CultureLink Post Banner Newcomers on the Move with Mississauga Cycles

Newcomers On The Move With Mississauga Cycles

CultureLink Health and Recreation News, Mentorship News

Despite challenging times, the Mississauga Cycles project has continued for a second year, running a mentorship program for 32 newcomers in the city of Mississauga. Through the summer and Bike Month, newcomers and mentors connected to their city, by bike! Read their stories of growth, discovery, independence and adventure.

Riding Through Nature

“Amidst this pandemic, the Mississauga cycling program was a much-needed fun-filled activity this year. My experience has been amazing, thus far. I have made some good friends and riding along with them, I have enjoyed the summer and these beautiful fall colours now. The thrilling part for the rides would be the unexpected twist and turns. The idea is to get lost in the beauty and bounty of nature. My best rides have been exploring the fabulous scenic woody trails like Sugar Maple Woods, Culham, Etobicoke Creek and Erin Woods trails. Seeing the transition of colours as a newcomer just makes you love the place even more.”

Biking on Weekends

“We can say without any hesitation that biking has significantly enhanced our quality of life! We look forward to the weekends in anticipation of the trails we are going to discover on our bikes. It has given us a greater appreciation of the facilities that exist in the city with respect to biking. The online training program and the guidance from our mentor have been instrumental in instilling the confidence in us to go out there and discover different trails on our bikes as a family. We make it a point to do the ABC check every time we take out our bikes! We had made major plans for the summer but all of them had to be put on hold due to COVID. Biking has proved to be a silver lining in an otherwise stressful summer. It has ensured that we have been able to have fun in these difficult times. We would like to thank PMC and Mississauga Cycles Mentorship Program for not just giving us the bikes but also for efficiently organizing the entire process from distribution of bikes to providing training in road safety and finally assigning a mentor who has been extremely generous with his time and guidance.”

First-time Riders

“This was our first time biking experience in Canada and we were super excited as a family to begin our biking journey this summer when we received our bikes. Almost every day we used them to drive to a park some 3km from our home. Passing through small trails it was really great fun to enjoy as a family. Most importantly, this biking program has made my father-in-law completely independent in exploring nearby places and to visit the temple on his own. This has become a big mental stress relief for older people like him and we are very happy that he is able to go along with my kids to nearby stores without needing my car. Personally, I use the bike to go for long rides (25 km) almost every week which keeps me energized and healthy especially during pandemic days. I also must mention our mentors who are very supportive of this new journey which we will continue forever. They both helped us to explore new paths and trails which we weren’t aware and most importantly the staff team for their continued motivation for all of us.”

New Memories on Wheels

“This summer was different due to joining the cycling team in Mississauga. It was a different experience discovering the surrounding and amazing parks of Mississauga. There were unforgettable and interesting memories while riding with my kids to the school before winter comes, and this has never happened before. I would like to thank the staff and all mentors for their time and for sharing their experience with us. Looking forward to next summer with different stories!”

This project is a partnership between CultureLink and Peel Multicultural Council, with funding provided by the Region of Peel to support a network of bike hubs throughout the region.

Social Assistance for Newcomers

Rakesh Bhardwaj Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

Our settlement program workers receive many requests from clients who urgently need financial help, especially now during COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario Works (OW) provides temporary assistance towards the costs of housing and basic expenses for those who are not working or earning a very low income. It offers Financial assistance, Employment assistance and Emergency assistance available to people who are in a crisis or an emergency situation.
The law provides a list of who is not eligible for Ontario Works, yet it is not always clear who is eligible for assistance.

The Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is a provincial income support program available in Ontario for those who meet the definition of “a person with a disability” according to ODSP legislation, as well as demonstrating financial need. Recipients receive monthly shelter and basic needs amounts, and have access to a range of other benefits and entitlements.

To help clients with eligibility clarification and present the social assistance program updates, Yan Gu from LSP program in collaboration with Regini David from West Scarborough Community Legal Services hosted online workshop this month on Understanding extra benefits and updates for OW and ODSP.

