After arriving in Toronto with her husband and four children, Mary* was anxious about learning how to navigate her new home after leaving the refugee welcome centre.
“We didn’t know anyone who could guide us and give helpful information. We couldn’t ask anyone for information about where to go. When we wanted something for myself, for my children, for my family– we didn’t have someone who could give us directions,” she said.
When a social worker told her about Together Project, she trusted that this was the answer that her family needed.
As her family settled into their new home in Toronto, having a Welcome Group of volunteers in the neighbourhood felt like a perfect fit.
Six Together Project volunteers were matched with the family, and during their first online meeting, Mary was touched by the group’s eagerness to provide assistance in a number of ways.
“They asked me, ‘What kind of help do we want? What were my needs, my husband’s needs, my children’s needs? How would we like to be supported?’ It meant so much to hear those words.”
Following this, the group met in a park, where Mary’s children warmed up to the volunteers. One of her children was interested in music, so he was quick to connect with one particular volunteer– a musician who offered to help develop his skills.
Over the summer, the volunteers also helped the children learn French, get library cards, and assisted them with acquiring bicycles through donations and Kijiji.
“With all of them being supported in different ways, it’s really special,” she said.
When Mary found a job posting that was in her field of interest, the group quickly came forward to help.
“One of the volunteers had mock interviews with me, and also met me weekly to discuss and develop my language skills,” she said. “The other invited me to her house so we could look at the job description together, and she gave me advice about where to focus.” And with this support, Mary was successful in getting the job.
With her volunteers located only a short transit ride away, Mary has felt very comfortable reaching out.
“Whenever I need something, I can just email them or call them because, you know, they’re also my neighbours,” she said.
For potential volunteers who are helping newcomers for the first time, Mary has some helpful advice:
“Be patient. There could be language barriers, cultural barriers. There could be a lot of questions. But for newcomers, they are starting from zero in terms of everything: in trying to establish a life again, the life of the children, and also trying to adapt to the situation. Whether it is a big or small question, always remember: everything matters.”
Mary also has advice for newcomer families who are nervous about entering the Welcome Group Program.
“When volunteers come to you, their reliability comes through as someone who comes from a reliable organization,” she said. “You accept them based on the way you see the organization.”**
For Mary, her Together Project Welcome Group volunteers have been “reliable from the day we met.”
“I would like to thank each and every one of them in the group– thank you, thank you, thank you. All of the support we are getting helps myself, my children, my family to go forward,” she said.
“It’s not easy to get someone to rely on. You talk about everything, and you want someone to connect to your children, so there is a lot of trust in that regard. It’s really important. We put a lot of trust in you guys, and I’m glad we did.”
**Together Project is a charitable initiative on the MakeWay Shared Platform. To learn more about the MakeWay Shared Platform, please click here.
Interview by Jennilee Austria