Mentoring Because You Can

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By Claudio Munoz

In general, Canadians are happy with their jobs. In the 2008 Kelly Global Workforce Index, prepared and published by Kelly Services, 64 percent of Canadian respondents said they were happy with their career choice. And even though they felt that school prepared them well for the “real” world, they would have loved to stay a little bit longer in the classroom.

If we dig a little deeper, though, we’ll see that immigrant families already know this. Children of immigrants tend to achieve higher levels of education than children of Canadian-born parents. More than 65 percent of children of newcomer parents from China and India, for example, complete university (and sooner).

That sounds good. It means quite a big responsibility too. Yes, you’re supposed to adapt, make new friends, get good grades, help at home, maybe catch up with some movies and music or improve your texting skills… on top of that you need to start working on your dreams and aspirations.

The sooner you know what you want to be, the better because it’s not an easy task. Besides school counselling, how can you get on the right track? How can you find out what you want to do with your life? Is it possible to try a career first to see if you really like it?

A role model can make the difference

There are a number of programs for young immigrants getting settled, or looking for a dream to start following. A few of them even offer hands-on experience in something you might like, or at least they would match you with an adult, or an already integrated immigrant as a mentor.

The host program available at TDSB’s Newcomer Services for Youth (NSY) is one of them. Funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada, young non-native Canadians are matched with adults, young Canadians or former-immigrants for academic guidance (if you are planning on secondary education), sports (to learn the ABC’s of practicing any sport you like in this country), or for social reasons (like making friends). You can also be matched with somebody already studying or working in the field in which you are interested.

“Youth really need mentorship and exposure,” says Joy Boatswain, Project Administrator from NSY Weston-Lawrence. “At this age, it is critical – if a young person has a dream – to have somebody who can grow them in that direction. I think that’s the foremost need in here, that when they have a dream that dream is cultivated through mentorships, friendship, education and support so they can have a better chance.”

Newcomer Services for Youth offer plenty of other services. You can go there to find help to do your homework, or to assist you in your job search. You can go there just to check your e-mail or go on the internet. You can go there and just hang around if there’s nothing to do at home. While playing table tennis, you can also practise your English.

This program can truly help you to find your passion and help you get there. “(The program) exposes young people to different settings, places, people,” explains Boatswain. “For example, our field trips are a huge part of helping them to find their passion. Going to the art gallery, the museum, to Niagara Falls, when they see how pioneers – also immigrants – have been able to settle in, the exposure to volunteers and mentors who are in post secondary education programs… all that helps them find their passion.”

On a more basic level, there’s an employment specialist (called Mobile Career Directions Facilitator who can help them “gear towards determining what their passion is”, she says. Through a career exploration program they can find who they are, what they like, what skills come naturally to them, what do they like to do, and then they can align that with an academic program or a vocation in the future.

Do you want to be the next David Cronenberg or Deepa Mehta?

There are also “less traditional” approaches to finding your passion. The YMCA of Greater Toronto, working with Charles Street Video and through funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, created Voices: the YMCA Newcomer Youth Film Project.

Currently in their second “season”, Voices consists of a series of workshops in filmmaking. You can learn how to develop an idea into a story, write a script, use a video camera, shoot a video, set up lighting, use stop motion technology, and edit video using Final Cut Pro.

“One of the objectives of the program is to expose participants to the arts and culture scene in Toronto and to expose them to new career options that they might not have considered previously,” Carlos Hernandez, Community Relations and Promotions Coordinator at the YMCA of Greater Toronto – and master puppeteer of the project – says. “Some of them came from countries or cultures where the idea of a career in the arts is a no-no. There’s a lot of pressure from their parents to become professionals – a doctor, a lawyer – which is fair, because it happens everywhere, but not every person wants that.”

Participants not only get the chance to learn the filmmaking process but they can also start networking with people within the industry. They can also use their short film to apply to a media arts programs at colleges and universities, as part of their portfolio – or submit it into an established film festival in the city (one of the participants in the first group actually submitted his work.)

“There’s a learning experience. Not just in the hard skills but definitely in spiritual and mental growth,” Hernandez says. “There’s a transition that takes place because, in addition to learning about the whole filmmaking process, there’s an opportunity to develop new friendships, to work on their English skills; they get mentored by visiting artists from the industry in specific things like lighting, camera, editing or writing the script. Even when they are sharing their stories at development stages there’s a transition: It’s another part of their settlement, being exposed to new places, different cultures and new people in their own age range.”

The program is a deep and intense workshop on filmmaking! Participants get a glimpse of the entire process through lectures and practice and individual use of a camera for 48 to 72 hours. The first group of immigrant filmmakers went out in the middle of the winter to shoot their movies. Some members of that first generation are already pursuing a career in the arts.

And they are probably going to succeed. They know what they are doing, they have tried it before. They were exposed to a different world and found their passion. Now let’s take our seat and wait to see them on the big screen.


Newcomer Services for Youth operated by the Toronto District School Board
If you are from 13 to 24 years old, you can find:

  • Computers, internet, magazines, counsellors, tutors.
  • A safe place to practise your English, make friends or just hang out.
  • Host program, field trips, sport and recreational programs, translations, workshops and info sessions, homework club, career exploration, and many more services tailored to you.

The services are free. Funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.


Weston Finch
3424 Weston Rd, North York, M9M 2W1

4383 Kingston Rd, Scarborough, M1E 2N2

Weston Lawrence
1758 Weston Rd., Toronto, M9N 1V8

Malvern (Malvern Town Centre)
31 Tapscott Rd. Scarborough, M1B 4Y7


The YMCA Newcomer Youth Film Project

Registrationfor 2009 is now closed. The next cycle is expected to return in summer 2010.
Please check the YMCA of Greater Toronto website beginning in April 2010 for updates on the application process.

Voices is open to newcomer youth who are permanent residents (landed immigrants or convention refugees), 13 to 24 years of age who are committed to the schedule of the program.
Canadian citizens are not eligible. Applicants must be able to demonstrate clear artistic vision to be considered for an interview. Films can be completed individually, in pairs or in small groups. No more than 10 projects will be created over the course of the program.

Workshops are held at the YMCA of Greater Toronto, 42 Charles Street East, downtown.
Some post-production work took place at Charles Street Video at 65 Bellwoods Avenue, close to Trinity-Bellwoods Park.

Check Voices website for updates.

This program is a collaborative effort of the YMCA of Greater Toronto, Charles Street Video and Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

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