The webinar covered the following topics:
– Overview of the OW and ODSP programs
– Changes to OW and ODSP government benefits due to Covid-19
– Social assistance and people with precarious immigration status

Canadian Citizenship application updates

Rakesh Bhardwaj Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

The immigration tests and citizenship ceremonies were put on hold in March 2020 to protect the health and safety of staff and clients, although new citizenship applications are still accepted by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

Citizenship comes with the right to vote and apply for a Canadian passport. Despite global travel restrictions, some people may still need to obtain citizenship for the employment, such as government or military jobs, or passports to travel due to social, political or financial reasons. Also many people who have already passed the tests and paid the fees expect their final step of taking the citizenship oath to provide a profound sense of belonging.

Meeting all these needs, IRCC has been offering virtual citizenship ceremonies over the last few months, as the most efficient and practical way to deal with a growing backlog of citizenship cases. Starting last week of September immigration officials have been scheduling appointments for in-person immigration and citizenship services.

With all these changes and updates many new immigrants find themselves in limbo regarding their citizenship application process. In response to multiple requests from the clients, LSP program settlement worker Claudia Montoya has recently presented an online session How to apply for Canadian Citizenship.

Clients received a guidance how to fill out the citizenship application form, to use the physical presence requirement calculator as well as detailed explanation why extra days spent abroad due to COVID-19 will not count as days in Canada.
More than 30 people attended this online workshop, and many of them also registered for the Citizenship Test Preparation 5-session virtual training started this week.

How Yiwen Became a Leader

Sarah Ahsan NOW News, SWIS News

October 12th, 2017 is a day that Yiwen will remember for the rest of her life. On that day, she got on a plane all by herself and travelled twelve hours to meet her family in Canada. She landed in a different country for the first time ever. Looking back at those first moments in Toronto, she says “I did not realize how different my life was going to be”.

A week after her arrival, she and her dad walked into her new high school: Central Technical School. She remembers being very nervous as neither of them could communicate in English well enough. Her father had asked a friend to translate for them, but she was busy and couldn’t come to school with them. However, she gave them a number to call and ask for help. The number was for one of CultureLink’s staff members, from the Settlement Workers in School team.

“She [the settlement worker] helped me register for school, select the courses and showed me the entire school. She also took me to the NOW club and invited me to a field trip the next day”. With a little help from us, Yiwen was all set to start classes. But it was on the field trip that she discovered that being new wasn’t all so bad. “Before this trip, I would have never imagined being able to make friends with a person from a totally different country and culture”, she explains, amazed at her own accomplishments. Not long after that, and to her own surprise, she was sharing her life stories in English, and speaking confidently too.

Almost three years have passed since the day it all began, and every now and then she thinks back and wonders what would have happened had she not come across CultureLink. How different her high school experience would have been. “Although I would probably still graduate successfully, have good grades and go to a good university as I planned, my experience would have never been the same. I would have missed all the fun I had with NOW Club during these years. I would not have met so many friendly people who support each other like families. I would even not have the opportunities to be able to present myself to others”.

For youth starting life in Canada, one of the greatest challenges is the language. Having trouble communicating poses a threat to their self-confidence. Yiwen remembers “I always thought that I was not good enough, and therefore was scared of standing up and talking about my ideas”. Programs such as NOW give them the opportunity to participate in a lot of lectures and meetings where they can improve their English. “During those sessions, I noticed the confidence in the eyes of previous peer leaders. I told myself, those are the people that I want to be”. She decided she would apply to be a peer leader the next year. She did, and she was selected.

“I could have never imagined that I would be able to use my strength to help others adapt to new studying environments as the old peer leaders did with me when I first came.” NOW is all of that and more. “Through these events, I even met some of my best friends and built life-long friendships with them”.

The best help you can receive as a newcomer is someone who understands what you are going through and who can inspire you to overcome all your fears, for he or she is proof that it can be done. “I really appreciate the help that I received from this club and from the teachers. These high school memories will be embedded in me forever”.

CultureLink Event Banner Youth Leadership

The Leaders of Today

CultureLink Summer Settlement Program, SWIS News, Youth News

Leadership doesn’t come with a title or seniority. Experience and hierarchy might give you authority and power, but do not make you a leader. Leadership has little to do with personality. One could be a low-key introvert with leadership skills. Leadership is the ability to listen to others and lead by example. Leaders act with determination and integrity. A leader is honest and patient, they express their thoughts while showing respect and appreciation to others. A potential leader is born every day and it is our job to prepare them for the future.

