Community integration is at the heart of an immigrant’s settlement journey. Getting to know your local neighbourhood, the people who live there, the fun things to do, the places to see, and the many ways to contribute and participate help you feel connected to your new home in some of the most meaningful ways. But as any newcomer will know, immersing yourself in your new community can sometimes be overwhelming and intimidating. There is so much to learn and explore that it can be hard to know where to begin.
At ISANS, our Community Integration Services focus specifically on ensuring this process is as easy as possible for new immigrants. Our services help immigrants find information and volunteering opportunities, access community services and support, and connect with community members with similar interests. We also offer recreation support, which is a particularly important part of community integration. In addition to promoting physical and mental wellness, recreation helps community members learn new skills and build relationships and friendships with others, which encourages further participation and a sense of belonging in the community.
Our CIS team’s Community Connections program helps government-assisted refugees and their families find the recreational opportunities they’re most interested in, as well as apply for funding to cover their registration costs. A reality of the recreation system is that it is complex and challenging to navigate, especially for new immigrants, which is why we developed a new, more involved volunteer support role to help our clients on a longer-term basis.
Recreation Navigators are volunteers who we match with families to help them find opportunities, register for community activities and sports, and access funding, all while teaching them how to navigate the system on their own. The paired matches meet weekly for two hours for at least six months, and we’re thrilled at the success this unique initiative has had for immigrant individuals, families, and the wider community.
At an individual level, Recreation Navigators have deepened our clients’ sense of belonging in their new home, and their own understanding of the barriers that immigrants face has deepened as well. Additionally, clients are building relationships with community volunteers and learning how to access services on their own.
For the wider community, our staff work with partners to highlight the ways in which our recreation system can improve and become more accessible to all, and we look forward to continue advocating for positive change in the years to come.