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?

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.

Amy: Surrey Welcomes Refugees

DIVERSEcity had a booth at the Surrey Welcomes Refugees event and it was a success! The event was held on July 20th at the Surrey City Hall Plaza which is surrounded by City Centre Library, City Hall, and Surrey Central Skytrain Station – a very central location.


Laura, one of my managers, invited me to help prepare for the event and I was delegated the task of preparing activities for our booth. We came up with the idea of playing diversity bingo, having a map where people could put a sticker on where they were from, having an origami station, and a photo station.


A couple of days before the event I prepared the bingo sheets, made origami samples, and came up with a shopping list.

The day-of was a bit of a whirlwind. On my way to work I stopped by Walmart and Dollarama to pick up candy (~100 pieces – that was a mistake) and some other things we needed. We started packing our supplies about an hour before we were planning to leave and quickly realized how much stuff we had to bring. Turns out we had 2 cars worth of stuff!

It was the perfect day to be outdoors in the plaza: it was sunny, the sky was clear, and it was really warm. Seeing as this was the first time the event was being held, we had no idea of how big of a turnout to expect…

…and we were definitely pleasantly surprised. There were so many people! Tons of kids and families wandering around and mingling, enjoying the food and exploring the booths. Since we had candy and tons of free swag, we were a pretty big hit! I’ve got to say the swag we have is pretty cool. We’re talking mouse pads, pens, bubbles, stress balls, mints and balloons here. So many fun things! We even gave out bags of Lush goodies.

About 45 minutes into the 3 hour event we ran out of candy so we had to get some more. I bought 3 times as much but even then it didn’t last us the rest of the event. Everyone wants candy!

Most of our time was spent mingling with passersby, giving out swag and teaching origami. Because there was so much hustle and bustle at the beginning I wasn’t sure if people would want to actually stop and do origami, but turns out some people were really interested. The bubbles and waterless tattoos were pretty popular too.

This is Laura! She’s helping this visitor with her tattoo.

It was so much fun interacting with everyone. As we got closer to the end of the event and things settled down, I found the time to go over to a booth offering free henna tattoos. I’ve wanted to get one for ages now and I finally got the chance!

Look at our henna!

So for reference for the next event: have tons of candy, tons of swag, do the origami (make sure there’s someone there who knows what how to do it!), pass on the bingo, and bring a camera for photos but don’t prepare a photo station.

It was a great evening. I definitely left feeling like Surrey welcomes refugees 🙂

Amy: Community Kitchen

Last week I got the chance to participate in my first Community Kitchen and it was so much fun! For this particular session we weren’t jam packed with participants, making it easier move around the kitchen and to have actual conversations as well.

We made risotto with squash, Korean chicken, and had a side salad. MY GOODNESS it was delicious. Hats off to Helen for the scrumptious recipe!

It took us roughly 2 hours to cook, eat, and clean up.

I find team cooking itself to be fun, but what I enjoyed the most was definitely the conversation. As I spend most of my day with my laptop I’ve found myself craving for some client interaction and I’m happy to say I got a good dose of that in the kitchen!

I know this is an idealist thing to say, but I think everyone who works in social services should do it because they care (actually I think this sentiment could stretch into many other fields too but that’s a whole other post for a different blog!); I chose to apply for this position because I care about this population. I think it’s very important for people who work in this, and many other fields, to stay connected to people they serve and I’m grateful to be getting the opportunity to do so.

Amy: My First Couple of Weeks

The first two-and-a-half weeks flew by! This being my first time working in an office, the first few days were all about getting a feel for office life. After hearing some horror stories from people about their terrible experiences working in offices, whether it be physically unpleasant working environments or unfriendly colleagues, I’m super excited to say I am not someone with a horror story to tell 🙂 Sitting at the second floor information desk, however, has its pros and cons. Everyone is super friendly and always says good morning with a smile on their faces as they pass by, which is fabulous. I love that I’m not greeted by grumpy people who hate their jobs every morning, because that really sets your day off on the wrong foot. But because this location is a bit of a high traffic area, people are always walking by and saying hello or stopping to chat, which in itself is both a pro and a con. I’ve developed a liking for my little area though, and it helps that I have Dianne to sit with. It’s great to have someone to ask “what’s their name again?” 😉 among other things, of course!

During the first week or so I met with my managers Laura and Chanchal to discuss  what I will be working on for the rest of the summer. Coming out of the meetings, the weeks ahead seemed a little daunting. There was a lot of new information, ideas and events ahead. Thankfully they also sent me meeting notes and a detailed list of things to do be done this summer, which helped a lot! It provided a better idea of which tasks were urgent, which tasks were actually quite simple, and which tasks required more planning. With a little time to process my next steps I was ready to go go go!

I won’t get into my projects right now as I will write about them throughout the summer, but I’m excited to get busy! So far everything has been going swimmingly.