2020 has certainly not been the year any of us expected. The global health crisis has been a test of our resilience. While it has kept us apart, it has also brought us together in new ways. It has highlighted our commitment to supporting each other because we know that community and connection are important now, more than ever before.

The strength of the NCC community runs deep. In 2019 we celebrated 40 years of community-building at the New Canadians Centre. Our seeds were sown by dedicated community volunteers who came together in the face of a global crisis, and we’ve seen that happen again this year.

Even as we kept apart, we have stayed connected. Here’s a look back at 12 Moments of Connection from 2020.

1. Celis Garcia proudly shows off the embroidery skills she’s been learning

In January 2020, volunteers from the Embroiderers’ Guild came forward with an offer to train newcomer women in the art of embroidery. The month-long training totalling over 30 hours provided a creative outlet for newcomer women like Celis to come together, learn a new skill, express themselves creatively, and build the social connections that contribute to a sense of belonging.

Read more: Creativity, Connection, and Skills Development with each stitch >>

2. emPOWERing Newcomer Women through Creative Entrepreneurship

In January 2020, the New Canadians Centre was a recipient of a grant from the federal Pilot Fund for Gender Equality administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough. Through this grant and working together with Madderhouse Textile Studios and Watson & Lou, we were able to design and deliver a new project: Creative Entrepreneurship for Newcomer Women – a unique entrepreneurial training experience for newcomer women who have a love of sewing and textiles. Thirteen newcomer women had the opportunity to learn about Creative Entrepreneurship from industry professionals. They went on to design and produce their own line of tea towels under the guidance of Leslie Menagh of Madderhouse. One participant recalled: “We found out through this project how supportive the community is of our work.

Read more: Training & Mentoring Newcomer Women in Creative Entrepreneurship – How we did it >>

3. Zoom: the new normal

In March, our lives changed. Very quickly. Our once-bustling office was now silent as staff shifted to remote work. At our March 18 staff meeting, we were introduced to the world of Zoom. We discussed how we could transition programs to virtual platforms and keep clients engaged. By the first week of April, all programs were back up and running virtually. New programs like a regular Women’s Group in Northumberland, additional English Conversation Groups, Youth Instagram Live sessions, and volunteer check-ins were introduced to meet the growing needs and ensure newcomers were still well-connected. Fabiola Contreras Carrasco, a newcomer and volunteer facilitator of the Women’s Group shared: “When that day arrived (to reconnect on Zoom), it was a very emotional moment. Chatting and chatting (as always), I could feel that big emotion from everybody. We needed this connection. This moment is for being together, for chatting and laughing, more than ever.”

Read more: Newcomer and Volunteer Facilitator recalls the emotional moment when she reconnected with her peers in the Women’s Group online >>

4. Miguel says “I wouldn’t have a life without the New Canadians Centre”

In the Spring, we shared a heartwarming story of 31-year-old Miguel Hernandez who had just completed work on a beautiful mural he calls his Love Letter to Canada at the New Canadians Centre entrance. An artist and former client of the NCC, Hernandez arrived in Peterborough in 2014 from Venezuela with no money, no prospects for a job and very little English. “When I needed the New Canadians Centre, they were there for me. For the first time in my life, I know I belong. I am fully integrated in this community. I’m so proud to call Peterborough home.” Because of this community, Miguel is now fluent in English. He is employed and also volunteers. Just like Miguel, who says he wouldn’t have a life without the New Canadians Centre, we wouldn’t be here without YOU! For 40 years, you’ve stood by us and helped us build a community where newcomers are welcome, inspired, encouraged and supported.

Read More: How this community changed Miguel’s life >>

5. As the pandemic raged on, newcomer women stepped up by sewing masks

When the need for Personal Protective Equipment emerged, newcomer women joined the community effort to fill the gap, donating their time and resources to sewing caps, headbands, and masks. Soon, a public need for quality reusable masks emerged. Expanding on an existing partnership with Maddershouse and Watson & Lou, several newcomer women were able to put the sewing skills they learned at the NCC into practice to answer that call. They banded together to form the Newcomer Sewing Crew with direction from Leslie Menagh of Madderhouse Textile Studios and support from the New Canadians Centre to produce a line of masks for sale exclusively at Watson & Lou. The group have gone on to take custom orders for Fleming College, PARN, and the Peterborough Regional Farmer’s Market.

