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.

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.

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.


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!


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



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.

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.


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.



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.

A friend took a photo of me on my way to DIVERSEcity
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!


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.


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!


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

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


“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.


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.

Introducing… WAFAA!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Wafaa Zaquout. I am a Moving Ahead counselor working with Arabic speaking refugees, mainly from Iraq and Syria.

How long have you been working at DIVERSEcity?
Since 2011, including some time off for maternity leave.

What inspired you to work here?
There is something inside me that drew me to come here. There is a passion and a sincere, genuine desire to want to help people change their own lives for the better. I wanted to support people to succeed.

How do you spend most of your work time?
Now, it’s mostly with clients. We [MAP counselors] have to divide our time between paperwork and case management. The demand is huge and we have many clients with multi-barrier issues. Time varies between workshops, accompaniments, orientations, and connecting clients to services and resources. I help and encourage them to make their own decision; I want to encourage self-determination for my clients. They are strong, very resilient, and capable.

What advice do you have for your clients?
I want to remind them that they are capable of making decisions and taking on responsibilities. It’s not my job to do that for them. It’s not my business to give advice; I give them information and let them know what options are available. I do my best to empower them to make informed decisions but at the end of the day the decision is theirs.

What advice do you have for someone interested in working population?
Set boundaries and do self-care. This work is very, very rewarding but it’s easy to burn out. It’s great to see and feel the growth in your clients but you need to set boundaries from the work, otherwise it’s easy to lose passion for the work and to experience compassion fatigue or even vicarious trauma.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I love my team and my manager. I find having them around every day is just what I need to recharge my batteries to be able to go on. I love being with the clients and I enjoy interacting with them on a daily basis. I learn from them things that I would not be able to access otherwise. I like helping clients build their self-esteem and helping them to be more self-sufficient and powerful.  And see that happens before my eyes. This is why I’m here.

What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
When you’re working with people and their lives, it’s very intense. I encounter very difficult moments. Sometimes I feel powerless. There are days with a roller coaster of emotions where I go from happiness to sadness with them. They are humans. They affect me and will be affected by me. Many of them have faced traumatic events. They have been exposed to very difficult situations where they needed to choose between their lives or homes. Hence, I need to be very tactful in communicating and again drawing the line to protect myself from burning out.

What is the best thing about working at DIVERSEcity?
I have friends from all over the world. I would never imagine that my best friend would be from Tanzania. There is a very diverse and very rich environment here. The people here are amazing, with many differences yet are very similar; it’s a lovely, harmonized environment.

How do you de-stress?
Through reading. Reading is my main vent out channel. I make sure to have quality time with my kids. When I see them smile, I’m okay. I’m also a spiritual person.

Do you hide your work from your kids?
I try to put my work behind me when I go home, because I have my own life as well. I want to connect with my kids. But then I make sure to share some of the values I learn from my work with my children.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Japan, London, Italy, Greece. I want to visit everywhere because I know every single country has a very unique, lovely value to offer.

What book are you currently reading or read last?
“America the Book” by Jon Stewart. I am still reading it.

Can you share something you are proud  of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
In our work, it’s not like 1+1=2. It’s different. I feel proud when my clients are on the right track and when they are on in control of their own lives and decisions. I encourage them to be this way. I tell them “I’m here with you.” I want to empower you and to gain skills, tools and knowledge. I want them to become self- sufficient. They love that. They don’t want to feel that they need me. I tell them that on the very first day: you will solve your problems. I will support you and give you information and resources. You will do it, not me. I’m here for you, but you will do it.

What has been surprising for you over the course of your career or what is something you didn’t expect about your current role?
Every case, client and situation is unique. I learn something every day. I learn from the people I help, and I learn about different cultures.

Did you receive training for your work?
We have something called professional development, which is ad hoc and ongoing. We have it all the time. The last training I received was on mental health first aid, which is very relevant. We were taught about how to handle a situation where there is a mental health issue. We also received training on non-violent intervention.

