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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

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Building safe vibrant communities with Volunteer Screening

Growing communities and risk mitigation

Sometimes, our communities can grow faster than we can establish appropriate policies to meet the needs of those joining and participating with our nonprofits. When we can’t keep up with the increasing changes, this can put our organizations and communities unintentionally at risk.

Volunteer screening helps foster safe communities and supports organizations to fulfill duty of care – for clients, volunteers, and community. It also can be a tool to protect vulnerable populations.

Developing screening policies to meet growing community needs

For the last 25 years, the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton had run a couple of schools and various programs, which included vulnerable populations such as students and seniors. However, the Mosque, like many organizations, began to realize that its growing community meant they needed comprehensive volunteer policies in place.

“We had no screening for our volunteers at all! A scary thought, now that we have developed policies,” says Mohamed El Bialy, Social and Da’awah (Outreach) Coordinator at the Muslim Community Mosque of Edmonton. “Thankfully, we never had any issues in the past, but now it seems crazy that no policies regarding screening had ever been developed.”

By accessing Volunteer Alberta’s Volunteer Screening Program and the Screening Development Grant, the Mosque created the proper tools and policies based on sector best practices.

“We have already received positive feedback from community members, as well as constructive remarks,” says Mohamed. “These policies will help us ensure that we have responsible volunteers who will create a safe environment for the vulnerable populations that we interact with.”

The Volunteer Screening Development Grant is designed to help support the development of effective screening practices and processes. The grant provides up to $3000 to support nonprofit organizations facing resource and capacity challenges in the area of volunteer screening. Applications are open until July 15th! Apply today.

Adrienne Vansevenandt
Volunteer Alberta

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

Lineup announcements:

Young team

Leadership Takes Many Forms

The Casey Executive Coaching Leader as Coach Program is a developmental program for nonprofit leaders focused on building inclusive leadership practices and practical coaching skills. A leader-as-coach approach helps leaders, as well as staff, to develop to their highest potential.

In a unique partnership, Volunteer Alberta was given a spot in the program at a reduced cost in exchange for sharing the program with others. Our Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) Coordinator, Tim Henderson, signed up for the program to develop his mentorship style. Tim found the concepts, theories, and techniques, introduced by Melissa Casey, helped him to understand what kind of leader he is and how he can use his skills to better help others.

We asked Tim what he learned from the course. If you choose to take the Leader as Coach Program you may learn something similar, or you may focus on your own learning goals instead!


VA: What did you experience from the course?

TH: It was fascinating to hear from the other participants in the group and get a sense of the roles they play in their own organizations. We discussed what leadership meant to each of us and found each person in the group had completely different strengths and weaknesses. What was interesting to see was how those traits shaped their respective leadership styles.

Hearing the stories of others helped me appreciate my own strengths, but they also helped me understand the steps I can take to improve my weaknesses and become a better leader.

Throughout the program we were given a number of opportunities to practice ‘active listening’ in both one-on-one and group scenarios. This type of listening helped us build trust amongst ourselves and ended up paving the way for more fruitful conversations as the course progressed.

VA: What did you take away from the course overall?

TH: Overall, I learned that leadership takes many forms. Every personality is different, but through active listening, anyone can provide leadership in their organization. We all have something different to bring to the table and, if given the tools, we are all capable of stepping into leadership. Through this program, Melissa (our host), provided these tools. Coming back to my organization after finishing the course, I found that I was able to connect and communicate with my colleagues more effectively.


Leader as Coach is designed for the nonprofit sector. Continuous learning and development supports positive change in ourselves and our work. Implementing change in our lives, work, and organizations can be challenging, so we get excited about opportunities that build in time to have practical hands-on experience and provide transformative leadership learning! Tim would recommend this course for anyone who is looking for personal or professional development related to leadership.

Do you want to sign up for Leader as Coach? Register to participate in the fall session beginning in October. This program is offered in both Calgary and Edmonton. Find out more about this program on the Casey Executive Coaching website.

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