YWCA Hamilton Program Spotlight: Join touches the lives of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers

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When YWCA Hamilton’s Join program started in 2020, it was at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – and an intensely challenging time for newcomers.

For people new to Canada, the isolation that resulted from the pandemic made it extremely difficult to find support and make community connections.

And, for staff at YWCA Hamilton’s Join program – an immigration and settlement program designed specifically for women, youth and Two Spirit and LGBTQIA+ newcomers — it was challenging to connect with individuals to help provide the supports that they needed.

But today, the Join program has grown to support over 100 newcomers, connecting new residents of Hamilton with employment, support, and community.

To mark Hamilton Newcomers Week – a celebration led by our partners at the Hamilton Immigration Partnership Centre – YWCA Hamilton is celebrating the Join program and the many ways it has enriched the lives of newcomers, immigrants and refugees.

Join is a unique immigration and settlement program that offers a “one-stop shop” for its participants, offering everything from employment training, networking, safe spaces, and trauma counselling. The goal of the program is to help women, youth, and Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ youth feel connected and fulfilled in their communities, while helping them remove any barriers they may face as newcomers.

Tehreem Zafar, manager of Immigrant and Settlement Services at YWCA Hamilton, says it has been incredibly fulfilling to watch the many ways that Join has touched the lives of newcomers.

“I think we are building trust with these new communities,” Tehreem said. “When you see so much transition, you feel so proud.”

From spring 2021 to 2022, the Join program has served 120 unique clients — 72 of whom were new and 48 who worked with Join previously. Join staff have also worked in partnership with other service providers in the city – including collaborations with the Munar Learning Centre to serve Somali women, with Wesley to serve Afghan Refugees, with Hamilton Wentworth District School Board on focused recruitment for Black and racialized teachers, and with the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre for Indigenous newcomer connection workshops.

Tehreem and her staff have also held six virtual job fairs with ten different employers in the city.

Tehreem points out that due to the labour shortage, employers have been approaching Join to recruit employees – a complete turnaround from previous experiences, when YWCA Staff were the ones reaching out to employers to place clients.

She points specifically to Coppley – a Hamilton-based tailoring and clothing company – which contacted Join directly to recruit sewists and tailors. Tehreem said that many women who recently immigrated from Afghanistan – none of whom had worked outside of their homes before – are hoping to work there.

“The women started taking an interest in Coppley – they were saying, “I sew really well, I was a designer back home.” Change is coming, you know?” said Tehreem.

For Arodi Suarez, a Join client, the program has been a huge help in settling into Canada.

“Moving to Canada has been exciting, but at the same time challenging experience. As a newcomer, it can be daunting to try to find your place in this country. Fortunately, I have received valuable help from family, friends and Newcomer Employment Services and Newcomer Workshops and Networking at the JOIN program at YWCA Hamilton,” said Arodi.

“The Join program has given me access to tools that will help my job search and general knowledge of how the workforce functions in this country. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this program and look forward to securing a great employment position.”

Breakdown of clients in Join Service areas

  • Community Connections: 30
  • New Mothers Support: 13
  • Violence Against Women Counselling: 35
  • 2SLGBTQIA+ : 11 clients
  • New Employment Services: 57 (31 got employed!)

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