Dennis: Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds and Bodies Program Update

Why Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds and Bodies Program?
This fun program is what I have been working on for the last while. We came up with this amazing title because we wanted to say, in a few words, what the program was going to be about. We wanted something creative that would make youth want to be part of this great program. We know that having a healthy body and a healthy mind is not only about eating healthy foods and being happy, it is actually doing what you truly like and enjoy the most. It makes you feel satisfied and that satisfaction will make you want to achieve your higher goals. Feeding your soul is loving yourself first, feeling at peace with your neighbours, and embracing the world the way it is.

What is it about?
The Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds and Bodies Program has been about discovering hidden skills and learning new ways to be engaged with the community. The program had positive topics that helped the participants be more confident, gain new skills, be more creative, and learn how to boost their self-esteem. We explored very efficient techniques to help de-stress,  gain confidence, improve public speaking skills, and skills for youth to be able to introduce themselves to someone new in school or the community.

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Gwen’s Speak Up! workshop

What activities took place?
We started our first week introducing ourselves, making anti-stress balloons, watching some videos from TransLink, cooking, making some oil pastel paintings, and sharing our thoughts, ideas and opinions about certain topics. We had a special guest that guided our participants in some activities on how to network and present themselves. We also had several craft activities and we gave some prizes and certificate for participating in our youth program.

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Valentine’s Day card activity with Jeniffer Espinal

Being able to help the community by supporting Canadians is something that has impacted my life in a very positive way. Now I understand that children and youth face different and difficult challenges in life too, even though adults sometimes think their own children do not have problems or situations that make them feel stressed, sad, depressed or without energy. Part of the problem is poor communication with their family members which can be improved by doing activities together, going on family trips, doing activities to meet new friends and doing what they really like.

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Doing kitchen activities with the participants was a really good experience for all of us because our Kitchen Coordinator, Kendall, gave our participants really important facts on nutrition. Nutrition can have a big impact on well being. She also gave step-by-step instructions, in one of our sessions, on how to make a cauliflower pizza which was really amazing, tasty and healthy!

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Our next Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds and Bodies Program has already started and we will be offering more session in the future. Contact us if you would like to participate! Here is what it is all about:
The Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds and Bodies Program will target youth up to age 24 in the Surrey area with a particular focus on those that are newcomers, refugees and citizens. We will cover interesting topics that will help them cope in school, work, at home, or in the community. We will also have a very experienced guests that will help build on communicating better and gain some important skills. As part of the program we will be doing some exciting activities plus everyone will learn how to make easy, fun and healthy snacks in each session and take home a recipe book!

When is it?
I will be facilitating the group on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM. Right now we are working with youth 15-18 and in March it will be youth 19-24. Call the number on the poster if you want to attend any of our sessions! Or, just email me at dflores@dcrs.ca

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Introducing… CHANCHAL!

cksWhat is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Chanchal Sidhu, Manager of Multicultural and Community Programs.

I oversee part of the settlement program, the volunteer program, the food security programs, and seniors’  programs and initiatives… plus a few other things 🙂

Can you tell me a bit about your background?
I was born in Canada to Indian immigrants and grew up on a fairly isolated berry and then vegetable farm with primarily Dutch and German neighbours. I had no idea how diverse Canada was until high school!

After university I dove right into the non-profit world with my first job at UNICEF. Since then I have worked at different kinds of non-profits in various roles-often at two places at once since many non-profits only offer part time work. At each place I learned new skills or information which always came in handy later. Only once or twice did I work in a for-profit environment and I was amazed at how simple everything was! Non-profits can be challenging and complex in many ways but I have realized this sector is definitely the right one for me.

I have also done a decent bit of travelling and have worked overseas. I thinking living or working abroad is a great way to learn about yourself, grow, and give you all sorts of new perspectives on things. The  skills you develop come in handy in life and in the workplace!

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
4 years as of last October.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
I was inspired to take this job because of my husband. He is an immigrant from the former USSR and when he came here it was very (and I mean very) difficult for him. This surprised me. Even though I was aware of how difficult the settlement process is, because my own parents are immigrants and I lived and worked abroad for a time so had a taste of navigating life in a foreign culture/system, seeing someone struggle through that process here in Canada was eye opening. This was especially the case since his barriers were low-medium compared to many other immigrants.

I realized I had taken many things for granted as someone who has always had a very well established ethnic community here and as someone who was born in Canada. All my life I have been gradually exposed to and taught to navigate and understand Canadian systems, norms, and values etc. You do not really realize how ingrained it is until you see someone else trying to understand those things.

I applied for this particular job because I thought I had some good ideas as to how to support newcomers and I wanted to learn more about the sector in general. I find migration and settlement a very interesting topic. I also like how the local work connects to the big picture on the provincial, national, and global level.

