Yes, thank you. Thank you very much for inviting me here.
My name is Jocelyne Hamel. I am the executive director of Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House, which is part of the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of British Columbia.
The focus of my presentation will be the role of neighbourhood houses in the settlement and integration of newcomers as a best practice to be looked at. Specifically, I will briefly discuss a case study in the neighbourhood house model and link some relevant research.
I am so happy to have had the opportunity to hear from my colleagues Mr. Hussein and Ms. Hamm first because I think there are some similarities. I am taking a slightly different tack with my presentation.
I want to start by sharing a short story from one of the respondents who participated in an evaluation of our food programs in 2017. Her name has been changed.
Like many immigrants, Aya found the process of adjusting to her new life in Vancouver difficult and lonely, that is, until she found her way to the cooking club program at the Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House. Through participation in these peer-run cooking workshops, Aya found a new way to engage with her community, make new friends and lift herself out of isolation.
For Aya, MPNH was “el punto de partida”, which means “a point of departure”, to try new things and to be more comfortable with people. “It took me out of my depression, the loneliness I felt. Now I feel useful. I feel happy and I feel more connected.”
From the cooking club, Aya joined a leadership training circle and started volunteering at the neighbourhood house to gain some work experience and confidence and skills. She said that this support and her experience in the cooking club gave her the courage to volunteer to help organize an event with other parents at her children's school.
Aya is now employed in a full-time permanent position at the neighbourhood house and is “excited to be able to help others like me”, she says.
Neighbourhood houses are community-based welcoming places where all people of any age, nationality or ability can find a way to connect with others and their community. They are multi-service agencies with which newcomers find many ways of initially engaging. Once newcomers are attached, they'll participate, lead and learn through a continuum of programs and services and community building.
The neighbourhood house model applies several principles and approaches such as being neighbourhood-based and rooted in the community; providing safe and welcoming places that are open and inclusive to all; taking participant-centred and grassroots community-building approaches; addressing local concerns and fostering civic engagement; offering multi-generational and intercultural programs and services and approaches; and using strength-based and asset-based approaches that focus on capacity building and catalyzing reciprocity.
I would also like to add that in B.C., neighbourhood houses have always been at the forefront of nurturing indigenous relationships in the community because that's where we are. We're in the community and we work with the people in the community.
Because of our focus on inclusion and connection, we foster intercultural interactions between indigenous people and others, including newcomers and refugees. These lead to more awareness and acceptance of indigenous cultures and history. Neighbourhood houses are also working very strategically towards truth and reconciliation goals at this moment in time.
Newcomers have multiple needs, and research indicates that neighbourhood houses are well placed to address settlement and integration needs through multiple service points and through a holistic approach. Neighbourhood Houses in Metro Vancouver is a four-year research project funded by a SSHRC insight grant, which focuses on several aspects of the neighbourhood model as a unique service delivery approach that responds to individual and community needs.
Briefly, some selected findings of this research relate to how neighbourhood houses build capacity for newcomers. Neighbourhood houses met newcomers' immediate settlement needs for service and integration by offering programs for children and intergenerational services, as well as many other services, not all of which are specifically settlement programs.
We create safe places of connection and support that break isolation and provide a sense of well-being and connection. We use a strength-based approach, which fosters aspirations and opportunities, builds confidence and skills, and nurtures the value of community participation. We offer leadership and volunteer opportunities that often help newcomers ladder up into job opportunities.
The research also specifies that newcomers reported larger increases in social capacity development than did the respondents born in Canada. The research shows that social capacity development for newcomers increases as their involvement in neighbourhood houses increases in length, intensity and variety.
Many programs and services are offered by neighbourhood houses that achieve the capacity building and neighbourhood connection for newcomers. The example I gave at the beginning of this presentation is typical for many newcomers who face economic barriers and food insecurity when they first settle. They turn to community organizations like ours for support.
All neighbourhood houses have food-related programs, ranging from food distribution services to cooking clubs and community kitchens, where groups of people come together to learn, cook and eat together. Often we find that newcomers come to food programs as an entry point and find many other services and programs that meet their needs once they walk through our doors.
In 2017, Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House conducted an evaluation process that focused on the impact of cooking programs and teaching kitchens on participants. The evaluation included in-depth interviews as well as a survey. We confirmed that our food programs have proven successful in improving participants' food and nutrition skills.
A more revealing impact, however, is that food programs are much more than just being about the food. The food programs also create social connections for people. Spending time together in the kitchen has helped people to develop strong social networks and helps them to break free from social isolation and connects them with life-enhancing supports, such as housing and lasting friendships.
We also learned that participants felt safe in practising English because they were in a welcoming environment. Even those who could not speak English at all were able to participate, because sign language was so much easier to use in a kitchen than in other areas.