CultureLink’s Summer Settlement Program hosted two Leadership Training Sessions for youth this past month. Altogether, there were 38 participants between the ages of 14 and 24. Not only did they learn some essential Leadership Skills, but they also had a good time while doing so. The information as presented in an interactive way, which was essential to keep them engaged.

Thank you so much for today’s program, it was amazing. The leadership session was really good. It kept me entertained for more than an hour. Which is a really good thing.” – Binita Karmaker 

“The session was awesome! The most important part of the seminar was of course the information that was presented in an interesting way! Thanks so much!” –  Ayush Verma

We all need a confidence boost some times, but especially young people, as they navigate through life and changes within themselves. High school students were very appreciative of the lessons and tools provided.

“Being able to interact and learn from others made it so much easier to understand the factors of leadership. If I am given the chance, I would for sure take this opportunity again and join. I think other youth will make use of this session for leadership is something that is common especially in the lives of high school students. Presentations, assignments, activities etc.  leadership is needed and with what we’ve learnt yesterday, my confidence in my ability to lead has increased along with my knowledge. The strategies such as the OREO and SMART goals were what I liked the most, also the fact that it was a very interactive zoom meeting! Thank you so much for this!” – Niha

Our goal was to build an informative and enjoyable session for youth. Thankfully, the feedback received indicates we succeeded. Here’s to more empowered youth!

See other Summer Settlement Program activities this year: Youth Talent Show

CultureLink Post Banner A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

Tamara Rodriguez Mentorship News

Ramiro was a university professor in Cuba. He taught Political-Economic theory, sharing with students his knowledge and experience in working with different stakeholders to develop partnerships. This year, he moved to Canada. As a newcomer, his first goal was to find a job. He reached out to us hoping to find support in understanding the Canadian workplace environment and improving his resume and interview skills.

We invited him to join our Interview Squad program, where he would receive an enormous amount of information and practice on how to apply for jobs in Canada, and especially on the interview part of the process. The Interview Squad Mentors work to help participants tailor their resumes and run a number of mock interviews to prepare them for the real thing.

The program also includes a training session in ‘Diversity and Human Rights’. This session prepares participants for cross-cultural interactions in a professional setting. It also encourages respect for human diversity.

On special training sessions such as the one mentioned above, we ask participants to fill in a survey for feedback. From those surveys, we learned that Ramiro was impressed with how much information he received and how prepared he felt to start his life in Canada. He wrote:

“It was a very good time to learn about a lot of things, new definitions, concepts, history, and (to get) a feeling of belonging that has been developed in a brief time. Canada is a very multicultural society, the tools and knowledge provided in this training are just the beginning of a lifetime experience. This training has positively impacted me to become an active part in supporting and understanding people in my workplace, and society.”

Ramiro was also surprised by the news he received at the end of the Diversity training. The note continues:

“I would like to highlight the perfect timing of this training, and the happy news I received yesterday. I have been offered a job at Mount Sinai Hospital. This job, Healthcare  Screener, presents for me a very special opportunity to start building my career, interact with Canadian society, and pay forward the support provided by the Canadian government, even more in this unprecedented time of COVID-19. I am truly excited to start working. As a newcomer, I feel ready to transfer my skills and contributing to the safety of my workplace environment. Diversity and Human Rights training has been a perfect complement to face my first job experience in Canada.”

When we develop our programs, we think of the challenges newcomers face and try to provide solutions to their needs. It often escapes us, however, the impact of our contribution. That is until we read lines like this:

“My infinite gratitude to CultureLink’s staff, the Interview Squad program, and the mentors who supported me during this time. I grew personally and professionally, and as said previously, this is just the beginning of a lifetime experience, I want to keep growing and contributing to my new society”.

Congratulations Ramiro! We wish you nothing but all the very best in your new Canadian life.

CultureLink Event Banner ECC For Women

Ladies Night for Self-Improvement

CultureLink Mentorship News

It was the coldest season of the year 2017. Ahlam, 36 years old, arrived in Canada speaking very little English. Nervous about starting a life in a new culture and a new society, she decided to sign up for ESL (English as a Second Language) classes. She achieved CLB (Canadian Language Benchmarks) Level 3/4 and enrolled herself in the Food Handler Program, which she successfully completed. She was ready and eager to fully integrate into Canadian society as a successful woman but had to put her plans on hold to take care of her newborn baby.