How do you spend most of your work time?
My role has changed a lot in the 4 years that I have worked here. I started as one of the Co-Managers of Community Development and then as the Manager of Settlement and Community Programs. I was first covering someone’s maternity leave so there was a lot of program management at a maintenance level which meant problem solving, working with external stakeholders on joint initiatives, making sure targets were met, ensuring the budget was utilized appropriately and that reports were completed. Tahzeem, my boss, told me to expect a lot of work around human resources management. She was right!

Since then, there have been many changes in this sector and in my role, as well as how DIVERSEcity operates. Now, not only do I do the above, but I also get to come up with new program ideas, apply for funding, work on strategic initiatives, and much more. Two days are never alike and there is constant change (which is something I like). I also represent the agency on several committees and but one of my favourite things is helping to make interactions with and working at DIVERSEcity positive. This could be by putting on a staff event with the social committee, suggesting new policies that benefit program participants, taking on summer students or interns who are interested in the work we do, or even keeping the Facebook page up to date.

What advice do you have for newcomer clients?
There is lots of advice I can give! But, the main thing I will highlight here is to really make an effort to try to get involved and become part of the community as this will be home now. This could be as simple as trying to use English. I think eventually most immigrants get their basic issues resolved out of necessity through friends, family, their communities, or agencies like ours, but it can take years before many really feel like they are part of the community or even have a friend. One friend can make a world of difference in a newcomer’s settlement experience and having and building that sense of belonging is important. It can also be easy to stay within one’s neighbourhood or ethnic group but moving beyond that can really illuminate to a newcomer what makes Canada great.

My other advice is to not lose hope. Settlement is a long process and may take years. Many people struggle when they first arrive and contemplate returning home – especially those who do not speak English. Sometimes some encouragement is all that is needed and an agency like DIVERSEcity can help show it is possible to settle successfully. The initial years of struggle may one day be fondly remembered and stories from that time may be told to kids or grandkids! If nothing else, it will probably be a period of personal growth.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with this population?
As a manager, I am looking for staff who not only have some professional (or volunteer) experience related to the position they are applying for but also those who understand immigration and settlement journeys and experiences. Transferable skills are important and should be highlighted as many of our staff often do not have directly related experience when they first start as this is a very unique area of work. Being able to learn quickly and navigate Canadian systems is important since one never knows what needs clients will have when they come to meet you for the first time. It really can be anything.

For someone interested in being a program manager, I would say the agency is usually looking for those who have some experience in the following three areas: human resources management, program management, and financial management. Beyond that, communication skills, common sense, and flexibility are important. There is constant change in some areas of the agency so a love of change may be ideal for those areas!

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I love that I am still learning new things (and developing new skills), that I get to use some of the strengths I think I have to offer, and that the nature of my work is very diverse. No two days or seasons are alike which is one of the reasons I have stayed at DIVERSEcity for four years. I also like having a fair bit of autonomy in my work and that I get the opportunity to get involved in some of the other department or agency-wide initiatives as well.

What are some of the challenges you face at work?
There are so many needs and areas of importance that could use attention. Some are well funded and easy to respond to and there are others that are difficult to bring attention and resources to. Trying to be strategic in deciding where to put energy is challenging for me as I usually want to do it all! I have not said “no” to projects very often while working here but this will not be sustainable and I am trying to learn to be more selective and focused.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
The people! The staff, the managers, the volunteers, the students & interns, and the clients. Everyone has a unique history and something to offer and contribute. I could spend all day every day just talking to people within our walls. I learn so much from these people and am also amazed at how much it is possible to have in common despite having such different backgrounds, languages, cultures, religions, worldviews etc. It’s great to see all our experiences and work come together in one place.

What do you do outside of work or how do you de-stress?
I like organic gardening in the summer (I get lots of tips from Sasikala, our Community Garden Coordinator!), I read fiction almost daily, and I spend time with friends and family. I love animals and travelling when possible. To de-stress I like to have a catch-up session with friends over wine or stay in and watch bad reality tv shows…also with wine 🙂 Pinot noir is my favourite right now.

Which country or city would you like to visit?
All of them. I think every place has something to offer.

However, my husband will finally be a citizen in 2017 so am looking forward to more international trips. Citizenship requirements meant for the last few years he needed to be physically in Canada. The next trip outside of Canada or the US will probably be to somewhere in the Middle East. Other than that, we need to visit my husband’s family in his country and in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Where was your last trip?
Other than the US and Mexico, I last travelled to Turkey & Egypt.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
The book I read last is called Euphoria by Lily King. It is about a pair of married anthropologists in a love triangle studying tribal cultures in New Guinea in the 1930’s. It is inspired by Margaret Mead’s life and touches on competing egos in the marriage. I could not put it down and read it in one day!

