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Welcoming newcomers: A volunteer story

How we can support and welcome newcomers

Supporting and welcoming newcomers to Canada grows our communities and makes our communities more vibrant, diverse and strong. But, the integration process for newcomers is not easy.

In 2016, Paula Speevak from Volunteer Canada wrote the following about nonprofits’ and volunteers’ roles in assisting Syrian refugees:

“Integration is a years-long process. The need for volunteers to help Syrian refugees connect with their new communities will continue – and that need goes beyond traditional settlement agencies.”

Between October 2015 and February 2018, nearly 52,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, and Albertans have opened their homes and hearts to these refugees. This means we, as community members, have the opportunity to help where we can. Refugee families in our communities require ongoing support such as food services, health services and community programs including language services.

How one volunteer made a difference

Often, having a friendly neighbour they can turn to can make all the difference. Volunteer, Kirsten Madden is one of these Albertans who opened their home to a Syrian family and recently shared her experience with us.

What inspired you to look into volunteering with a refugee organization?

“Over the years, we felt that there had been a lot of discrimination against Muslims and people fleeing to Canada from Syria. We have always been strong advocates for acceptance, love and peace across the globe, and understand that there are bad things that happen in every culture. This inspired us to open our family and our home.

We don’t believe in us versus them, we believe in We. We hoped that if we paired up with a family from Syria, we could learn more than what was just in our hearts, and hopefully be able to inspire others to realize that people are just people. Not to view others through our differences, but to recognize our humanity and that we are more alike than different.”

What was your volunteer experience like? How did it impact yours and your family’s life?

“It has been the most amazing experience. We don’t consider it volunteering anymore. In fact, we stopped submitting volunteer hours a long time ago. We consider them family.

We have learned about their home-life, culture, their food, their language, their struggles, beliefs etc., and visa versa from us to them. Our children have become friends.

For us it makes us feel like we have travelled to Syria in some small way. We have shared their pain when they have talked about the bullies that have destroyed their home, and we have shared their relief when they describe that they feel safe in Canada.”

How would you recommend other volunteers get involved in something they are interested in?

“Just do it! It will enrich your life, and open your heart and eyes.”

 

The inclusion of all people of different races and cultures enriches our communities, broadens our horizons and deepens our understanding of one another. If you are interested in engaging and supporting newcomers in your community, but don’t know how to get started, we recommend checking out our Supporting Newcomers page.

Adrienne Vansevenandt 

Volunteer Alberta    

Supports

Member Spotlight: Giving a voice to Albertans with disabilities

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities advocates for full participation

People with disabilities, the largest minority group in the world, struggle greatly to overcome physical, mental, emotional and social barriers. Often, those with disabilities find themselves isolated from the world due to discrimination: a sheer lack of understanding and empathy.

The Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial organization actively working to reduce barriers by encouraging and advocating for full participation, accessibility and equality. Through their programs and services, they are dedicated to improving the quality of life of people with disabilities, as well as ensuring people with disabilities’ voices are heard.

By creating and facilitating committees and working groups, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities actively listens, brings forward and takes on issues affecting those with disabilities. Their advocacy work has resulted in broader awareness and accessibility.

“It’s the level of awareness that we strive to raise around those key areas that affect the daily life of individuals with disabilities,” says Meloney Patterson, Executive Director at the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities. “The community has an input into these initiatives.”

How you can get involved

Another way the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is encouraging full participation is by offering disability awareness presentations. These presentations contribute to an accessible environment by educating others and providing an in-depth understanding of removing barriers.

“The Disability Awareness Presentations are given by individuals with disabilities and they start with teaching the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Meloney. “There isn’t supposed to be any discrimination against any individual as a result of disability; however, we know that’s quite different.”

The experiences and perspectives put into these presentations by individuals with disabilities engages the audience to learn about the importance of differences while promoting acceptance.

Schools, businesses and organizations can sign up to take part in discussions, learn appropriate use of language and appropriate interaction with a person with a disability.

