Kiran: From Practicum to Staff

What a journey it has been! I first discovered DIVERSEcity Community Resources Society many years ago when a friend was in need of some support. What I had known at that time about DIVERSEcity was that they provided counselling services.  I did not know that there was a wide range of many other services that were available too.

I always knew I wanted to get into a field where I was able to work with children and youth who may be facing challenges and required some support. I had previously been working with adults for approximately six years, but I really knew I wanted to also have the chance to work with a younger population and families. That’s when I decided to enroll myself into the Bachelor of Child and Youth Care Counselling program at Douglas College.

Once it came time for my practicum, I knew that I wanted to be placed with DIVERSEcity.  I spoke with my instructors at school and got the ok to contact the manager to see if this was possible.  A week later I was in contact with Corina Carroll, the Manager of Counselling Services, regarding having the opportunity to complete my practicum.  After connecting with Corina, I was advised that I would be able to complete my practicum with DIVERSEcity *happy dance!*

I started my practicum March 2015 with my first day being at the Spring Child and Youth Empowerment Camp.  Fast forward a few months, and I now had the opportunity to apply for a temporary summer position that had come up as the Child and Youth Empowerment Camp Coordinator.  I was extremely happy when I was called in for an interview and then ecstatic when I found out that I was awarded the position. Now, since it was a temporary position, I continued working at my other full time job at the time – boy, was it a busy summer! It was definitely all worth it though! I gained so much experience with coordination and learned that I really REALLY enjoy coordinating. Once the summer was over, I had to say my goodbyes to all the amazing staff. Good byes are always hard when you know you’re leaving such amazing people.

I had my fingers crossed that another position would come up, something more permanent… I’m sure you can guess what happens next 😛.  A position came up that I was qualified for and I immediately applied for it! I have now been employed as permanent staff with DIVERSEcity since September 2015.  Working as an Intake Worker and Achieving Balance for Children counsellor (formerly Children Who Witness Abuse) has been such an amazing experience.  There are so many individuals that I come across that are faced with extremely difficult situations, yet show such resilience. Since I work in Counselling Services, I have also had the chance to be a part of many different projects and groups.  I have had the opportunity to be a part of a Senior South Asian and Arabic women’s group and Syrian Refugee Settlement and Trauma group to name a few.  I can definitely say that I learn something new from every experience that I have come across.

Working at DIVERSEcity, specifically with Counselling Services, has been such a blessing because of the many opportunities I have had the chance to be included in.  I couldn’t be happier to be a part of such an amazing environment, community, and team!

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Introducing… LAURA!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Laura Mannix and I am the Manager of Refugee and Specialized Programs.

Can you tell me about the programs you manage?
The Vulnerable Immigrant Populations Program – Moving Ahead is an intensive and holistic settlement program for refugee populations with complex needs. We offer one-on-one case management which assists clients with identifying and reaching their settlement goals such as accessing housing, language programs, employment, assistance with their health, and providing information and orientation about life in Canada. Attached to MAP is the VIPP Community Kitchens and nutrition program and there is also the VIPP Literacy and Essential Skills Program (read more about this in our interview with Crystal.) I also manage the Refugee Readiness Training portfolio which is a fee-for-service offered to other organizations and businesses in the community on how to work with refugee clients and how to make their services more accessible to this population. I also take care of all refugee related events such as World Refugee Day and the Bundle Up Campaign which is an annual donation drive for our clients.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
A year and a half.

Why do you do what you do?
My mom is from Egypt and her father had the foresight to leave Egypt at the time just before things had turned for the Christian population there. His family was well off living in Alexandria and he saw that things would be continue to be good for his lifetime but if they were to stay, the future would not be so bright for his kids. So, they decided to move to Australia to give their kids a brighter future.  Because of that decision my mom had the chance to be a working mom and woman, and to excel in a career to go on to earn even more than her husband. She was encouraged to do so and she was able to raise her children with those same aspirations and freedoms. If they had stayed in Egypt those wouldn’t have been afforded to her. I was born in Australia and I feel because I’ve been given the gift of education, wealth and determination – I need to give back. That is what led me to work with refugee populations. Not everyone is afforded these luxuries because of their geographic location. I want to dedicate my strength and contributions to helping those that are lucky enough to be able to start again. I’m incredibly grateful to be born in a country and in a position to thrive and to be educated, and to be a woman that can contribute to social justice matters. Why wouldn’t I use those attributes to help others get to same the point?

How do you spend most of your work time?
It’s pretty evenly balanced. I work with my team for the day-to-day programming of service delivery to vulnerable populations, and there is also collaborative time with other managers and community partners to ensure that the scope of our programs are significant and impactful. There is also a lot of communication with our funders to ensure we are identifying the needs of our clients and we are responding properly.

