Fostering Belonging Among Newcomer Children

Newcomer Children
Fostering Belonging Among Newcomer Children
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Sarah McPherson

Sarah McPherson

Sarah is a veteran communications, fundraising and marketing professional with over 20 years’ experience working in the corporate and not-for-profit industry. Sarah has helped lead organizations through branding campaigns, fundraising events and annual campaigns, along with community-at-large special events. She is the Director of Communication and Development for the Oakville Community Foundation.

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Belonging: it’s a basic human need. Newcomer children all arrive in Canada with challenges related to the adjustments they must make to their new country; many face a new language and different cultural norms. In addition, refugee children face challenges related to a myriad of potentially damaging experiences. According to Sandra Baker, Executive Director, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Halton, these children often suffer a lack of sense of belonging, feelings of extreme isolation and potentially, worse.

“When children have a better understanding of their new culture, they are better equipped to embrace their new country, adapt to it, and succeed,” says Baker. For this reason, Adventure Canada Club was started. “ It’s a safe place for kids to learn about Canada and Canadian culture, practice their new language, expand their new circle of friends and build self-esteem in ways that are fun and accessible.”

Adventure Canada Club is a group-mentoring program provided at local schools by Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) of Halton. The program is free for newcomer children living in Canada for five years or fewer (having arrived as immigrants or refugees).  Each school identifies groups of eight to twelve kids who meet once a week for ten weeks. Many of the children have no English language skills.

Adventure Canada Club sessions are led by a qualified BBBS staff member in addition to 3-4 trained volunteer mentors. Each 70-minute session includes activities that incorporate aspects of Canadian Indigenous people’s history, geography, sports, popular foods and common facts about Canada. The activities, which celebrate multiculturalism and focus on language skills, include specially-selected icebreakers, homework help, word games, crafts and board games.

During Adventure Canada Club, staff integrate discussions about bullying, dealing with change and peer pressure. Qualified staff are always watching for unspoken issues. They work with each child to help strengthen their self-esteem and regain their confidence. Healthy snacks are provided, since many of the children come from families living with economic hardship.

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Baker explains that the work being done through Adventure Canada Club is vital and also costly. Of course, supporting the complex needs of newcomer children in the program requires significant resources. After running Adventure Canada Club successfully for three years, BBBS Halton applied to The Oakville Community Foundation for funding to support the specialized needs of refugee children and to expand the program.

In 2016, the organization received a grant through the Oakville Community Foundation’s Oakville Resettlement Fund. This fund assists agencies directly supporting new immigrant families. Funding has allowed BBBS Halton to:

  • Maintain a presence at the program’s Oakville schools
  • Support the costs of materials and food
  • Dedicate a full-time staff member to the program
  • Expand Adventure Canada Club, which had previously served children ages 10-12, to now also serve younger students, ages 6-9

“The grant from The Foundation represented support for the importance of this program specifically and the importance of creating an inclusive, diverse community in general,” says Baker. “It also means that we can plan further ahead and make a more predictable commitment to participating schools, children and families, for a longer period of time.“

“Children who can feel attached to Canada quickly can feel productive and confident more quickly. Confidence is the thing that keeps us on the right path, making the right choices and decisions. The success of Adventure Canada Club is about the kind of citizens we are creating; confident, supported children are gifts to society.”

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