Breaking down physical barriers, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities also offers accessibility assessments to review blueprints and ensure that renovations and buildings are fully accessible to all individuals.

“These assessments have been well received by organizations. They save builders, municipalities and building contractors cost with upfront awareness of best practices for accessibility,” says Meloney.

Asking questions to enhance inclusion

Meloney believes that other organizations can remove service and structural barriers in their community through dialogue with an individual with a disability. “Take time to ask questions,” says Meloney.

Located in Edmonton, Alberta, the Voice of Albertans with Disabilities is a provincial cross-disability organization with 45 years of experience. They are dedicated to providing services and support to individuals, organizations, government representatives, schools, business personnel and employers to reduce the barriers and find solutions that prevent full participation.

Navi Bhullar

Volunteer Alberta Intern

NextGenCityJam GroupShot

NextGen City Jam is increasing volunteerism – and you can too!

Imagine a room full of people excitedly anticipating for a concert to start. The room goes dark, lights flood the stage, and the crowd goes wild as the headliner takes the stage. But, this night isn’t just for anyone. This concert is exclusively for dedicated volunteers who generously donate their time to their community.

What is City Jam?

NextGen City Jam is a night full of live music in Edmonton with stellar bands that both thanks volunteers for their hard work, and also encourages volunteerism in the community. In exchange for 10 or more hours of their time, volunteers receive exclusive access to this event. Just one of the ways NextGen is engaging youth to get involved in their community.

“We know the important impact that young people can have on the future of this city,” says Christine Causing, Edmonton’s NextGen Coordinator. “This is why we’re hosting City Jam to encourage more Edmontonians, especially those between 18-40, to get involved and experience how rewarding it can be to give back.”

Encouraging volunteerism locally

Last year, NextGen City Jam helped raise 11,000 volunteer hours! That’s 11,000 hours given to local nonprofits to carry out their missions that they didn’t have before, with the assistance of one enticing event centered around engaging existing and first-time volunteers.

“It’s a brand new experience, something I’ve never really done before. And it’s giving me the opportunity to try even more new things. This is all great for me and is even better because I know and can see first-hand that I’m making a difference,” – Anonymous, Volunteer at Boys and Girls Big Brother Big Sisters of Edmonton Area.

Increasing the number of first-time volunteers

Last year, 10% of 400 volunteers were first-time volunteers. This year, NextGen’s goal is to increase the number of first-time volunteers, even if it’s for a minimum of 10 hours. To do this, NextGen will support first-time volunteers by hosting opportunities where they’d go out for the day and volunteer at a charity, event or nonprofit organization.

City Jam is an example of a new and exciting way to engage volunteers; it creates new opportunities for people to come together and contribute to their community.

NextGen consists of a group of volunteers who work together to provide a platform for new and engaging ideas and create a vibrant community. Do you want to participate in City Jam? Volunteer for a minimum of 10 hours at a local charity or nonprofit between June 1 and November 28, and then submit your hours to NextGen to register to attend the concert taking place on December 1.

Blog written by: Navi Bhullar, Volunteer Alberta Intern

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Guest Blog: How to develop emotional intelligence as a leader

We are excited to welcome leadership coach, Kathy Archer, to the Volunteer Alberta blog! This is the second of a two-part series on leadership and emotional intelligence. Read last week’s blog: Why successful leaders put intelligence and emotion together

Developing emotional intelligence (EI) takes time. The ability to recognize and manage your emotions requires self-reflection and personal growth.  Becoming more emotionally intelligent requires you to access your inner wisdom, or as I call it, your Inner Guidance System (IGS). Your IGS is your emotions, thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. You deliberately access your IGS by repeatedly cycling through the Inner Guidance Cycle (IGC):

Pause

Take a deep breath and tune in. If you have time, write down what’s going on for you.

Ponder

Reflect on what going on inside your body and mind as well as in your surroundings.

  • What emotions are you feeling?
  • What just triggered your reaction?
  • What meaning are you attaching to that event?