What advice do you have for your clients?
Come to all the workshops! Take advantage of all the programming because it [the Moving Ahead Program] is a holistic program. Be patient! Have reassurance that it takes time to understand your new community and home, and have confidence that one day, very soon, you will feel very comfortable and will be able to take the steps you need to have a thriving life here.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working population?
Volunteer! That is the best way to get direct insight into what it would be like to work with refugee populations and you can learn about what kinds of roles and services are available within this sector as well. I would recommend that you do this work if you are passionate about it; it’s not work you do because you fell into it. You need an understanding and working knowledge of the refugee experience. It’s for people who want to get a lot out of their work.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
Definitely my team! I work with an extremely dedicated team of individuals, some of whom are refugees themselves. They inspire me everyday. They are the ones who do the hardest aspects of front line work. It’s through their commitment that the program is so successful. The clients are amazing, too. Through different events we do I’m able to meet them and they’re wonderful and extremely grateful and determined. Also, the dynamic environment of the work that comes across my desk – no day is the same.

What are some of the challenges?
I think one of the biggest challenges is trying to communicate with the funder to give them a better understanding of what refugee clients experience and what realistic expectations should be of the clients.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
I feel like the staff are wonderfully warm and friendly, and very accepting. I think this sector draws certain  kinds of people to work here. Like the name suggests, it is wonderfully diverse. We always have a mosaic of folks from different places, offering different traditions and values and we’re always learning new things. The people are really wonderful here!

How do you de-stress?
I teach, and do a lot of, yoga. I also work out every morning by doing things like running and cycling to work up a good sweat. It helps me disconnect. I play music too – the guitar and ukulele!

What country or city would you like to visit?
My favourite city is Istanbul, Turkey. I would love to go there again.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
I am reading Damned Nations: Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid by Samantha Nutt. I just finished reading God in Pink by Hasan Namir.

Can you share something you are proud  of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
One of the things I’m proud of is that we have implemented a fee-for-service program. It’s essentially a refugee readiness training program where our staff who work with refugee populations, some of whom are refugees themselves and have successfully created lives in Canada, go on to train businesses and other organizations on how to work with refugee populations and how to make their services more accessible to refugee populations. This initiative has given some team members the opportunity to develop a unique skill set to go on and present in a professional capacity. It has also enabled us to generate unrestricted funding. We use this funding to provide things for our clients that our government funding may not allow.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
I’m more aware of the issues and challenges that come with refugee resettlement, particularly in Canada. In turn, it has heightened my awareness and need to want to do more work with refugee populations. It has encouraged me to do more advocacy and  volunteering. It has become a big part of my life.

What education, training, or knowledge is essential for work in this area?
There definitely needs to be an understanding of the issues refugees face. The working knowledge is essentially what you need.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resumé?
Experience is a big thing, regardless of it being personal or professional, just because it provides such a unique skill set. Not only do they need to have an understanding of the refugee experience and of the issues refugees face, but they also need to speak the language and understand the cultural norms of the clients they represent. They also need to understand Canadian systems and how to connect with clients. 

If you could talk to Justin Trudeau, what would you ask him to consider?
To treat all refugees from all places the same way.

If there was one thing you could tell the general public about refugees or immigrants/ get the public to understand about this population, what would it be?
That they don’t want to be here – they want to be in their home. They’re only here because if they were to go back home they would face persecution. The resiliency and strength of a refugee is unparalleled. When a government-assisted refugee comes to Canada, they are flown here and they have to pay for the flight – up to $10,000 for a family – and this transportation loan has to be repaid. 91% of refugees pay back this loan. It’s the highest repaid government loan of all the social services available! This highlights the resiliency of the refugee experience.

What is one of your pet peeves?
Tardiness.

What is something quirky or interesting about yourself that  you would like to share?
I’m a really big fan of Rod Stewart!

Introducing… CRYSTAL!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Crystal McFeetors. I am the Literacy and Essential Skills Learning Guide.

Can you tell me about the Moving Ahead Program’s (MAP) Literacy and Essential Skills Workshops?
The Moving Ahead Program offers clients two multi-leveled Literacy and Essential Skills workshops which are based on clients’ individual needs, interests and literacy abilities. These workshops are designed to enable those identified as Vulnerable Immigrants a more structured, supportive and sensitive environment in order to allow for a transition period so that once they are ready, they can successfully adjust to the more stringent expectations and independent learning environment of a LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) classroom setting.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
I’ve been here for almost 26 years – longer than anyone else!

Why do you do what you do?
Doing work that is socially significant is important to me. It’s important to me to be a front line worker and to work directly with individuals as opposed to being in an administrative or management role.

How do you spend most of your work time?
Either working directly with students or working on the development of the program. This includes things like deciding if the program structure needs to shift, developing classroom materials and also administrative tasks like attendance sheets, reports, and follow-up.