Read More: How newcomer women are using their skills to meet needs during a crisis >>

6. #PtboIsMyHome Celebrates all the reasons that make PTBO home, for all

Each year on July 1, the Multicultural Canada Day Festival brings our community together for a celebration of our country’s birthday and the multiculturalism that is core to our national identity. This year, in place of celebrating in-person, we presented a range of alternative programming to celebrate Multicultural Canada Day with our community, virtually and physically distanced. Recognising that newcomers and their families have grown to be part of the rich cultural fabric that binds our community together, our theme was: “Peterborough Is My Home” — our chosen home that we love, cherish, and support. The month-long celebration included multicultural performances, cultural teachings, community art projects, profiles of immigrant entrepreneurs, and the popular Maple Mobile.

Read more: A vibrant and welcoming community like Peterborough deserves a celebration >>

7. Finding New and Creative Way to Engage Newcomers

Shifting programming to virtual platforms provided important avenues for newcomers in Peterborough and Northumberland to combat social isolation. To ensure newcomers are engaged and feel connected, facilitators of these programs have had to get creative. From delivering activity kits direct to doorsteps to ensure newcomer women and youth could participate in activities like painting and cooking together, to responding to the engagement styles of youth by adapting to platforms like Instagram Lives for discussions on important topics like wellbeing, employment, and belonging. To partnerships with organisations like B!ke to deliver donated bikes to newcomer children so they could safely discover their community in the summer.

Read More: Building community through new and creative methods >>

8. A Surprise Letter from a Former Client Reaffirms the Value of Connection

In mid-August, we received a lovely card from a past client and her family. The powerful words: “Dear NCC Angels, You make us feel like Peterborough is our home” served as a warm and welcome reminder of the importance of community and connection. Knowing that newcomers feel supported, loved, and at home, in Peterborough while building their new lives in Canada is so important to us. Thank you Peterborough for helping is do this!

Read the Letter: At home in Peterborough >>

9. Launching New Ways of Sharing Human Stories of Immigration and Integration

The Living Library Project is a multi-modal storytelling program of the New Canadians Centre which aims to share human stories of immigration and integration by highlighting diverse stories of transition, settlement, and belonging. In September 2020, we launched Season 1 of the Living Library Radio-Podcast Project in partnership with Trent Radio. This series tells the stories of newcomers living, working, and building their lives in Peterborough, Ontario. Season 1, consisting of six episodes tells their stories of home, belonging, loss, hope, community, and more. This radio-podcast series is produced by the New Canadians Centre in partnership with Trent Radio and hosted by Jill Staveley of Trent Radio.

Listen: Season 1 of the Living Library Radio-Podcast Project >>

10. With your Help, We Can Prioritise the Wellbeing, Success, and Growth of Newcomer Youth

Over the last year, a large focus has been placed on supporting the social integration, mental health and wellness of newcomer youth in Peterborough. In support of this, we have enhanced youth group programming opportunities, placing a focus on youth leadership, introduced a female experimental therapy group and participated in an Equine Assisted Learning program. In the summer, staff hosted drop-ins at Millenium Park for ice cream and physically distanced games and conversation. And just before the school year began, staff connected with new families to answer questions while dropping off Smile cookies. These opportunities provide youth with a chance to connect with peers and mentors while learning new skills and reflecting on their experiences in safe and welcoming environments.

Read More: Here’s one shining example of the power of connection – The Girls’ Group >>

11. Because of You, Newcomers like Thelma Dillon are Inspired to Give Back in their Communities

A long-time Zumba instructor at the Palisade Gardens Retirement Community in Cobourg, Thelma wanted to do something to lift people’s spirits and help them stay connected while they were in isolation, so she instructed Zumba classes outside in the courtyard beneath their balconies. “Everyone could see me and it made people very happy.” Originally from the Philippines, Thelma is a nurse, volunteer medical responder, and manager of the Northumberland Multicultural Dance Troupe. When she first arrived in Canada, Thelma says the New Canadians Centre played a major role in supporting her and helping her to form community connections. “I’m so grateful for the help and encouragement I received when I was a newcomer. The best way for me to say thank you is to help and support others. This is why we are here. To help and take care of one another.”

Read More: The Ripple Effect of Connection >>

12. YOU Got Us Through This Year. We are Together, Even When We Are Apart.

This year, we had to ask ourselves: How do we stay together when we are asked to keep apart? The answer: Because of YOU! Your generosity has kept newcomers together where they can maintain long-time friendships that build a sense of belonging. It has ensured newcomer youth continue to learn English and develop the skills they need to be successful. Because of your ongoing generosity this year, newcomer families are not isolated. They are hopeful. You change lives. When we are together. And even when we are apart. Because of You, we haven’t stopped.

Watch: This Is How You Change Lives >>