Innovations in Integration Podcast

Trascript for Episode 2
Roxanne Gilroy-Machado – YMCA of Southwestern Ontario, Sarnia-Lambton

Roxanne:

We shouldn’t look to the First Nations community as a community that needs our support. We should look at them as a community that is a great resource, that has wonderful people and leaders that can enrich our programs. That’s the perspective we had with this entire project.

Tyler

Welcome to “Innovations in Integration”, a new podcast series from the Community Integration Network at the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I’m your host, Tyler Paziuk, one of the coordinators here at CIN.

Being new to the sector, I wanted to take some time to speak with some of the very interesting and creative people in our rich network of settlement and integration workers. To learn more about how they think and work. We also thought it might be good for you as someone actually doing this important work to hear about some of the innovative projects and programs your colleagues have developed. Whether you’ve been in it for a long time and are looking for some fresh inspiration, or like me, you’re new and excited to learn, we hope you’ll find the series useful.

For this episode I spoke with Roxanne Gilroy-Machado from the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario in Sarnia about her program that brings together newcomer youth and youth from Aamjiwnaang First Nation to learn about each other and discover what they might have in common. Let’s take a listen.

Roxanne, thank you very much for joining me on our new Community Integration Network podcast. Maybe if we can start with you can just introduce yourself and introduce your agency.

Roxanne:

Okay. So, my name is Roxanne Gilroy-Machado and I am the manager of language programs in settlement services for the YMCA of Southwestern Ontario in the Sarnia-Lambton region. The YMCA is a charity dedicated to the enrichment of community through the growth and development of people in spirit, mind, and body. And it is our mission to be a community leader in building healthy communities which makes the newcomer services that we deliver essential in our mission.

Tyler

Now, can you set the scene for us? Tell us a little bit about the context in which the YMCA there is operating. Also, if you can include in that, talking about the work that the YMCA does with or the relationship that you have with Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Then we’ll just sort of take it from there.

Roxanne

Okay. Yeah. So, the YMCA here, our location in Sarnia, we are the only agency that delivers newcomer programs funded by IRCC and the province of Ontario. And the services that we offer are traditional settlement services, and of course, Community Connections.

The YMCA has a relationship with Aamjiwnaang First Nations that has been quite healthy and vibrant over the last probably five years. There are approximately 2,300 Chippewa aboriginal peoples that are part of the Aamjiwnaang community, and they have their own community center and they offer a variety of programs that they’re similar in their mission and goals as some of the programs that the YMCA offers.

Tyler

If you can also just give us a little bit of background about the history of immigration to, in recent years anyways, to Sarnia and the area.

Roxanne

Like many communities across Canada, Sarnia-Lambton became home to a number of Syrian refugee families via private and blended sponsorship programs. And there were about 50 refugees in total from Syria and half were under the age of 10.

So, just in the last three years that has caused us to need to change the way that we deliver our programs, or add to our programs, because we have so many what we would consider vulnerable newcomers in that young age group, which at the time, three years ago when they first began coming, we didn’t have any programs, like, we didn’t have any youth programs at all specifically geared towards newcomer youth.

Tyler

As recently as three years ago?

Rozanne

Yeah. As recently as three years ago. Yes.

Tyler

So, where did the idea for this project come from? And why did you think it was necessary or important to do something like this specifically?

Rozanne

So, it came from, I guess initially, from myself. I noticed that we had two separate groups of youth that kind of they were coexisting at times within a YMCA facility. And what I noticed was with our newcomer children youth program was because one, it was so new, and two, the participants in the program were extremely young, we didn’t really have any leaders. We were working towards that, but we didn’t have someone that was a newcomer that had been in Canada for a long time. So, there really wasn’t anyone that was in a position to show a leadership role to provide support to the younger ones. And we knew that they were interested in just other groups of people.

 But then on the other hand, in the summer, in the month of August, I see over a hundred First Nations youth coming together and doing a variety of activities. And so, I see like this group of youth that, you know, they’re clearly leaders and with having conversations with other YMCA staff I was like here’s a great resource that we have in our community and these are a group of youth that, on the surface, we might not think that they’re similar to our newcomer youth, but essentially, in a lot of ways, they are similar. So, that was kind the reason behind the project that I wanted to bring the two groups of youth together and use a resource that we already had in our community.

