BY THERESA MCMANUS, THE RECORD AUGUST 24, 2011
The Community Immigrant Mentorship program is on the lookout for newcomers and not-so-new-anymore immigrants to New Westminster
The program, offered by Family Services of Greater Vancouver, pairs established immigrants (mentors) with newcomers, immigrants or refugees.
Launched in January 2010, the program has been fine-tuned to better meet the needs of its participants.
"We started with a leadership program," said facilitator/community liaison Maylen Crespo. "It changed to a mentorship program."
The first mentorship program required a six-month commitment for mentors and newcomers. Participants recommended it be reduced to four months.
"It's a long commitment," Crespo said about six months. "People start getting jobs and getting more involved in the community. It was too long."
The program is now looking for mentors and newcomers wanting to get involved in upcoming classes. Ten mentors and 10 newcomers will participate in sessions getting underway in September and January.
"I have quite a few application for mentors," Crespo said. "To get to newcomers, that is the most difficult thing."
Crespo said people from other communities have expressed an interest in attending the program, but it's really focused on New Westminster.
"The purpose this time is going to be a little bit different. We are going to create a manual on how to run a mentorship program," Crespo added. "It will be for any other communities who want to create a program to support immigrants."
The Community Immigrant Mentorship program
includes weekly workshops for newcomers where they learn about local resources, building relationships and learn the benefits of volunteering.
While the program provides newcomers with important information that helps them settle into New Westminster, Crespo said the guest speakers have also noted that they've gleaned a lot of helpful information from their visits with the newcomers. Guests have included representatives from government (federal, provincial and municipal), and police, health, library and recreation services.
"Every time it is a new session, I learn something new," said Crespo, who immigrated to Canada 10 years ago.
Newcomers who participate in the program have to set a personal goal that they want to accomplish during the four months they're involved with the program, whether that's becoming more active in the community, exploring the city or volunteering. They also have to agree to share their experiences and knowledge with others, which could be something as simple as helping to make others aware of good places to find cheap meals.
"They have to do a practicum," Crespo said. "They have to share information they have learned. The mentor will be assisting them with all of this."
In addition to those weekly sessions, the newcomers and mentors meet to decide how often they'll meet and the sorts of things they'll do to help the newcomers become active members of the community.
Crespo said people who have been mentored through the program have said they have an increased sense of belonging in the community. The mentors, having once been newcomers themselves, enjoyed sharing their knowledge and experiences.
For more information on the free program or to receive an application, contact Maylen Crespo at 604-525-9144 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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