RELEASE — About a dozen newcomers arrive in Kingston every month as government-assisted refugees and the best way for them to get settled is with community support. KEYS Job Centre is asking for at least 40 volunteers to support and befriend an influx of Afghans, Somalis, Syrians and folks from Ethiopia, Eritrea and, lately, Turkey.
Says KEYS volunteer coordinator Tarek Elmaghraby: “We receive families of every size, including some very large families that need a lot of support to young people who arrive alone without any family or social connections, who benefit so much from support teams.”
Family support teams, says Elmaghraby, act as friends and neighbours: “Our volunteers create social connections and become the face of Canada. They eat supper together, help with language and homework, go on outings and hang out at the gym or the library.” Volunteers come from every age and background. The current roster includes those new to Kingston who want to create connections for themselves as well as for newcomers. It includes couples who like contributing as a team … and even students. Recently a 22-year-old Queen’s student who has been active for three years met her second family.
Right now, there is an emphasis on finding seniors and retired people to volunteer. Volunteer coordinator Tarek Elmaghraby explains that this comes directly from newcomers themselves: “Those new to Canada carry fears that they will experience discrimination. They are looking for ‘elders,’ those who are wise and experienced. They figure elders will be more accepting. Not to mention,” says Tarek with a smile, “they believe retired people have more time, which they want!”
Lynn Kenn and her husband Bob signed up in December 2018 when KEYS put out an appeal. At that time, 50 newcomers had arrived within the span of a few weeks and KEYS went public with a request for help – in terms of dollars and gift cards – and family support team help as well.
Lynn and Bob took the basic orientation and then an intercultural competency orientation and began working with a family in the summer. They were matched with a middle-aged Syrian couple who have a teenage son and whose grown son and daughter arrived in Kingston with their own families at the same time. “We’ve ended up part of a big family,” laughs Lynn Kenn who is newly retired. “We have a lot of fun with the family and they love coming up to our cottage.”
KEYS has been receiving government-assisted refugees since 2016, when Canada renewed its response to the Syrian crisis. Already more than 400 people have arrived in Kingston. A new five-year contract with the federal government will begin in April and so arrivals are expected to stay steady. Along with Kingston Community Health Centres, all the necessary supports are in place to assist these newcomers to find homes and settle in their new community. But feeling that Kingston is really a new home goes beyond the logistics of accessing services, finding work or enrolling in school.
According to Madeleine Nerenberg, Manager of Newcomer Services at KEYS, volunteers are essential ingredients to the success of newcomers’ transition to a new community. “True integration must be a community-wide effort. The financial and volunteer support from the community offered to this unique group of newcomers makes a world of difference” she says. She notes that already more than 200 people have stepped forward to serve on support teams in the last two years. This has had ripples.
“A wonderful dynamic exists between families and volunteers,” she says. “The kindness, care and connections our clients receive from volunteers are life-changing, but we know that the relationships generated are often life-changing for the volunteers as well!” She adds: “The families and individuals who have survived war, forced displacement and persecution are amazing people with fascinating stories and new and exciting opportunities. It is deeply rewarding to be part of their journeys while working together to make Kingston a diverse and inclusive place to work and live.”
Volunteer commitments are eight months to a year and new volunteer orientations occur every month. Register here for our next orientation session.
For those who don’t have the time to volunteer, another way to help newcomers is through donations of money or gift cards. While KEYS is grateful for all donations, we are not able to accept offers of food, clothing and furniture at this time.
As a registered charity, monetary (both cash and gift card) donations are welcome, and receipts can be issued for donations over $20. Donors can be sure that every dollar they give will be directed to address newcomer needs. Gift cards to affordable department stores, grocery stores or malls let the newcomers buy the groceries or goods that suit their family needs. Cash donations will be used for emergency needs, including dental help.
- Online donations can be made through CanadaHelps. Please choose the refugee needs option.
- Donations of funds and gift cards can also be brought in to the KEYS office at 182 Sydenham Street.