What are your pet peeves?
Having hot food in the car. Never ask me to pick up takeout! Not sure why but I can’t stand it.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
Yes. I appreciate Canada much more. When I was younger and travelling I was always trying to get away from “boring” Canada and was interested in seeing the world. I still am interested in this, of course, but I have developed much deeper feelings of appreciation for and belonging to this great nation.

I have also realized, as silly as it sounds, I am really Canadian! Sometimes it takes exposure to non-Canadians and aspiring Canadians to realize what this means.

Finally, I feel we really are lucky to live here and, though there is always room for improvement, we have a pretty great society. In many ways, what our government does in comparison to some other governments is really remarkable.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resumé?
There are always basic qualifications we look for depending on the position. However, those who can demonstrate that they have taken on challenge or initiative on their own are the ones that impress me the most. Those who can demonstrate through their resumé or interview that they’ve gone above and beyond – illustrated through, for example, volunteering and other things they chose to do with their time or life – is impressive.

I feel that, in the non-profit sector in particular, you need to have enthusiasm and be passionate about your work in order to do a good job. This needs to come from within and is not something someone can provide for you.

If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about the refugee and immigrant population, what would it be?
I think there are many misconceptions about immigrants and refugees that could be addressed. A read through of the public comments section of any immigrant or refugee related news story online illustrates this clearly.

Agencies like ours do a lot of work helping newcomers get oriented to and settled in Canada which is great and very important. However, I think the people who are already here and settled need to think about how we, as Canadians, can be more inclusive and supportive of newcomers in order to better develop and establish the type of society we want. I think we have a larger role in this that is not often promoted or discussed but perhaps should be.

Introducing… JANICE!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Janice Bexson, and I am the Manager of Language Programs.

Can you talk a little bit about the Language Programs Department?
We provide free language and literacy programs for newcomers to Canada. The government-funded LINC program (classes ranging from pre-literacy up to workplace 7/8) are a large part of the portfolio. As well as traditional language learning, we deliver literacy classes which are structured to better support individual learner needs.  The literacy classes are in conjunction with the Moving Ahead Program (MAP).  LINC child care is another component, where the young children of LINC students attend childcare and increase their social, emotional, and cognitive skills through a play-based curriculum, so they are better prepared for kindergarten. We also provide informal conversation circles to support students with ongoing English language practice. 

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Just over 2 months – I’m currently on a steep learning curve!

Did you have experience with language programs before this position?
Yes, through my work with non-profit agencies. I am a trained language teacher (TESL certification from the University of Saskatchewan). I taught when I first arrived in Canada, but found that teaching ESL was not my first love. I was also an Early Childhood Educator for several LINC/ELSA programs at the very beginning of my career in Canada. Although I have been in management for over 15 years, this is my first time managing a language program.

What inspired you to work here?
In BC, I’ve worked in the non-profit sector mainly in Greater Vancouver, but not in the Fraser Valley. I enjoy new challenges, and saw this agency as a good opportunity to use and extend my skills and knowledge within a different community. My desire is to explore unique ways to be innovative with the services in Language Program Department.

How do you spend most of your work time?
I don’t think I’ve seen the true picture yet, because I began employment at a time where the department was in significant transition. Right now, I am engaged in managing and guiding those changes which include departmental structure, staffing, programming, and administration. Change takes time and energy, so I imagine that most of my time will be based within the office at this point. 

What advice do you have for immigrants and refugees in general?
I would encourage newcomers to connect to as many community resources as possible. I tell newcomers to be patient and believe in themselves, as it takes time to become acclimatized. Many newcomers feel isolated and alone, so they may lose confidence in connecting with others. Build your network and new doors will eventually open.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with the immigrant or refugee population?
I think you need know yourself first and have an objective: if this is what I want to do, why do I want to do it? What’s propelling me to do that? Do I have the temperament to work with newcomers? What does the work entail? Are there are different ways I can work with newcomers? Ask yourself these questions and more, and reflect first. It is rewarding and challenging work.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Staff and the clients; there are so many diverse personalities and energies. So far, learning about my peers and clients has been instrumental in helping me find my feet regarding the work at the agency.

What are some of the constraints you face in trying to fulfill your role?
The programs in the Language Programs Department are considered highly stable compared to other initiatives and projects, so I’m very grateful for the established environment. A challenge is staying abreast of technology so that our classrooms are responsive and reflective to how our world is socializing. and so that we can provide a variety of learning platforms. A long wait list of students is evident that learning space is issue, so being innovative with the established budget could be considered a constraint, when looking at renting/leasing alternate space or providing software for online platforms.