In her new role as a full-time mom, she had to find a way to continue improving her English while taking care of her family at home. In her search for a class with flexible schedules, Ahlam came across CultureLink’s ‘SOS English Conversation Circle via WhatsApp’. She liked the idea of studying with an all-women group, and without leaving her house. The WhatsApp group was perfect as it allowed her to practice English while still being close to her growing family.

Our program helped Ahlam and other participants with their speaking, listening, writing and reading skills. It provided a safe space for them to makes mistakes, learn and improve their English.  For one hour a day, the group participated in listening to recordings and reading the chats, following a workbook created especially for these classes.

Ahlam was able to put into practice what she had previously learnt and appreciated having different teachers, with different experiences and teaching styles.

 “This is a great program. I hope it continues to help other ladies who are eager to improve their English Language skills and unable to attend daytime language school. It is also good for ladies who feel shy to speak or are worried about others making fun of them if they make mistakes. I am so grateful to have been a part of it. Thank you!”

Upon completion of the SOS English Conversation Circle, she took the language assessment at YMCA and showed remarkable progress (CLB level 4/5). She is now ready to take her Citizenship test.

Engage and Explore Nature

Sarah Ahsan Summer Settlement Program, SWIS News

CultureLink is hosting a FREE online program to support Newcomers (landed immigrants and convention refugees) who are new to Canada, want to practice English and learn about nature, common animals and plants found in the GTA neighbourhoods.

Participants will be introduced to land trusts and provided with an overview of some apps/tips that can help them learn more about the nature they are observing.

This program is offered in a workshop series of three virtual sessions for youth and families, on the following dates:

  • Tuesday, June 14 from 3:00 to 4:00 PM        
  • Wednesday, June 15 from 3:00 to 4:00 PM
  • Thursday, June 16, from 3:00 to 4:00 PM

Participants are welcome to attend as many sessions as they like. However, if they attend all sessions, they’ll receive a prize.

If you’re interested in participating, please register on Eventbrite.

As part of the registration process, you’ll need to complete a form and provide your permanent resident status information (copy of landing paper, permanent resident card or letter of convention refugee status).

For more information, please contact Dareen by email

Newcomer Youth Together Talent Show

Sarah Ahsan News, SWIS News

Our Program Worker – Settlement Worker in Schools, Constance Kendall, hosted a Talent show for the Newcomer Youth! On June 19th 2020, newcomer youth representatives from across the city of Toronto came together to share their talents and thoughts on these unprecedented times of the COVID 19 lockdown.

Youth displayed a variety of talents in this one hour zoom production which included dancing, singing, instrumental music and visual art displays. Participants in this online celebration included students and their family members, parents, Settlement Workers, agency staff, SWIS Coordinators and Managers.

All this was accomplished during this COVID season by youth coming together and sharing their talents to help encourage and uplift the spirit of others. This event was also the collaborative effort of Settlement Workers from the five Settlement Agencies across the City of Toronto. The agencies are CCS, CICS, Culturelink Community and Settlement Services, North York Community House and Thorncliffe Neighborhood Services

We thank and congratulate the youth on their performances and we hope that this will be the launch for future collaborative efforts amongst the youth and SEPT agency workers.

CultureLink Post Banner Bed and Chair

A Bed and a Chair

CultureLink SWIS News

Ayham is new to Canada, he lives alone in Toronto while all of his family is back in Syria. A few weeks ago, he called 211 in search of a nearby settlement agency that supports the LGBTQ community and was referred to CultureLink.

He was working at a drugstore to gain Canadian experience while studying to upgrade his mechanical engineering degree. But the pandemic hit, leaving him isolated and feeling lonely. When he reached out to Dareen, he told her not only about how hard it had been to make new friends since he arrived but also about his difficulty to move due to back pain. Dareen became “his only friend”, and as any good friend would, she did her best to help him.

Dareen contacted Robin, one of our very passionate and dedicated volunteers. Robin and her family wasted no time. They purchased a new bed frame and mattress that they delivered to Ayham’s residence. They also got him a desk chair, so that he could continue studying without any discomfort.

