Sharing a Love for Language and Teaching through Volunteering

Each year, close to 120 newcomers are supported with their English Language learning and development through ESL groups offered for free at the New Canadians Centre. We’re deeply fortunate that each of these groups are facilitated by volunteers. Currently, we offer five ESL groups each week; a beginner and intermediate English Group, and three conversational groups open to students of all levels.

When former client Miguel Hernandez first arrived in Canada in 2014 from his homeland of Venezuela, he spoke very little English, and was afraid to speak because of his accent. It was in the classrooms of the New Canadians Centre’s Volunteer English Instructors Diane Cancilla and Susan Lawrence that Miguel began learning the language and gaining the confidence to speak. He shares, “They say there are angels put on this earth to guide us. Those angels were my English Language instructors at the NCC. Diane Cancilla and Susan Lawrence encouraged me to learn and to express myself. And my world changed. Doors started to open for me.”

Miguel’s words ring true for many newcomers. The warmth, compassion, patience, and generosity of volunteer ESL facilitators help open the doors to language, confidence, and belonging.

Volunteers mean the world to newcomers.

They help them learn, grow, and belong.

For both Diane Cancilla and Susan Lawrence, volunteering at the NCC as ESL Facilitators was a natural step following their careers in education; Diane as a secondary school teacher, and Susan an ESL teacher.

Diane found a special love for leading the Conversational English Group which she lead from 2011-2018. “Each week, I got to travel the globe and learn so much from the brave participants in the group. Conversational English is the portal to fitting into a new community.”

Diane was famous for infusing her sessions with activities that encouraged conversation while learning about Canada. Like cooking and carving pumpkins for Thanksgiving, food tastings, art, and creating vision cards. Little by little, students could get familiar with words and phrases while learning and having fun. The teacher in Diane was “delighted to witness the strengthening of language skills and the development of increasing comfort and confidence in the group. But even more important, was our sharing in the fun we had, and the sense of belonging – all as ONE.”

Diane Cancilla (r) with Miguel (second right) and other students in the Conversational English Group

Well known for teaching English through a range of activities, this memorable session involved envisioning your life and creating cards to represent it.

While volunteering at the NCC was like a traveling the globe each week for Diane, it was an opportunity to Turn Strangers into Friends for Susan.

Susan has facilitated a number of ESL groups at NCC at varying language levels; from beginner to advanced to conversational. At the heart of each group are the meaningful connections being fostered through language, Canadian history, arts, and culture. Susan shares, “we were having a lot of fun and learning at the same time. Sometimes sharing tears, other times jokes. We learnt how similar were all are, even with our differences. So wonderful to be part of the NCC community, working at turning strangers into friends.”

Susan’s students often inspired her. She says, “I felt privileged to learn their stories. I always felt I learned far more from my students than they ever learned from me.”

Susan Lawrence (l) with former student Fabiola Contreras Carrasco

It was a special moment for Fabiola Contreras Carrasco (right) when she was able to share her story of coming to Canada and learning English in Susan’s class at the New Canadians Centre during a special 40th Anniversary Celebration in September 2019. Susan was present to hear the impact her classes had on Fabiola.

Years after these classes, the impact can still be felt by many students. In the new Canadian traditions or phrases they learnt in class, in memories of the fun activities and the friends made, but especially in the sense of safety and comfort they felt in these classes.

Each year, the New Canadians Centre is supported by close to 500 volunteers each year. They support us in a number of ways from supporting new families, to faciliting social and language groups, to administrative help, and more. These volunteers play an important role in the successes that newcomers have while adjusting to their new life in Canada. The friendship, connections, resources, and outreach provided are invaluable to our newcomer families.

THANK YOU for standing with newcomers!

Happy #NationalVolunteerWeek to our incredible volunteers! We applaud you!