 So, we had a group of youth like First Nations group — youth are often thought of as often being marginalized or vulnerable, but there’s a great group of leaders, young leaders. So, I wanted to bring them together because our newcomer youth, they didn’t have anyone to look up to.

So, we wanted to provide the opportunity for our newcomer youth to have a leader that they could look up to, but also self-identify with so they would be able to see someone that’s young and in their community that yeah, they are practicing a faith that is different from a Christian based faith, and they have celebrations that are different. And they feel good about that. They speak a language other than English at home and they feel good about that. They have other cultural traditions that are not seen in the regular Canadian community, but they feel good about that. They may visibly look different and be a visible minority, but they feel good about themselves. So, I wanted to bring those two groups together.

And then also, we have this group of youth that some of them, they had experienced trauma, they had experienced hardship, and we wanted the First Nations youth, they didn’t know anything about what it meant to be a newcomer, so we wanted them to have that experience as well to kind of develop their skill set and develop their perspective. Because if they’re going to be leaders in our community, we want them to know about all of the different groups in our community and their needs and what they have to share and bring to our community.

Tyler

I see. You mentioned, for the similarities, maybe in the experience or the struggles that the two groups are going through. Can you just emphasis that a little bit more? What are some of the commonalities?

Rozanne

Kind of the most important commonality that we felt they shared would be this concept of having a foot in two cultures. So, when we talk about newcomer children and youth, like, they really do have a foot in two cultures. They have the person that they were, the culture that they had that they identified with in their home country, and then they also have the Canadian culture that they would like to identify with or do identify with, and those things may sometimes be in conflict with each other. Or that’s how they may perceive it.

But also, in talking to the staff that are at the Aamjiwnaang Community Centre, they agreed. They felt that First Nations youth definitely had that perspective, that challenge, that they had a foot in two cultures. That maybe when they were in their — when they’re in their First Nations community they have their own cultural traditions, and then when they’re at school that’s not represented. Right?

So, navigating these two cultural worlds that they exist in. And we thought that that was kind of the overreaching principle or challenge that we wanted to address. And well, how do you feel when you have to exist within these two spaces? And that was kind of the most important challenge that we wanted to address.

We did talk a little bit about racism and discrimination, but we think that those things are going to come later because the newcomer youth, they’re so young they don’t really have the ability to describe it yet. They may talk about bullying, but they may not talk about bullying in the sense that well, I’m a different race, I’m a different ethnicity, and that’s why people are bullying me. But bullying was talked about a little bit, but it was more about cultural sharing and building a sense of pride.

Tyler

Okay. So, I think we’ve got pretty good background of what you were trying to accomplish, your vision. So, recalling that the audience for our podcast is people at other agencies just like yours doing Community Connections type work across Ontario, if you can take a little bit of time to lay out the process from you have this idea to getting it off the ground, is that possible?

Rozanne

Yeah. It was actually a pretty simple process. And the reason it was simple was because the grant that I applied for was a municipal grant. So, the application process for the county of Lambton, they have something called the Creative County Fund, compared to the applications that we would have to do for the provincial government or the federal government, it was refreshingly simple. So, that was actually the easy part.

And the fact the program that we were running was consistent with a Community Connections program, it was essentially the same type of programming, it was just that we were welcoming in another community. And we had funds for our newcomer youth to pay for things and the grant was essentially used to pay for supplies or other things that we might need for the First Nations youth that they wouldn’t be eligible for newcomer services. So, that’s kind of how we did it in terms of a budget perspective.

And then in terms of delivery, it was looking at well, when you deliver a Community Connections program, what do you do? You know, what are your goals? Well, if we bring First Nations youth into this, well, how does that fit in?

So, the approach that we decided was going to work best was that first you meet the two groups separately. So, you don’t just bring them together. You meet the newcomer youth separately and have conversations about what they know about First Nations youth or First Nations people. And then you meet separately with the First Nations youth and ask well, what do you know about newcomers and what are perceptions of them? And have an open dialogue about that.

So, what we found was obviously the newcomer children, youth, really didn’t know anything. Right? They had no perspective at all. And the First Nations youth surprisingly, as much as we see things in the media about immigrants and refugees, they didn’t have a real perspective either.