With a bed and a chair, he was happy at home, but he still lacked social connections. Robin connected him with some friends in the LGBTQ community. Through these connections, Ayham will find new friends and someone to mentor him through his settlement process in Canada. He was also connected with 519, he got a referral for the Furniture Bank and received other donations/assistance.

“Dear Dareen & Robin, I hope you are well, I just wanted to say thank you so much for your support. I really appreciate you taking the time to call, message and visit me. I am happy to have this office chair and an AMAZING comfortable bed 😊.  Again, thank you so much, I greatly appreciate your assistance with my settlement here in Toronto.”

CultureLink Post Banner Essential Masks

Essential Masks

CultureLink News

When the project started, we had only one sewer and one sewing machine. And then there were nine volunteer sewers and another eight who are waiting to join the team. Most of them speak Spanish as a first language, so we have a Spanish-speaking program worker helping them register with Sewing for Change, the organization we partnered with to provide the material and handle the logistics. The Sewing for Change Covid-19 Community Initiative provided several sewing machines and Deborah L. from Canada Sews Toronto translated patterns into Spanish.

CultureLInk Post Photo Essential Masks Volunteer

Ludys Herrerra, volunteer sewer

Project ‘Sew to Protect’

One Wednesday during a Staff Meeting via Zoom, Shakira had an idea she wanted to share. She works in our Settlement Workers in the Community Program and is in contact with many homeless shelters, women shelters and community agencies serving vulnerable people. Her closeness to these organizations made her aware of their need for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). She asked if CultureLink could start making cloth masks to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in these locations. Management readily agreed and a committee was formed. The team searched for partners and began recruiting volunteer sewers to get the project started.

Our goal is to support the essential work of community organizations by providing cloth face masks and other fabric PPE.

We expanded the call for volunteers to not only sewers with sewing machines, but also drivers, professional fabric cutters and office administration staff. The response has been overwhelming, around 100 people await confirmation to start producing and delivering masks. Because we are a Settlement Agency, we encouraged immigrants and newcomers to join the team. When language is a barrier, we help with translation. All residents of Toronto can and should take part in this initiative. We are all in this together.

LSP: Successful Digital Transformation

Rakesh Bhardwaj News, Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

With the library branches closed since the middle of March, our Library Settlement Partnerships (LSP) program workers have been working remotely. The team had to switch to digital service delivery and develop creative ideas to design new webinars and pieces of training for their clients, adding them to their everyday one-on-one settlement assistance. LSP program presented the current and upcoming online events and webinars at the Serving Newcomers: LSP Spring Event with the Toronto Public Library on June 9, 2020.

LSP’s Virtual 5-day Training for Citizenship Test Preparation, organized by the Mimico branch, was delivered in collaboration with Learning Enrichment Foundation. This online training covered a broad scope of interesting topics such as Canadian history, geography, governing system and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. More than 100 participants from all over Canada’s provinces and regions joined Zoom meeting to prepare for their Citizenship Test.

The virtual sessions organized by LSP Lillian H. Smith library branch resulted in dozens of participants feeling much more comfortable with online meetings and webinars. They enjoyed a workshop on Mental Wellness, special presentations and film screenings for Asian Heritage Month. Clients learned about the National Film Board of Canada’s YouTube Channel and how to use the Auto Translate functions to their preferred language.

LSP Eatonville branch hosted a workshop about EI Online Reporting that walked participants through the process of creating a My Service Canada account, then explained the system and emphasized the importance of completing the report regularly. Another workshop, “Understand Foreign Property Reporting” helped newcomers understand the types of foreign properties as well as their responsibility in filing the declaration and reporting in their personal tax return.

Additionally, in response to the growing needs of newcomers and low-income families, LSP staff joined a Community Volunteer Income Tax Program and offered a Virtual Tax Clinic to help to file taxes before the CRA deadline on June 30.

You can join upcoming webinars and sessions or receive assistance for filing your tax refund by sending emails to LSP program workers listed below.

