Connecting with children can be a rewarding experience. When someone says thank you, it feels good.
This is what happened at a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) newcomers engagement project, held at various venues in St. Catharines, including Grantham Mennonite Brethren Church and a local library, from July 6 to Aug. 31. The project included activities at the local library on Wednesday mornings, and sports on Friday nights and Saturday mornings, followed by a literacy program at the church.
The free activities were for children and youth between the ages of 6 and 20 that are new to Canada. Each event was a uniquely designed opportunity to bring privately sponsored refugees and their sponsors together, to help with the settling and integrating of the newcomers into St. Catharines and the broader Niagara Region.
According to Moses Moini, MCC Ontario’s refugee program coordinator, MCC spearheaded the project with the goal of helping newcomer children and youth with school readiness, building social skills and increasing physical fitness. Newcomer children and youth often have limited opportunities to engage in such activities because of various barriers, including cultural norms, cost of programming and lack of awareness.
Through funding from Service Canada, MCC hired Lauren Anderson to serve as the newcomers engagement assistant for the region. She worked with the MCC refugee team to plan and implement the activities, including existing summer programs offered in St. Catharines.
The activities were run with the help of volunteers, and the Grantham MB church offered its space, helpers and sports equipment. Swimming tickets were provided by the City of St. Catharines program coordinator and the library led tours and activities.
The well-attended Saturday morning activities included team sports such as soccer, group games such as Capture the Flag, and free time with games of the participants’ personal choice. In the afternoon there was a story time; some reading and writing activities; and games, crafts and snacks related to the story.
Besides the regularly structured events, other outings were planned. A Links for Greener Learning garden party included a day of exploring the gardens, harvesting vegetables at the garden plot, cooking tomato sauce and making pizzas.
One little boy excitedly explained the face he put on his pizza with tomatoes and peppers, while a little girl said she enjoyed the time in the sensory garden feeling the different textures and smelling the different scents. Another girl translated for two older girls who had just arrived in Niagara and weren’t fluent in English yet.