(Editor’s Note: Volunteers at the YMCA of Greater Saint John are changing lives every day and this is especially true for those helping at Newcomer Connections. The following Y Blog is told by several Arrivals Team volunteers at the YMCA of Greater Saint John’s Newcomer Connections.)

Airport meetings are heartwarming and emotional

My journey as a volunteer with our newcomers was, and still is, very rewarding.

I began in January 2016 as a welcome team leader, with our church, to help with the influx of newcomers from Syria and other countries who came to Canada.

I spent, along with others, many interesting days and nights finding living accommodations, driving people to information sessions, grocery shopping, helping set up banking, making beds, cleaning, hanging curtains, playing with the children, serving food and so on.

The most rewarding for me was volunteering in mother/baby and adult English classes at the YMCA.

I became an expert at using sign language when communicating. But I also enjoyed learning Arabic. One of the first words I learned was “shurta” or “police” in English, and “yella!” or “Let’s go” in English.  I like to think that I taught one of our families the expression “Good job”! I almost cried when I heard the dad of one of my family’s say this to his son when he scored a goal in soccer.

I always enjoy going to the airport to meet our families – it’s a heartwarming and emotional time for me.

I remember a time, before COVID-19, when we welcomed several families, and set them up in the Colonial Inn. We bought them food and chatted with them in their hotel rooms. I remember commenting to one of the Syrian teens that I loved her slippers – they were very different. Her mother immediately jumped up off the bed and went into their adjoining room and came out with a new pair of those slippers – she wanted me to have them. I was so touched.

Newcomers are so very generous and loving, and I have always felt so blessed to know them.

I have a couple of families that I’m very close to, and visit often, and they call me their Canadian mother/grandmother. I feel very honored.

-Written by Wendy McCumber

Interested to learn customs and traditions

My wife and I started volunteering with the Arrivals Team about two and a half years ago.

We, and a group of friends, had sponsored a Syrian family to come to Saint John.  We raised the funds, found them a place to live, met them at the airport and acted as a resource for them as they settled into life in Saint John.  We liked the experience, and when we heard that the YMCA did this sort of thing, we decided to join in and try to help.

We have helped perhaps five to seven families.

The type of work we have done the most is on moving days.  When the family first arrives, they are housed in temporary housing until a permanent home is found for the family.  When it comes time to move into the permanent home, furniture has to be moved in and set up, curtains put up, beds assembled, beds made up, and cleaning done.  A big job, but many hands make light work!

We have also greeted families at the airport, and made a simple meal for a family to eat for their first night in Saint John.

Many good memories, one would be when we were a first friends with a family from Somalia.  Once they had found a permanent home, they invited us over for a traditional Somalian meal.  It was interesting to learn their customs and traditions, and the food was great!

-Written by Paul Fraser

Setting up accommodations is an exciting time

Helping out on the Arrivals Team is the perfect volunteer work for us. We are a small team of mostly retirees who come together when needed to help new refugee families.

We assist with many things. We help to organize the items donated to the furniture bank. We do small repairs to furniture.  Some of us have been know to wash and repair curtains.

Sometimes we did airport greetings.  Being at the airport to greet a new family on the final leg of their journey is so exciting. The families are exhausted from their long journey.  Often, they arrive here knowing not a single person. The new arrivals are just glad that someone is at the airport to greet them, help them with luggage, help with a taxi or ride to a hotel.

Sometimes, we will meet new families for the first time at the furniture bank. Helping them choose the things needed for their new home is always fun and a great way to introduce ourselves to each other.

It always amazes me the things we find. I remember helping a young man choose a dresser. We found an antique gentleman’s dresser made of walnut. He was so happy to own this exceptional piece of furniture. I hope the people who choose to donate items to the furniture bank know how much their donations are appreciated!”

Another time I was helping a woman from Africa choose furniture. She did not want a dresser because she did not have clothes to fill a dresser. I explained that in Canada we have two seasons and need two sets of clothes, so she would need a dresser. There was much laughter as we continued on our hunt for the perfect dresser!

Setting up the apartment is the most exciting day for us.  We meet at the new apartment and each of has a job. Dana and Nadine install curtain rods. John and Paul assemble beds. The rest of us sort thru boxes that have been delivered. We arrange the kitchen, making sure all the necessary kitchen things are there and we also make the beds.

One of my favourite things to do is leave a teddy bear or a book on the children’s beds. For me, it is important to leave a small gift of the child to discover.

As the apartment comes together it’s nice watch the faces of the new families. Their expressions change from apprehension, trepidation to relief.

The families are now ready to begin their next chapter in a new home, in a new city, in a new country.  We are proud to be a small part of the journey.

Written by Wendy Lockett