What do you do outside of work/what are your hobbies and interests/how do you de-stress?
This sounds extreme, but I’m either the party person or I’m the quiet person who needs her space. I love going to concerts and dancing, playing tennis and being active. On the other hand, I really, really need time and space by myself. I love to read or I love to “just be.” Reflection grounds and balances me. If I don’t get balance regularly, I’m really out of sorts. 

What country/city would you like to visit?
My husband and I are hoping to go to Kyoto, Japan in the next year or so. Barbados and New York are next on the list too. I enjoyed exploring Budapest, Hungary, a few years ago. Although I found it a beautiful place, it was humbling to observe and be in the presence of the undesirable parts of history within that country.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
“I Almost Forgot About You” by Terry McMillan. The story line follows a successful doctor, in her field for over three decades. She is wealthy and healthy, but finding life unfulfilling in her 50s. She makes a courageous change in her life, taking the chance to quit her career and find something else that she finds joy with. A straightforward, but meaningful message.  

What are your pet peeves?
Tardiness! And clutter – I’m trying to be organized and minimalistic.

Something quirky or interesting about yourself you’d like to share?
I crave baths – not for the sake of being clean ( 🙂 ), but the need to fully relax. I enjoy a bath at the end of the day, while reading a book, drinking tea and eating chocolate. My favourite time of the day is between 1 AM and 4 AM. 

What impresses you during an interview or on a resume?
Correct spelling and editing on a resume, and I am impressed by people who quickly think on their feet when answering an unexpected question during an interview.

If you could talk to Prime Minister Trudeau regarding the refugees program, what would you ask him to consider?
To think about and see the big picture regarding resettlement – I’m referring to strategizing a decade down the road, not a few years. With that framework in mind, a more realistic two-year or three-year strategy might be sustained. Also, to treat all refugees from all countries with the same consideration regarding primary settlement needs.

If there was one thing you could get the general public to understand about refugees and, what would it be?
That they are part of our community. They are starting their journey in a new place, but they are not without valuable skills, knowledge and life experience, which can be well utilized as they become settled.

Dennis: My First Month at DIVERSEcity

I started working at DIVERSEcity at the perfect time, because we are having lots of Christmas activities! There are lots of activities to be involved in, for example, we Christmas party in which everyone was cheery and dressed up in nice and colourful coats, Christmas sweaters and Santa’s hats. ,There are seminars going on, staff gatherings, gift exchange activities & let´s not forget about the snow! Almost everyone has a story about what the snow brought into their lives. Some say they love it and while others say it’s hard to drive around with the streets full of snow, but for me it’s a white & happy Christmas for the first time in Canada.

Now getting back to business…. a friend from back home asked me “What exactly do you do at DIVERSEcity?” Well my friend, my role here is very DIVERSE! It starts by checking and answering my emails and drinking some chai tea made by myself or sometimes coffee, (both offered by DIVERSEcity 🙂 ).  If my help is needed, sometimes I help at the front desk. It’s actually fun to answer phone calls. Because I’m new I’m always asking who Maureen Chang is, or who Gurminder is! I will soon learn everyone’s name but it may take time as there are over 100 employees here. When a client does not speak English but only speaks Arabic or another language I always ask Kim and Haneet for help, or I check my list of contacts and ask, perhaps, Rana to come and help translate for me. Working in a multicultural and lingual environment can be challenging but it is important to always be friendly and patient! I’m sometimes have to try to figure out what the clients want by making funny faces or gestures with my hands; I guess I should learn a third language!

dennis1I also love helping with the Community Kitchen Program because I am able to learn new recipes and I also get try the food afterwards. I helped Leo prepare the mashed potatoes once
and they was so good that I served myself twice. But that’s not what it’s all about, it’s about being able to share good moments with clients, learn new skills and help them practice English, and helping them interact and meet new friends. They like the program so much that they even come on a snowy or rainy days. They never miss a day.

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We made salad, garlic bread, mashed potatoes, pork with mushrooms and a strawberry and blueberry smoothie. Yum, I’m hungry now!

dennis3I also recently went to a settlement session for immigrant support workers on employment related topics at the Surrey Sports & Leisure Centre. They talked about some of the services, requirements and benefits available for newcomers, refugees & permanent resident clients. Some of our neighbour organizations were at the event as well, so it was an excellent time to network and to promote the workshop I’m working on.

dennis4I supported Helen with the Food Security, Community Kitchen program. This program provides opportunities for immigrant, refugee and low income families to increase their food security through multicultural cooking groups and community garden activities.

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Irene Yan and I were able to decorate the dining room, wrap the gifts and play some Christmas music. She came up with some fun games to play with the guests.

These are the gifts we gave to our guests, volunteers and clients.

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DIVERSEcity for me is a place where I can really have fun while I help the community. It’s a place to learn how to get along with people from diverse backgrounds and it challenges me to do things I have never done before.