What advice do you have for your clients?
I encourage them to attend class regularly up to their ability. I try to get them to be self-motivated rather than having me tell them what to do.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working with vulnerable populations?
It really helps to understand the background of refugees, including things like the kind of life they’ve led and the trauma they might have had. It also helps to understand trauma and how it impacts people physically, emotionally, and how it affects their ability to learn.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
That you can directly see how you’re impacting individuals’ lives in a very positive way and also seeing the growth and change in individuals as they improve their literacy abilities and as they adjust to life in Canada.

What are some of the challenges?
Within this particular program, because all the students have individual literacy plans with many individualized needs, they need 1-on-1 help. Getting enough classroom support to each student is a challenge. Maintaining regular attendance with students who have multiple barriers and ongoing issues such as medical appointments is difficult as well.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
Definitely a lot of inspiring staff members who really care and go out of their way to help their clients. When you’re in an agency designed to help people, you attract employees who are more generous with their time and who are warm, caring individuals. The leadership we have is also very hardworking and have helped grow the agency.

What are your hobbies and interests and how do you de-stress?
Exercise! I bike on the weekends. Being in nature is important. I also spend lots of time with my kids. I’m very busy with 3 boys at home!

What country or city would you like to visit?
I’ve been to a lot of places all over the world. The next place I would like to visit is Italy and I would love to learn Italian before I go.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
Right now I’m reading book five of the Game of Thrones series. Two of my sons are reading it too, so it’s a way for us to connect.

Can you share something you are proud  of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
Just that I’ve been here for so long and I’ve touched the lives of so many individuals. I’ve had students directly come to me and shared with me the impact I’ve had on their lives and that they appreciated my support, help and encouragement.

What has been surprising for you over the course of your career?
When I initially started teaching I considered myself to be an introvert, so I found it difficult to be in a role at the front of the class with all the attention focused on me. Teaching has changed me as a person – I’m definitely an extrovert now. I’ve also recognized a shift in seeing a student as a whole person rather than as just a student. It makes you a better person.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
You have more empathy for people when you recognize the level of struggles that there are. I have gained more of an appreciation for our position as Canadians and how much we really have as Canadians. A lot of that is due to luck and life circumstances.

If you could get the general public to understand something about refugees and immigrants, what would it be?
The majority of refugees that I’ve seen are here because they are fleeing dangerous situations. They do not necessarily want to leave their country. They all want to have full lives as contributing citizens: they want to work, to be part of society and to be accepted by societies. They’re not just here on a free ticket.

What is one of your pet peeves?
When people react to news with fear, protectionism, and in a reactive way without really trying to educate themselves on a political situation.

Do you  have something interesting or quirky about yourself that you would like to share?
I have to have a banana with plain Greek yogurt every morning for breakfast.

Introducing… MICHEL!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Michel Ndiom (pronounced like Dion in Celine Dion, but Niom). I am the Manager of Francophone Services.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Since December 19th, 2010. 6 years.

But you weren’t a manager the entire time?
I was a settlement worker for four years, then a manager.

What inspired you to work here?
What inspired me to work here was the desire to find a way to help other immigrants better settle in Canada. I did not intend to stay for long, but over the years my interest grew. There was always something to learn and someone to help.

Can you tell me about how you spend most of your time at work?
Every day is different. The last two days I have been responding to emails but there are days where I spend most of my time meeting with staff. It varies depending on the needs of the calendar. Interacting with my staff is essential to me as I need to know exactly how they feel and how I can help them in a more effective way.

What are your main responsibilities?
I write proposals and I also make sure to hire the right people to implement our contracts. We therefore make sure that every single day, as a team, the contract is being fulfilled.

What advice do you have for clients?
I would tell them that as a settlement worker, it is our job to support whatever decision they make. We provide information so that they will be able to make the right decisions for their lives, because a settlement worker’s initial job is to refer and to provide information. We do not provide workshops for the sake of providing them. We want them to be informed. There’s this mentality that the settlement worker helps you; no – the settlement worker supports you. I am not here to live their lives for them. They have a story to write, I am not here to write it for them. We support them to help make sure their dreams come true.

Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for someone getting into this line of work?
You must always be willing to learn new things. Information changes and you must be up-to-date in order to give timely and accurate information to your clients. You must be versatile. You  cannot focus solely on your own language group, instead you must also learn how other ethnic cultures function and how you can learn from them. Yes you will provide information to others but you are also constantly learning from the environment you are in. The key thing is that you learn every day.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I love seeing the joy in the faces of my staff after they have helped their clients.

What are some of the challenges?
Time management. Schedules are important however they do not always work for everybody. I need to be able to find a way to manage my time between speaking and meeting with my staff and to also attend management meetings. Juggling between the follow-ups of meetings can be difficult. The key thing is prioritization. My priority might not be someone else’s priority, which is challenging.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
Being able to see different world views coming together for the same purpose: to help.