And so, it was a very simple meeting. We gave just a quick newcomer 101 and say well, when you hear these words that’s what they mean. So, we talk about what it means to be a permanent resident versus an international student versus a refugee claimant versus a convention refugee and what those words mean. And we just did an exercise where we gave them a big piece of paper and say when I say the word refugee, what comes to mind? And we told them to be honest. And we told them it doesn’t have to be your opinion. It can be how they’re represented in the media. So, there were negative words and they said this isn’t how I feel, but this is what people say.

And then opening up that dialogue — at the YMCA we really want our youth programs to be youth driven and youth informed. So, we didn’t have much of a plan. We went to the youth and said what do you want to learn? So, based on what you’ve learned today, what would you like to talk about them when you meet? And so, they wanted to know about Islam, and they wanted to know about their celebrations. They really wanted to know about their cultural celebrations. So, there were questions, do you celebrate Christmas? Do you have a Christmas tree in your house?

And then they also, I think, wanted to know about their past experience. What was it like coming here? And then based on those questions, then when they would meet and they would do a variety of creative activities, there would be opportunities for those dialogues to happen.

And then at the end of the project we showed them those papers and they said well, this is what you said and then the First Nations youth felt really — they felt really bad because they had written negative things. And they said those weren’t — like, it wasn’t my ideas. It was just what I heard. And the kids we’re saying yeah. We understand. That’s what people say about us. And they said their perspective had changed or they had learned a lot. And they said we know these things are not true. We had no idea about what it was like to be a newcomer.

So, it was really great to see that while they may not have had any negative thoughts or opinions about newcomers, they really had no opinion. So, it was nice to see that they actually then had an opinion. That wow, they have so many similar challenges that we do.

Tyler

So, a really sincere curiosity on both sides to learn about each other and get past some of the more negative perspectives and perceptions that are out there.

Roxanne

Yeah. So, I guess if I had to really just summarize it is, I guess simply, you know, you apply, you get some funds to help you support the youth that are not eligible for newcomer services or programs. So, you secure some type of funds to do that. And you really use that Community Connections model of facilitation. But because it’s a youth program, you want it to be youth driven and youth informed.

So really, I would say as hard as it is for some of us in this world, don’t have a concrete plan. Right? So, plan to bring them together, but don’t plan out the day. Let them plan out the day. And when we do that, the programs run better.

Tyler

That is a common thing that I hear from people who do youth programs. It’s like have a plan, but don’t have a plan.

Roxanne

Yeah. Don’t be married to that plan.

Tyler

Yeah.

Roxanne

ou know? And I think it was, for some of us, because we’re so used to putting together grant proposals and we have to have a concrete plan, it’s really hard for us. It was hard for me in the beginning. I was like no, we need to plan it. It needs to be organized. And then when I was able to just realize you know what? It’s as simple as knowing where they’re going to be, when they’re going to be there, and how we’re going to get them. And then we ask them what they would like to do and then it’s my job to go get those supplies or call to make sure that the bus picks them up.

And I was a little uncomfortable at the beginning, but then at the end I realized it was like no, this works because they planned it. And planning it is how we develop leadership skills.

Tyler

Right. I see. Yes. That’s a very good point.

What are some tips that you would offer to other agencies who might want to try something similar to this? And then, what did you learn from this first round that you might do differently next time?

Roxanne

Okay. The advice that I would give is you want to try and build a relationship. So, I was fortunate that the YMCA — that another staff who I work closely with who’s in a different department, it took a few years for them to build the relationship. So, the First Nations program that the YMCA runs, that we call “Leaders of Tomorrow”, essentially it began with 10 participants, 5 years ago. Because you have to build trust with a community. They need to know well, why are you here and what is your purpose?

And I would also say that we shouldn’t look to the First Nations community as a community that needs our support. We should look at them as a community that is a great resource, that has wonderful people and leaders that can enrich our programs. That’s the perspective we had with this entire project. We said you have great youth that has amazing leadership skills and we want them to be part of this project. And we feel that they would benefit from this project by further developing their leadership skills.

So, I would say an agency needs to do their research to identify a First Nations community and to see well, what programs do they have?

So, for example, at the Aamjiwnaang Community Centre, when you walk in there, you see oh, well, they have exercise classes taking place. They have cooking classes that take place. They have a preschool program that takes place. So, a lot of these programs would have similar goals that we would have in our programs. So, you need to identify those and come together to see how — it’s just like when we collaborate with any other agency. You come together. Well, what do we have to offer each other?