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A friend took a photo of me on my way to DIVERSEcity
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A photo from the Apple Cider Gathering

Apple Cider gathering – This event is an annual tradition at DIVERSEcity. Staff get to enjoy some winter treats. I did not help with this event but I wanted to share the picture to show some of the holiday activities DIVERSEcity had during the month of December. I was able to share a few minutes with the staff, eat some cookies and grapes, and I tasted homemade apple cider for the first time!

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On December 8 we had our department gift exchange activity. I enjoyed it and I was able to learn staff names, take pictures, eat, laugh, have some fun, and tried to guess who gave which gift.

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Everything was so delicious that I wanted the recipe of some of the goodies. I think everyone enjoyed it and the amazing part was that everything was vegetarian!

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I was trying to remember everyone’s name but I knew only 5 or 6 at that point.

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Guess who gave me the gift card and the macaroons? It was Helen Shin, and she even made the macaroons herself!

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“Feeding the Soul: Healthy Mind & Bodies Program” is the new program I am working on! It focuses on refugee and new immigrants/newcomers teens & youths. We will be hosting fun activities, discussing interesting topics, and have guest speakers. I will be sharing a little bit of my experience on how I coped with integrating into Canadian society. We are also going to show the participants how to make easy & healthy snacks in our community kitchen. The first group will start in mid-January 2017 and will be for teens between the ages of 12-15 years old. The second group will be for ages of 15-18 and the third group will be for youth ages 19-24. Right now I’m just getting everything ready.

So I guess that’s what I’ve been doing this month. Reading the policy book, helping out front desk, helping with the Settlement monthly report, going to meetings and seminars, supporting the Settlement team with the English workshop at the Guildford Library, writing for this blog, and helping the Community Kitchen & Moving Ahead Program. It has been busy!

Introducing… LEO!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Leo Ramirez and I am the Community Kitchen Coordinator for the New Immigrants Program.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Almost 8 months!

What inspired you to work here/why do you do what you do?
I have worked around food security with different ethnic groups and immigrants in the past.  When I saw the open position here I applied because food security is one of my passions and working with new immigrants is really interesting because I can help them in different ways to adapt to a new country. It reminds me of myself when I came to Canada 28 years ago and I understand the process of adapting into a new culture, country, language, and weather.

How do you spend most of your work time?
I plan menus for the community kitchens, set up the cooking stations, go to the supermarket to buy the ingredients, and I organize workshops related to food security and field trips with participants.

What are the field trips like?
They are field trips related to food security, so for instance if a community kitchen group is interested in going to the food bank, we will take a trip there. The workshops focus on food security, food systems, farming, and community gardens. The other part of the program is the cooking sessions.

What advice do you have for your clients?
To learn English because English is the key. Get the education and try to get the equivalent of your degree when you get here. That will allow you, in some cases, to get into the profession that you were in before. Try to understand Canadian culture and eat Canadian food because it is important to start experiencing the food you find here – it’s what you will be eating! There will be foods you liked before you came to Canada that you may not be able to find here. In central America there are 6 different varieties of oranges, bananas, pineapples, and specific fruits you won’t find here and you miss those things. You have to try new fruits. For example, we don’t have apples or grapes in central America. We eat apples and grapes during special occasions like Christmas because they are expensive and need to be imported. We have 1-2 apples for Christmas, but here you find apples everywhere, but you can’t find mangoes all year round.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with this population?
My advice is to learn about their culture. Be updated about what’s going on in their countries of origin because that will help you to understand exactly what those people are going through and the reasons why they are coming to Canada. Having that information on hand will help you design programs that are truly related to what they are going through and how they can adapt to Canada.

Do you find language is an issue in your programs?
It is, because some of the participants are very new and don’t speak English, so we have volunteers to help us interpret.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Working with the settlement workers that are coming from different parts of the world. This gives me the opportunity to learn more about different countries. I’ve met people here from Palestine, the Philippines, Korea, and from other countries around the world. Even from Africa! This building is like the United Nations! The variety of people I work with is great – it’s nice to learn from other cultures, and they learn from Latin American countries too. It’s fun.

What are some of the challenges you face in fulfilling your role?
The main challenge is communication because I’m working with different ethnic groups who speak different languages, but I only speak Spanish and English. 

What do you like to do outside of work and how do you de-stress?
My profession before coming here has become my hobby. I used to be a radio broadcaster. Right now I have a radio show on CITR 101.9 FM – UBC’s radio station. The show is Monday from 5-6 PM and is about Latin Americans. We play Latin American music and I do interviews with local musicians. I have been doing this since 2000  – 16 years!

Do you do your show by yourself?
Yes I am the producer and the host of the Leo Ramirez Show. I love communications, sometimes I write articles for newspapers in El Salvador.