If there was one thing you could tell the general public about refugees or immigrants, what would it be?
They are written letters to read and to be inspired from.

What do you do outside of work?
Spend time with family and friends. We keep the bond between us. For fun, I like making pastries, baking, cooking, and watching TV with family.

What do you like to watch?
I like watching cartoons with my children.

Which country or city would you like to visit?
Sydney or Melbourne.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
A book on disabilities called Disabilities Politics and Theory by A.J. Withers.

What is something that most people who work with you don’t know about you?
I don’t know how to swim.

Can you share something you are proud of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
In the French department, our influence has grown to the point where today we have a team that is well-known in the community as the go-to place for French speaking immigrants in Surrey.

Introducing… SASIKALA!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
My name is Sasikala Sridar. I am the Community Garden Coordinator for the Food Security Program.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
4 years.

What inspired you to work here?
I love plants! They provide happiness to so many people. Clients in the program truly love this program. They are very thankful we are able to offer it. I get a lot of satisfaction from my work overall as I see the difference it makes in local lives.

sasikala2

How do you spend most of your work time?
Most of the time I am interacting with clients. I learn a lot from them and have the opportunity to share my skills, knowledge, and experience with them. Being with the garden members is my favourite part of the job. It is nice to get out of the office and spend time outside. Watching plants and clients grow is great.

What advice do you have for your clients?
My advice is that clients – particularly newcomers – should make an effort to get out of the house and expand their social circles more. It is scary to move to a new country especially if you do not know the language or the area but by making an effort to work with an agency like DIVERSEcity and getting involved with a program like the community garden or by volunteering, they will slowly gain confidence and slowly integrate into the community.

sasikala4

What advice do you have for someone interested in working in this field?
Everyone working in an agency like this should have empathy. Putting yourself in the client’s shoes is necessary at times to understand where they are coming from. There are lots of rules and regulations to follow but sometimes you have to make a judgement call on things.

What are some of the challenges?
There used to be theft in the garden which was an issue. This was mostly due to food insecurity which is a sensitive subject. It has to be dealt with carefully and some old unacceptable behaviours have to be unlearned.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
Working at DIVERSEcity gave me the opportunity to really get to learn about new cultures in an in-depth way. I work with people every single day who came from all over the world. By spending so much time with these people I get to learn so much.

What country/city would you like to visit?
I would like to visit Iceland as it is on my list of places to go. I think there is a lot of natural beauty there. However, I also want to learn about a genome mapping project they have. The project predicts the DNA of the whole of Iceland. I am very interested in learning more about this.

What movie have you watched lately?
Tarzan!

sasikala1

Can you share something you are proud of or a success you’ve had at DIVERSEcity?
I am proud of the progress the garden program has made during my years here. I work with four to five hundred people and have mediated many issues. Over the years I have developed rules, policies, and procedures to make the garden program run much more smoothly.

Introducing… VANDNA!

The summer student experience at DIVERSEcity includes learning about workplace culture and about the different types of work our staff does to support our clients in their success. This series of staff interviews will provide different glimpses of what life is like at DIVERSEcity. From interviews with members of our executive team to front line staff, we hope our interview series provides an interesting and holistic insight into our agency.


What is your role at DIVERSEcity?
I am currently working as an Employment Specialist/Case Manager at DIVERSEcity.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
I have been with DIVERSEcity for the last 9 years.

What inspired you to work here/why do you do what you do?
I came to this country as an immigrant and it has always been my passion to work with newcomers to Canada and to help them through their initial stages of settlement and integration.

How do you spend most of your work time?
My work load is divided into various fields: meeting with clients, maintaining a database, employer connections, facilitating workshops and liaising with stakeholders.

What advice do you have for your clients?
Immigration is a process, it is a very tough journey. It is a ladder that we have to climb step by step. Having the right attitude and patience is the key to unlock various opportunities.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working in this field?
Obtain a Career Development Practitioner certificate, have empathy, active listening skills and motivation to help others.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
My client’s success is my success.

What are some of the challenges?
Guidelines and policies, there is too much paperwork.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
I feel blessed to be a part of the diverse culture at DIVERSEcity and I have always received feedback and support from management to pursue my career goals.

How do you de-stress?
I have a good workout routine, and I enjoy walking, listening to music, and connecting with people.

What country/city would you like to visit?
None in particular but as many as I can in this lifetime as each country has a very unique culture and heritage and I would love to experience more of it.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
I am a visual person and would rather watch a movie; the most recent was The Jungle Book.

Can you share something you are proud  of/or a success you had at DIVERSEcity?
I have countless stories of what I call my success at DIVERSEcity as for the last many years I have been a part of a journey for many clients, but I felt really proud of myself when a client recognized me in the middle of a busy place and it reminds me of how I have helped them to start a career here in Canada and now they have made progress.