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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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