So you studied journalism?
Yes in El Salvador, and then at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. I lived in southern Ontario for a few years.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Barcelona in Spain.

Have you been there before?
No but I hope to visit that city some time soon.

Did you travel a lot while you lived in El Salvador?
To Costa Rica and Mexico.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
I read articles from different sources, mostly newspapers, but there is one book I like called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Can you share something you are proud of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
I’m proud of having a food security program because food security is important, especially for newcomers because the food system we have here is not sustainable. The way we produce food in the farms here costs a lot of money and in some places pesticides are still used. Right now greenhouses are going in a different direction. For example, nature has 4 seasons and tomatoes, for instance, grow in a particular season. Greenhouses grow tomatoes the whole year by creating an artificial environment that allows tomatoes to grow – but they are not related to nature because they are growing in artificial environments.

Food security allows us to learn and understand these things. It’s cheaper for big corporations to import vegetables from Mexico than to support local farmers. When you go to supermarket, a bunch of radishes costs 50 cents, but when they buy them from Mexico they are paying 2-3 cents per bunch. They are making a lot of profit. When you go to the farmers market you are probably paying $1 for the same radishes. The cost of production is higher here and the laws allow the food system we have in place to create profit but they don’t really care if we get sick or not. Food security is important because it allows citizens to really understand the food system.

If you go into any supermarket, 70% of the  food is processed. Processed foods use GMOs or chemicals to make their product. We are eating GMOs products without knowing what’s going on, and this is discussed in the Food Security Program. I’m very proud of this program because it helps people become more aware of things. The Community Garden part of this program helps people grow their own food.

What are your pet peeves?
When someone else is using the sink to wash dishes, then someone else comes along and needs to wash their hands and pushes you aside. Why do people do this? Why do they think they have the right to push you aside? I’m going to write a book and talk to psychologists about this.

Something quirky or interesting about yourself you’d like to share?
I think Leo Ramirez is someone who is very committed to making things happen. I see myself as a community developer because I have experience working with communities. I like making things fun so people can enjoy the activities and programs. And I love music. Music is the queen of my soul – no music no work! I’m just a Latin American guy who loves music, has a passion for radio, and is a community developer.

Introducing… DENNIS!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Dennis Juarez Flores and my role is Settlement & Community Programs Support Worker.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in a tropical city in Honduras, called San Pedro Sula (known as the industrial city of the country). I always believed that I could do better, that I could help others and that I had a lot of potential to give in whatever field I wanted, but it was very difficult because of the corruption and crime in my country. I always wanted something new, something different and a career and life change. And in fact my life did change, when I decided to come to Vancouver. I came to Canada on April 6th, 2016. I spent almost 3 months preparing myself & preparing paperwork for my hearing and on June 16th the board member approved my claim. After that process, I applied for Permanent Residency, which was approved shortly after they received my application.

I volunteered for almost 3 months at Settlement Orientation Services, and even though a lot of people told me that I shouldn’t waste my time on volunteering, I never stopped, in fact I even doubled my time. My role there was to help newcomers settle in BC by helping them fill out immigration forms and by giving them advice on how to go through the process. Looking for job in BC was very challenging and competitive, until I got training at the YMCA. I learned so much and I was able to share my thoughts, ideas & experiences.

After the program ended, I contacted several organizations and just 2 of them replied back, one of them was DIVERSEcity. After several emails, I got an informal interview and I came here obviously nervous and not knowing what to expect. That same day, my current manager told me if I could start next week. I just couldn’t believe it! I was so happy, excited and thankful that I immediately called my family and told them about it. We were all so happy.

Can you tell me about the programs you support?
At first I started supporting the Community Kitchen Programs, LINC Workshops at Guildford Library and most recently a new program called Feeding the Soul: Healthy Minds & Bodies.

community-kitchen

Can you tell me about the Feeding the Soul: Healthy Mind & Bodies program?
This program targets children & youth in the Surrey area with a particular focus on those that are newcomers, immigrants & refugees. This program will include workshops about how to deal with stress, self-confidence, and self-esteem. We’ll also talk about how to cope with school, society, and new culture. We may have talks from guests as well.

How do you spend most of your work time?
Preparing for the Feeding the Soul workshop is now my main focus. A normal day at DIVERSEcity for me is preparing PowerPoint presentations, searching for videos and pictures for the workshop, looking for fun activities to do and contacting guest speakers. I have also supported the front desk and helped with monthly settlement reports.

What advice do you have for your clients?
I know leaving everything behind is not easy; some of you might have left your family, friends and belongings. I know at first it seems so difficult. Some days are good and others bad, you have to adapt to a new culture, new people, and different weather. Everything seems very challenging; you don’t know how to take the bus or the sky train, there is a different language and trying to integrate into a new society is hard. But guess what? Everything changes! You get used to everything, you start to like the weather, you challenge yourself to make new friends, and you see the kindness in people – people who give you strength & encourage you to continue and to not give up.

