Involving Newcomers as Future Volunteers
The need for volunteers is great, and with the influx people from around the world coming to Saskatchewan - an untapped resource - has now been opened thanks to a new program connecting newcomers with opportunities within their new community.
INVOLVE stands for Integrating Newcomers with Volunteer Opportunities to add Leadership Value through Education. It was developed as a pilot project and partnership between Regina Open Door Society (RODS), the Multicultural Council of Saskatchewan and SaskCulture. SaskCulture supported this initiative as part of the work to increase inclusiveness as part of the Diversity Strategy. The program ran in March for newcomers with Canadian Language Benchmark 4 or higher, the desire to volunteer, and has been in Canada for at least a year.
“INVOLVE provides an opportunity to bridge a gap in our communities as they become more and more diverse in nature,” says Bonnie Soerensen, volunteer co-ordinator, or as she called herself, a navigator of opportunities, RODS.
Participants came to the program with a range of experience. “Some called it giving back or helping, didn’t have the word ‘volunteer’,” says Soerensen. They participated to gain understanding of the culture of their new home, to make connections, to learn about the role and history of volunteering in Saskatchewan, and to identify their own skills and attributes.
Zainabu Mwangongi, originally from Kenya, and Roberto Misterio, from the Philippines, were two of the participants in the program. They had varied experiences in volunteering in their home countries and recognize that there are differences in Canada.
Mwangongi is passionate about working with the vulnerable. “That is my motivation, every morning I wake up with this passion and spirit for working in this sector with women and children, and I’m going to share it with Regina, Saskatchewan,” she says. She respects Canada’s structured volunteer system and is particularly impressed by the criminal record checks required.
Misterio says, “I had been involved in social development activities through the non-profit organizations in the Philippines, including youth engagement and outreach programs. Experiences I had back home can be applied here in Canada.”
The pilot project generated excitement for the future. The youth workers at RODS are developing a program for their young clients. An agency in Prince Albert is planning a similar training series and RODS is already receiving calls about their next session, which they hope to host in the fall.
“INVOLVE taught us how to volunteer in Canada, the legal requirements, the pros and cons of being a volunteer, the steps to becoming a volunteer, and choosing the right path to match with qualifications and experience,” says Misterio, who has already benefitted from the networking opportunities. “Before INVOLVE, I was doing other jobs, blue collar jobs, very irrelevant to my profession back home, through this program I was able to make a big leap for my career.”