Pivot

Choose to see the event in a new perspective that will allow you to feel the way you want and move you forward in this moment.

Proceed

Get back into action by responding rather than reacting to the event.

Repeat

The final note about using the IGC is that to increase your EI you must constantly be looping back through the Pause, Ponder, Pivot, and Proceed steps throughout your day. Committing to becoming clearer on your emotions and feelings, and learning to manage them rather than attempt to banish them, will put you back in the driver’s seat.

The most effective leaders welcome their emotions. They know their emotions are their constant companion and they learn to manage and control them. It’s a powerful shift!

Learn more about using the Inner Guidance Cycle to access your inner wisdom.

Leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead. In Kathy Archer’s online courses and leadership coaching sessions, she teaches leaders the inner and outer tools to restore their lost confidence so they can move from surviving to thriving in both leadership and life.

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Guest blog: Why successful leaders put intelligence and emotion together

We are excited to welcome leadership coach, Kathy Archer, back to the Volunteer Alberta blog! This is the first of a two-part series on leadership and emotional intelligence.

You need to be smart to be a leader. You need to have training, education and intelligence to be successful.

If you are a leader, that’s probably what you believe. In fact, many leaders feel imposter-like because they don’t have the proper credentials. Moving up the career ladder is often a result of doing great in a frontline position. We then find ourselves in management without the “right” qualifications to be there. This lack of credentials leaves us worried we will be exposed for the frauds we feel we are.

While you need a baseline level of both intellect and training, leadership is much more than your IQ level or the letters after your name. One of the key indicators of a successful leader is their level of Emotional Intelligence (EI). In fact, EI is a higher predictor of a leader’s success than IQ. Let me explain.

Emotional intelligence (EI) and managing your emotions as a leader

Leaders need to have the extraordinary ability to manage their emotions. Leadership is a tough gig! It can be stressful and demanding. In a leadership position, you are juggling a constant stream of interruptions, reports, meetings and people. You think on your feet, deal with criticism and, at times, you must communicate hard messages.

But here’s the thing, when everything is chaotic in the organization, effective leaders bring a sense of calm and control. As teams get bogged down, an effective leader recharges everyone with inspiration, motivation and energy. When tension rises between staff members, an effective leader takes on those charged conversations to resolve issues. The leader’s emotional stability propels successful organizations forward.

For a leader to be all these things, they much have a high degree of EI. Emotional Intelligence, coined by Daniel Goleman, is the ability to both recognize and manage your emotions.

Notice I said manage emotions, not suppress them, turn them off, or tune them out. EI is not about eliminating emotions; it’s about tuning in to them- recognizing them for what they are and using them to guide future behavior.

Emotional intelligence in practice

Take, for example, experiencing fear in the middle of a meeting after being asked a question. Fear puts us on alert, releases adrenaline into our body, and prepares us to fight, flee, or freeze.

Here is where EI kicks in. An emotionally aware leader will notice physical sensations in their body, like belly tightening, heart racing, and hand clenching. They will also take note of the subsequent feelings of anxiety, shame, or frustration.

Rather than reacting by sending a biting comment back, ending the meeting quickly, or backing down, the leader with increased EI will look at their inner dialogue. By becoming conscious of what they are telling themselves about this situation, they can decide if the thought is accurate and helpful or if it needs to be changed.

When a leader does this inner work, they can react rationally. Instead of the fight, flee, or freeze reaction, the leader with EI may respond by saying, “That’s a great question, and I don’t have the answer to it currently. I will find out and get back you by Friday.” They haven’t lost their sense of inner power. In fact, they’ve regained their inner power.

In next week’s article, you will learn how to further develop emotional intelligence by accessing your Inner Guidance System (IGS).

Leaders often hit a point where they find themselves in over their heads and wondering if they have what it takes to lead. In Kathy Archer’s online courses and leadership coaching sessions, she teaches leaders the inner and outer tools to restore their lost confidence so they can move from surviving to thriving in both leadership and life.

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