Tyler

Yeah. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel if —

Roxanne

You don’t. Often, you’re doing the same types of programs, it’s just that you have a different target client.

Tyler

Okay. So, you already spoke a little bit about the thoughts of the participants afterwards, but what did you hear from the community, from the parents, from the elders in Aamjiwnaang? What was their response to the program or the project?

Roxanne

The project kind of ended with an event and we thought the event was successful, but again, we wanted to improve upon it. But we got a lot of great feedback and a lot of people really enjoyed the event and felt that they learned from it. If we wanted to improve upon it or what we learned, we felt that there wasn’t enough parental involvement.

 So, initially we focused on the youth, but then when it came time to come to the event, for some reason the parents didn’t come. And we don’t know really, necessarily know why. Is it because the youth said don’t come? Or didn’t hand the invitation to their parents? So, we think that there needs to be improvement in that area.

 You know, and we may look at some of the other programs that the Y delivers where they might have a parents’ night where if you participate in this program, your parent needs to come on these dates.

So, we didn’t get a lot of parental feedback. We got a lot of feedback from the youth, right, and the best feedback was well, when do I get to go see my friends again? When are we going to have our next meeting? So, even though we told them well, this is the big, final event, the fact that they were saying well, okay, so when do we get to see them again? When are we going to go there?

Tyler

I didn’t realize that the connections that were being built and the relationships that were being built between the youth were so strong that once the program’s over they still want to, like, hang out.

Roxanne

Yeah. You know, when I add — the staff describe okay, well, what was it like in the beginning? And they said yeah, in the beginning, the first meeting, it was extremely awkward. They kind of had to feel each other out.

And then, I went to one event where we went to the Aamjiwnaang Community Centre and from what I saw I was like the program’s been a success because we saw the First Nations youth, who were older, and they’re saying okay, let’s get a soccer game going. We need to pick teams. Who wants to be a team captain? Who can be a goalie? And youth actually facilitated the activity. All the staff did was hand them a soccer ball. Or if they said well, we’d like to do this sporting activity, they went and got the equipment and then made sure things were done safely, but we saw great interactions.

But now, because the kids had such a great time being in a different environment, we want to take them to other places in the community. So, that might be something we investigate.

To get more parental involvement I think we need to look at our Community Connections programs and invite some of the elders from the Aamjiwnaang community, because they have their own programs that they do and we may be able to provide them with a space so that they can have community impact.

For people that are in this sector they’re probably very familiar with our Schedule A where we have to plot out you’re going to do this many conversation circles, you’re going to do this many — and I think when we look at that, that’s when we’ll set goals where you know what? Of these 10 other community events that we’re supposed to deliver, let’s commit to 2 or 3 of them being an invitation to someone from Aamjiwnaang. So, I think that’s how the process is going to work.

Tyler

It’s not necessarily uncommon or it’s fairly common for Community Connections programs to do projects or programs that are designed to get newcomers and Canadians of European descent together to learn about each other and share their cultures and experiences and what have you, but your program that is bringing together newcomer youth and First Nations youth, I suspect that that’s maybe a bit less common or even unique.

Why do you believe it’s so important for other agencies to try and do something like this to build the bridges and relationships between these two groups and to get them on the same page of like we have similar struggles and so on?

Roxanne

So, if we think about when we deliver newcomer programs, we don’t deliver necessarily newcomer programs to people based on where they come from geographically. Not always. It’s usually it’s just you deliver newcomer programs to all newcomers. So, you have people that, regardless of the fact that they may look different, they have similar needs and challenges and we should bring them together so that together they can work towards addressing those challenges or overcoming those challenges and having success.

And with regards to engaging with First Nations, I mean, we all know that with truth and reconciliation that it’s important as a nation that we engage with First Nations communities and learn from them. And it’s really kind of that first step of acknowledgement and learning.

Tyler

Roxanne, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it..

Roxanne

Oh, well thank you.

Tyler

Well, there’s certainly something special about bringing together some of our earliest and most recent communities. Thanks to Roxanne for taking the time to share it with the network.

 If you’ve got a similar project, let me know: tyler@cciottowa.ca

 Thanks for listening to this episode of “Innovations in Integration” produced by the Community Integration Network, an IRCC funded initiative of the Catholic Centre for Immigrants in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. For more information about CIN and our other professional development offerings, please visit: www.cin-ric.ca or email us: info@cin-ric.ca

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.