Bridging the Gap Between Newcomers and Community One Word at a Time


Newcomer Grants Program

Walk into the Queen Street Commons Café in Downtown Kitchener on a Tuesday evening and you'll find nearly two-dozen teens and adults sitting around tables learning how to introduce themselves at a business meeting or ask for apples at the grocery store. 

The group, mostly Syrian and other Arabic-speaking newcomers and volunteers, come together to practice English at the English Speaking Café, organized through Waterloo Region's ShamRose for Syrian Culture. 

Georgina de Barros, multicultural outreach worker for KW Counselling Services, says the drop-in program is a perfect example of how even a small amount of funding can have a lasting impact on an entire community. With only $4,000, ShamRose has been able to reach 300 people through its Syrian café so far. 

"It's the right people with the right funds at the right time," says de Barros. "This program is not about throwing more money at something. It's about making sure you're funding the right people with a really good idea."

The café's funding comes from the Newcomer Grants Program, a partnership program supported by The KWCF and United Way Waterloo Region Communities, and led by KW Counselling Services. Since the program launched in 2004, more than $275,000 has been offered through 97 grants as part of KW Counselling Services' flagship Bridging Resources program. The program reaches out to new and experienced ethno-cultural leaders committed to promoting a sense of belonging in Waterloo Region. 

For instance, the African Community Wellness Initiative, which has gone on to receive Trillium grants as well, has launched its Young City Growers program and encourages newcomers to consider "green collar" jobs - employment in the environmental sector. The Afghan Association recently celebrated the Afghani New Year with people coming from as far away as New York. 

"What they're doing is amazing," says de Barros. 

Creating opportunities to connect and socialize is exactly what many newcomers say they need in order to feel happy and well-adjusted in their new communities, explains de Barros. Isolation often leads to anxiety, depression and feeling disconnected to Canada, where event the smallest daily tasks seem foreign and different. 

By helping newcomers launch their own programs to address these needs, the Newcomer Grants Program is supporting communities at the grassroots level - sometimes one friendly café language class at a time.