Some advice I can give you is to do volunteer work, which will help you get Canadian job experience. You’ll get to know new people & you’ll learn new stuff. The good thing about coming to a new country is that you can start over, have a career change or even change your life.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
What I enjoy the most is learning new things and getting to know new people from different backgrounds. I like how diverse the clients and staff are and getting to know new cultures is so amazing; you might even see that you have some similarities in music and food.

What are some of the challenges of the work?
One of the challenges anticipate that I might face is with teenagers from 12-15 years old, because they might be shy to participate. My challenge will be to get them to speak English and to get them to participate without fear in our activities.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
Working at DIVERSEcity for me is so great because I am learning a little bit of everything. I am putting my ideas into action, and being heard by my manager is what makes my job so amazing. It’s good to know that they care about the clients and staff. For me, this is a good opportunity to grow in the settlement field, to gain more experience and perhaps to grow within the organization.

What are your hobbies and interests and how do you de-stress?
My hobbies include watching Netflix, going for walks, going to the beach and just feeling the wind, hanging out with my friends and talking to my loved ones. Whenever I feel stressed, I definitely go to the beach because it makes me feel better. It makes me feel at peace with myself and it reminds me of my country.

What country or city would you like to visit?
I would love to go to Bora Bora, France, and Toronto. I would also like to see the Aurora Borealis in Yukon.

What has been surprising for you over the course of your career?
That everything changes. I always wanted to work for a non-profit organization and I wanted to help people. I studied medicine for almost 5 years in Honduras but coming to Canada I realized that helping people was what I wanted to do. So I started volunteering at a settlement organization and as I write this I realize that 5 years ago I wanted to do what I’m doing now. So at the end you always get what you want.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
It has changed my life completely. I am more careful with what I say or do, I have more empathy for people, I have always been kind-hearted so now I care more about others, I try to listen carefully to their struggles and see how or what can I do to help them. I always try to help others in any way, because you never know when they will help you back!

If you could get the general public to understand something about refugees and immigrants, what would it be?
I would like people to know why refugees & new immigrants come to Canada. Refugees come to Canada seeking protection, to feel more secure, to forget their past, to start over and to build a brighter future. They face many struggles in their home country; some of them have traumatic experiences that are not easy to overcome: they come from countries that are at war, that discriminated based on religion and sexuality, that do not respect human rights, and engage in torture. So it is good to know what happens in their lives and how we can help them. It is also good that Canada is very welcoming; it is very friendly and very open to new cultures. New immigrants come here to look for a better job, better education and better health care. So if you see someone that is new to Canada, encourage them to never give up, tell them to be strong and to keep fighting for their dreams.

Introducing… ANU!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity
Anu Mitra – Volunteer Coordinator for Settlement Services.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Over 13 years. I’ve been with the LINC program as a Teaching Assistant, then as a Volunteer Coordinator. I have recently moved to the Settlement department as a Volunteer Coordinator.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
Basically I like to help people and being an immigrant myself, I understand the challenges that immigrants face. It really inspired me seeing how the Canadian government provided support in helping new immigrants settle. DIVERSEcity impressed me when I initially started as a client and soon I was offered an opportunity to be a part of their team and help too. I wanted to give back to the society and help the clients with my experience and training.

How do you spend most of your work time?
First of all it starts with checking emails as I have lots of correspondence with volunteers. A big chunk of my time goes into recruiting, training and scheduling volunteers. Volunteer management is part of my job and I have to make sure that there is consistency between staff and volunteers. The recruitment process is lengthy – interviewing, CRC (criminal record check) clearance, reference checks, orientation and entry in the database. The interview usually takes about 40 minutes and each day I interview 3 to 4 volunteers, some of which may be drop ins.

Everyday I schedule at least one volunteer to cover the front desk as a DIVERSEcity Ambassador. They become the first point of contact when any client walks in, thereby taking the load off the regular admin assistants. There are times when they are swarmed with clients, while at other times there may not be much to do. That’s the time I need to keep the volunteers engaged. They need to feel they are gaining experience and that volunteering is worthwhile. So I find projects that they can do in between attending the clients.

I also maintain a database of volunteers and write reports when I’m not attending team meetings.

What advice do you have for your volunteers?
To not just volunteer for the hours! They should contribute in helping the clients’ needs by understanding and guiding them and be part of the clients’ success. Volunteers should be willing to learn, to accept guidance, and to maintain a smooth relationship with others, and not only look for personal gains.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
To see the smile on a client’s face when they have achieved something. I’m involved with both students, clients and with volunteers. When my former students feel that I have impacted their lives, and come and hug me because they are happy to have achieved their goals, that becomes my success story too.

