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National Volunteer Week: Celebrating our Dedicated Welcome Session Volunteers

Welcome Session volunteers participating in a brainstorming session.
April 21, 2020

National Volunteer Week 2020 takes place this week, marking a time to applaud and celebrate Canada’s nearly 13 million volunteers. Among them, we want to acknowledge in particular the volunteers that make SCSC’s Welcome Sessions possible. 

We started Welcome Sessions one year ago — in partnership with the Atwater Library and Computer Centre, PRAIDA (le Programme régionale d’accueil et d’intégration des demandeurs d’asile), and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Urban Spaces — with the aim of welcoming newcomers to Montreal, easing the isolation upon arrival, sharing useful resources, and building connections with members of the community.

We began with a small group of volunteers, welcoming those residing at the YMCA and have since grown to conducting weekly sessions at both residences for asylum seekers in Montreal – the YMCA and Royal Victoria. Over this past year, 125 volunteers have welcomed a total of over 1,000 newcomers

These sessions are a citizen-led initiative and this volunteer week we would like to honor and recognize the amazing group of volunteers that have helped make Montreal a more welcoming and inclusive city. The diversity of Montreal is reflected in the languages volunteers have brought to these sessions including English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, and Kirundi. Our group of dedicated and diverse volunteers have enabled us to welcome people from more than 30 different countries. 

A number of volunteers have gone above and beyond the standard commitments of the Welcome Sessions by organizing winter clothing drives, book drives, and a holiday party as well as by contributing their knowledge of services and translation skills. Several of these volunteers are also part of the Welcome Sessions Advisory Committee that provides leadership to the broader group of volunteers and contributes to strategic planning for these sessions. 

The Advisory Committee members include Caroline Corbett-Thompson, Chloé Mancini, Farah Kashaf, Jessica Farber, Natasha Guerriero, Nelly Markovsky, and Tessie Nikuze, along with MSF members Jetske Duintjer, Audrey Beaulieu-Forest, and Marilyn Gauvin. In the face of COVID-19 our Welcome Sessions can no longer happen in-person, however, with the agile leadership of the Advisory Committee and the commitment of Welcome Session volunteers, we have been able to pivot to a phone-based model for these sessions.

As we wait for the moment when borders are reopened to asylum seekers and when we can safely return to welcoming newcomers in person and share the beauty of this city with them, we find strength in the continued care, support and resilience offered by Welcome Sessions volunteers who remain steadfast in their dedication to build an inclusive community.