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
Of course! My goodness. My knowledge of life is richer and deeper. I am more down to earth, and more in tuned about life. I feel more mature. I love the way I appreciate my life now.

What are the most important personal characteristics for success in the field?
Sincerity and assertiveness.

If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about this refugees or immigrants, what would it be?
That they are humans, not numbers. They have every potential any human would have. They are successful people and are resilient. They are victims in ways, but there are other sides of them that are exactly like us, humans; strong and powerful.

What is one of your pet peeves?

Introducing… TAHZEEM!

What is your name and role at DIVERSEcity?
Tahzeem Kassam, my role is the Chief Operating Officer.

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

Can you tell me about your journey here?
I started on June 4 1996 as a part-time, 17.5 hour Volunteer Coordinator. Being a settlement agency our role was to support newcomers in understanding civic engagement through volunteering. I did that for awhile, then because of how funding was shifting, we started really looking at how to change and expand the program delivery, and we started to look at other funding to find a way to sustain some of the work we were doing. In 2000 after I had come back from a 6 month maternity leave, things had changed. At that point, the government had shifted and we didn’t really have funding. My role then changed dramatically because I didn’t really have a volunteer coordinator job anymore. I came back and worked with the agency in a different capacity which was much more administrative. Before, I was working directly with newcomers who were wanting to settle and were using volunteering to get connections and employment references. Now, in both my part-time capacities I was doing a lot of administrative, management, and paper work but no direct service work. It was quite the shock to the system. It took a little bit of adjusting to for sure, and it took awhile to find the passion in that type of work. In 2004 I came back from my second maternity leave. By that point I was heavily involved in the management of program areas. I was overseeing settlement. I then moved to Director of Resources. I stayed in that for a year and a half. It wasn’t just a big job, but it was also my first go at senior management. It was a brand new job, no one really did it before. Stepping into that and
it being new, there was internal dynamics and lots of different factors. There was the open tendering of contracts: all of our settlement and ELSA contracts were being put out to tender instead of being renewed. There was stress on the organization as the majority of programs were going through that process. Managers reporting to me were relatively new through the process and the sector, generally, was going a little haywire. We lost some contracts and it was a very big, heavy year. About a year and a half into that job I took a leave for about a year. When I left an HR position was created, and program oversight directors were created over time. In April 2014 we went back to federal government contracts, which is very different from the provincial government. When we were preparing our proposals under their contracting model, it became quite clear that we were not going to be able to sustain the number of senior management positions. We had a shift in our structure which resulted in our current model, and where I am today.

What inspired you to work here or why do you do what you do?
When I did my first degree at SFU, about halfway through I realized it wasn’t for me. I had an interest in multiculturalism and integration and biculturality but at that time, in the early 90s, there were no real program streams to study that stuff. I decided a degree in psychology wasn’t going to hurt me, so continued the program and completed it. I did co-op and I also gave myself a year to find a career/path in what I as interested in. I graduated in October of 1995 and started here on June 4 1996. I actually got a job with a person I did an informational interview with! My sister connected me with a few people she did consulting with. She mentioned to me that there was going to be a posting for a volunteer coordinator position. I think why I’m still in it – I’ve said to people over course of time, I’m not doing same thing year after year. I’m still learning things, so why would I leave? Just because I’ve been here for a long time is not a reason to leave. It’s an ever-changing environment. From a big picture we’ve always provided similar programs and the needs don’t change dramatically, but there are still variations and the days are never really the same. I feel like at DIVERSEcity, we really keep the end game in mind. We aren’t just about today. I feel like we’re always thinking about how we can make this better for the client, and thinking about how we can get outcomes for the clients that will move them forward. I think that’s what keeps me working here as opposed to somewhere where I come in, do the job, and go home. I feel like we are small enough to keep somewhat grounded in our geographic region, and to the clients we serve. We’re small enough to keep that present.