From the volunteer side, a lot of the volunteers are happy with my guidance and direction and feel that I have helped them find a job or settle down. Among volunteers, I do have citizens as well as newcomers. For newcomers, volunteering enhances their resumes as they gain Canadian work experience and it helps build their self-esteem. I feel proud to see them grow! For citizens volunteering is mostly to give something back to the community. I have had volunteers who have been with me for 7 years, and it is very satisfying to see I can retain volunteers and see that they are happy to come back.

What are some of the challenges?
One of the biggest challenges is when volunteers don’t keep up to their commitments. For many, it may be because they are looking for jobs and need to cancel at the last moment.
Sometimes retaining volunteers is a challenge. Training them and then having to retrain a different set of people for the same job is frustrating.
It’s also challenging when volunteers don’t follow instructions, and it’s frustrating redoing jobs that aren’t done properly due to lack of understanding.

Is recruiting volunteers difficult?
No, not as DIVERSEcity has now become better known in the community. In the last 13 years I have seen a lot of change. It used to be difficult finding volunteers on a regular basis. I had to do outreach to promote our program and it was very difficult to recruit. But now most people in the community know we have a volunteer component and contact me themselves. We get new volunteers practically every day.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity
Meeting multicultural clients and staff who are passionate about their jobs. The coworkers and managers are supportive and encouraging and bring out the best in me.

What are your hobbies and interests and how do you de-stress?
I’m a creative person. I do a lot of crafts, painting, poetry, and I like to dance. I get involved with a lot of cultural programs in my community. I love nature, so I do a lot of bird watching with my husband.

What country or city would you like to visit?
If I had the chance, I would like to visit the Amazon rain-forest.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
I’m reading a book called “Robbery of the Soil” by Rabindranath Tagore. It’s about the importance of replenishing what you take from society and the soil.

Can you share something you are proud of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
When I was in the LINC program with the students, it was great to see how I made an impact on their lives. I especially remember a student who was over 80 years old from Afghanistan. She was deaf and because of her disability, her speech was also not proper. She came to learn English in the pre-literacy level from a village where being in the classroom for her was almost claustrophobic. She had never really been confined to walls. When we help students read we start with phonics. She couldn’t even repeat the phonics since she couldn’t hear. I would help her every day but couldn’t be sure if anything I said registered in her brain. My goal was to help her say and write her name, but I wasn’t really sure if she was getting it. One day I was teaching a new student along with her when I said “b,” the 80 year old lady to my surprise suddenly said “buh.” Tears filled my eyes as I realized she passed the first hurdle through all her challenges. By the end of 6 months she could actually write her full name, and say it! That was a great achievement!

With volunteers, whenever volunteers approach me I try to give everyone a chance. I don’t discriminate even if they are physically or mentally challenged. I think that every person has a strength we can learn from. I’ve had many volunteers who were physically challenged. I had a volunteer who had cerebral palsy, who had trouble walking and her speech was unclear. She couldn’t hold a pen to write and so I would do the writing while she gave the instructions to the class. I brought her in to show students that any hurdle can be overcome. What’s important isn’t just knowledge from books but also seeing that if she can come and volunteer and do things – so can you. Usually when new students arrive they are very discouraged and are struggling. I want to tell them that if she can overcome her barriers, they can too!

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
My outlook has changed quite a bit. Initially I was shy and an introvert! Ever since I started working here I have become more extrovert, confident, empathetic and value what I have. I have developed patience and have learned to be less judgemental. I try to find reasons in other people’s behavioural pattern and try to be positive.

What happens during the interview process with volunteers?
It’s not a very formal interview; it’s more about learning of their abilities. I have to interview prospective volunteers and inform them the details of the various fields they can volunteer in and make them aware of our policies and procedures. I try to learn about their strengths and weaknesses and also give them advice about fields they can volunteer in. For example, if they opt for English Conversation Circles, I ask if they’ve worked with ESL students.  I need to find out if they’re willing to learn from me and willing to follow my directions or if they’re just volunteering because they feel that it’s easy! I get to know a little bit more about them and then I can place them in the right field.

If there was one thing you could get the general public to understand about refugees and immigrants, what would it be?
I would say that they should try to be empathetic, and understand the culture they come from before being judgemental. There’s a lot to learn from them. Their courage, perseverance, and strength help me find my values in life.

What is the most important quality for a volunteer working with immigrants and refugees?
Patience! When new immigrants or refugees come, they bring with them the baggage of hurdles in their life. They may react negatively but we have to understand their problems and issues in life. For some it is shown through anger, but once we are patient and listen to them, they also cool down. That’s important.

What are your pet peeves?
When people are being judgemental without knowing someone’s cultural background.