope that these stories impact and change how youth issues are discussed. Watch them below: 

Watch more of our Digital Stories on our Youtube channel.


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