The Salvation Army in Mississauga, Ont., is helping youth who are new to Canada build leadership skills, develop friendships and address community needs for low-income and new Canadians. The Newcomers Youth Leadership Building program began early this year at Mississauga Community Church and is available to youth ages 15 to 24.
With each session running for 15 weeks, the first six weeks of the program are dedicated to orientation where youth discuss the challenges they face as newcomers to Canada. They are also joined by a guest speaker, and there is a leadership component where youth learn how to be good stewards in their community. Following this, participants are taught how to do a community needs assessment and write a program proposal, which they later present to Salvation Army staff. The programs proposed by the youth are funded through The Salvation Army’s territorial innovation grants, and each group receives $1,500 toward their project.
“This program aims to help participants build confidence and communication skills, make friends, give back to the community and develop leadership skills,” says Cadet Mirna Dirani, corps officer (congregational ministries) at Mississauga Community Church.
One group decided to assist seniors in the community, who they found to be very isolated during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. They organized a meal for local seniors, which was attended by approximately 30 people who participated in activities, including planting and karaoke. Each senior was presented a gift and a note from a youth participant, and at each table, they sat with the seniors to get to know them.
Saif Alkadi, a 15-year-old participant in the program, says these types of events can really make a difference and spread joy to a senior. “It was such a great feeling just seeing how the seniors really enjoyed the event. They thanked us and they were happy,” says Saif.
Another group addressed other youth like themselves who need community services. They invited 20 young people for a presentation on services in the community, including food banks, health services, settlement services, employment support, shelters, and how to apply for university and colleges in the area. The young people who attended were also invited to join future Salvation Army Newcomers Youth Leadership Building programs.
The third group decided to support home-based small businesses with less than four employees. Seventeen-year-old team participant Shahd Alkadi says when they surveyed the public about community needs, many people talked about struggling small businesses. In May, the team hosted a family carnival in the church parking lot and invited 10 small business to be vendors. Each business received a booth to sell their products and free business cards created by the youth.
“Through this project we learned a lot about teamwork as well as leadership skills, stewardship, brainstorming strategies and how to communicate effectively,” says Shahd.
The long-term goal of the Newcomers Youth Leadership Building program is to encourage participants to keep attending youth group at the church every Wednesday evening and to develop their friendships and connections at the corps. Cadet Dirani says she hopes youth will help lead more projects next year and get involved in fundraising to keep the program running, and they will receive training sessions from the church’s fundraising co-ordinator to help accomplish that goal.
“The goal is really about building intentional relationships,” says Cadet Dirani. “It is also about seeing the change in youth and the friendships they build, the smiles and the fun they are having. The intent was for them to find somewhere they belong.”
Participant Jaweeria Sardar says the most memorable moments for her involved meeting new people and working on a project of this scope for the first time. “We are all newcomers to Canada who have only been here a year or two, so we got to share information and resources,” says Sardar. “In the beginning, we didn’t know anyone, but after the team-building activities, we knew so many new people and we spoke to each other about how things are in different countries.”
Most of the participants agree they will continue to come to youth group on Wednesday
evenings, and some say they will invite other friends and siblings to come along.
For more information or to get involved, contact Mississauga Community Church at (905) 279-3941.
Photos: Mississauga Community Church