How do you spend most of your work time?
I do a lot of meetings and emails. In those those meetings and through emails, I do a lot of traffic control and innovative problem solving. In my capacity as the Chief Operating Officer, I see a lot of potential where x and y should talk. There’s strategic thinking around that. Who else should be involved with this? Who is the potential funder? What’s coming down the pipeline? In problem solving – given the new role as the Chief Operating Officer and the current structure, I can’t literally be in the minutia of the work that mangers do now that I’m seeing 9 or 10 of them. Often I see myself as the point person when managers get stuck. I’m the one thinking outside the box to help overcome the roadblocks in the way of the work that people need to do. I help put puzzle pieces together to get a full picture.

What advice do you have for your immigrants or refugees?
My advice to people would be to not forget their dream. I think that people come here with really high expectations and hopes for what their life will be like here. I know people arrive and it’s so not what they thought it was going to be. It’s very difficult for people to accept that and figure that out. Even if things never get exactly where they thought they would be, my advice is to not just give it up completely. It does get better and it’ll get better if you keep holding on to that dream. I guess I’m a little bit of an eternal optimist. In order to have dreams come true you have to have the vision of the dream, will never come true if lose that.

Knowing what you know now, what advice do you have for someone interested in this field?
I think it’s good to know that the not-for-profit sector is not entirely different from the business world. There are still operations to look after, there are still administrative aspects that need to be paid for, and we still need to comply with legislation. There are still business operations.

What do you find most enjoyable about your work?
I think what I enjoy is finding the pathway to success, whether it be a funding thing or how to overcome a particular obstacle in our way. I think that’s what I enjoy, discovering how we can make things work and being willing to be unconventional about how we do those things. Whether it be funding, programming or people telling us we can’t do x or you can’t do y. I enjoy finding a way to negotiate those things and finding solutions that are mutually agreeable.


What are some of the challenges?
The fluidity of contracts and negotiations. Even with 3 year contract, negotiations and changes happen every year on that contract, which is very laborious. There are questions of how do we can sustain and grow things. Sometimes it feels very difficult, like we’re not moving forward but we’re just treading water. Now, we’re pushing beyond that and we’re pushing to grow again.

What do you do outside of work and how do you de-stress?
I enjoy spending time with my kids and doing family stuff like watching movies. I have been trying to find a new work-life balance for me but I haven’t quite struck the balance yet. I’m getting better, I’m getting there, but there’s still a struggle to find that right amount of balance.

What country or city would you like to visit?
Trinidad and Tobago in Caribbean. I’ve always wanted to go there.

What books are you currently reading or read last?
The last book I attempted to read was I am Malala.

Can you share something you are proud of or a success you have had at DIVERSEcity?
My involvement with what’s now the Moving Ahead Program. It started as a different program and I feel like we [five agencies in the lower mainland] have done some good work in developing the model as the way it stands now. We provided the province with the initial model and we also gave them a lot of consultation while they were developing the current model (VIPP).

Has your job affected your lifestyle? Has it changed your outlook on life?
I’m sure it has. I think that it’s been a good relationship given who I am, how I see the world, and what I think is important. I think it’s been a good relationship between me and the work that happens here. I like to think I’ve influenced DIVERSEcity and DIVERSEcity has influenced me.

What impresses you during an interview or on a resume?
I think what impresses me is an openness to expressing a learning perspective, someone who is able to say, “I’m really good at this, but I’ve realized that I can’t do this well.” They really know that they want to pursue this level of skill development. They want to learn and they acknowledge that they aren’t perfect, and they are open to different areas of growth. In my opinion we’re always learning and we can’t stop that. If you think you know it all then you’re not aware of the things you can learn.


If there was one thing you could get the public to understand about this immigrants and refugees, what would it be?
That there is a strength and a resilience that comes from this process. Although they come here and they are newbies in their knowledge base around how we do things, they have an internal strength that those of us who don’t have that experience don’t have and will never have. Picking up and immigrating somewhere, even though you choose to do it, is not a vacation. It’s a very difficult decision, people turmoil over it. It’s not easy process practically or emotionally.

What is something interesting about yourself that you would like to share?
I used to compete in gymnastics.