Immigrant Services – Guelph Wellington tapping into potential of newcomer and immigrant youth
December 11, 2013
Picture this: A group of 27 youths from all over the world excitedly gather around Mayor Karen Farbridge in a large meeting room at Guelph City Hall while the group’s facilitator prepares to take a picture. The photographer counts “1, 2, 3…”, and then the students gleefully shout “Guelph” in unison.
It’s overwhelming to think about the stories these youths could tell, some probably quite painful, about what brought them from distant lands such as Macau, China, Korea, Phillipines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kuwait, Costa Rica, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia to live in our fair small city.
The youths aged 14 to 19 have been participating in Immigrant Services – Guelph Wellington’s 9-week Youth Leadership Group, and on this particular night in November they are celebrating the end of the current session, the second that Immigrant Services has run. In a show of support for this important program, the Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership, an organization composed of many community partners and members, arranged for the youth group to meet at Guelph City Hall, where the Local Immigration Partnership has an office.
The intent of the leadership program is for the youths to “develop shared leadership skills that build on their individual and collective strengths.” During this session, facilitators from Immigrant Services and other local organizations explored topics and provided training in areas meaningful to the lives of youths and their families, including gender equity, intergenerational relationships, and diversity awareness. The facilitators also led various skills development workshops and enhanced the youths’ knowledge of community resources.
And the Youth Leadership Group just keeps giving. Over the next month, the youths will also be sorting and packing food with the Parkwood Gardens Neighbourhood group at the West End Community Centre, assisting with the International Languages Program’s holiday assembly at St. Peter School, and wrapping gifts for the Guelph Food Bank at Stone Road Mall.
When asked what they most valued about participating in the leadership group, the teens, many of whom have been in Guelph for less than a year, enthusiastically name a wide range of abilities and skills. These include helping other immigrant youths adjust, learning English, working together in a team, knowing when to lead and when to let others lead, learning to communicate and present ideas, meeting other people from various cultures, talking about important issues like health and social media, and more.
For one bright, vivacious, community-minded 17-year-old Somali youth who has been in Canada for just four years, this leadership group was a step towards greater things. “Just because we’re young and we’re also immigrants doesn’t mean we don’t want to give back, doesn’t mean we don’t want to be involved in our community. I’m hoping I can help a lot more people and not just immigrants,” she said.
The need is huge for these types of supports for immigrant youths, as well as for international students who are often here alone, said Dunja Lukić, community integration coordinator at Immigrant Services, and Roisin Bovell, the organization’s youth outreach worker, who both facilitate the Youth Leadership Group. So is the need for funding. Indeed, around 70 youths originally responded to the call for participants for this session of the leadership group, but there wasn’t enough space to accommodate all of them. “They need places and spaces to connect to each other, and then in turn connect to the community as a whole,” Lukić said.
Lukić believes that the consequences of not providing these services are substantial. We would see “a lot more kids dealing with loneliness on their own, feeling very much out of place in this community, not knowing what to do or where to turn to, feeling perhaps like there is nobody that understands them or is a friend or can provide some kind of support. Also, the youth that we have here in this program are generally very motivated. They’re very energetic, they want to do well in school, they want to contribute to the community. If this kind of a program wasn’t here, I’m not really sure that potential would be utilized.”
But the challenge, Lukić said, is that “there’s very little awareness of this population and how eager and enthusiastic they are. This is a truly wonderful group of young people and very much an untapped resource that we should work on supporting.”