Mimico-Centennial Branch
To register, contact Claudia Montoya via

  • June 15-19 – Citizenship Test Preparation: Virtual Training
  • July 8 – Dealing with COVID-related Financial Stress
  • August 19 – Elevator Pitch
  • September 5, 12 and 19 – The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth

Lillian H. Smith Branch
To register, contact  Stanley Teo via

  • Tax Clinic appointments until June 30
  • June 12 – Discover Parks Canada in ON #1: Pukaskwa National Park
  • June 25 – Responding and Fighting COVID Racism (Mandarin Session)
  • June 30 – Trans-Canada Summer NFB Film Screening/Discussion

Eatonville Branch
To register, contact Yan Gu via

  • Tax Clinic appointments until June 30
  • June 25 – Responding and Fighting COVID Racism (Mandarin Session)
CultureLink Slider Banner Eat at Home Campaign

150 Gift Cards Ready to be Distributed

CultureLink SWIS News

CultureLink’s Eat at Home to Learn at Home campaign raised $7,417.87 to provide food for the children of schools in Parkdale and Toronto’s Downtown-West area.

It all started with our SWIS team, concerned for the newcomer families they were trying to help during the pandemic. Some of those families relied on Student Nutrition Programs to provide their children with a healthy meal. Then quarantine started and they lost access to those programs. We had to do something for them, so we asked for help. And help we got. We received more than 70 individual donations over the course of three weeks!

With the funds received, we have purchased grocery store gift cards that are currently being distributed to parents in the mentioned neighbourhoods. Each $50 gift card will help them secure food for their growing children while schools remain closed and they continue to learn from home.

We want to express our sincere gratitude to all donors and people who helped us spread the campaign. Because you share our concern for others and thanks to your generosity, we are able to make things a little easier for newcomer families starting a new life in Canada during these strange times.

A special thanks to our campaign partners, Roncesvalles Refugee Relief, for your dedication to welcoming newcomers in our communities, and also to the Parkdale-High Park Rotary Club for their generous donation.

The challenges of getting settled in a new country continue and have been intensified during the lockdown. CultureLink’s dedicated staff are working remotely from their own homes to ensure that our clients have access to important information and resources. Our programs and events have transitioned to online formats where possible. Because of these changes in our operations, our clients and community members continue to gather to learn, break the isolation, share experiences and navigate their lives with the needed support and encouragement found in a welcoming -online- community environment.

CultureLink Bike to School project photo

Volunteers on Wheels

CultureLink Health and Recreation News

The ‘Families & Educators for Safe Cycling’ program is part of the Bike to School Project, our award-winning cycling program developed with Cycle Toronto. It provides free Cycling presentations and resources to schools, through a dedicated team of volunteers.

From Bike Host participant to Cycling advocate

One of our great volunteers at CultureLink’s Sustainable Communities department is Najia Zewari. Like many of the members of the Women’s Wellness Cafe, she connected and learned how to cycle as an adult newcomer from Afghanistan. With the support from Evergreen Brickworks and CultureLink Bike Host program, she learned the joys of cycling for recreation and transportation. Last year she sent letters to the mayor and several councillors in support of the new bike lanes in Thorncliffe and Flemingdon. She’s also the peer leader of Women’s Wellness Cafe and founder of the Women’s Cyclist Network. She connected the group with local bike groups, including the Gateway Bike Hub, Cycle Don Valley Midtown (CDVM) and Marc Garneau CI. Later she was a panel speaker at a major conference on cycling in Toronto, was elected Ward Co-Leader of CDVM, and is helping run campaigns for safe cycling infrastructure in her area on Overlea Blvd and Don Mill Rd.


Making his Neighbourhood Safer for Biking

Tom Eminowicz started working with CultureLink’s Bike to School Project a couple of years ago when he decided he wanted to help make his neighbourhood safer and better for people to ride bikes. He lives in Toronto’s east end with his partner and two girls and they all use bicycles, including a family cargo bike with a big bucket for the girls to sit in while dad pedals. Tom has been working with our ‘Families and Educators for Safe Cycling’ program to engage his school community with the Danforth Complete Street project. He attends public meetings, speaks face-to-face with decision-makers, writes reports outlining key safety issues along the corridor, and sits on a working group of local supporters hand-picked by a Toronto city councillor to help make the project a success. Tom’s hard work is paying off, as the city just announced plans to implement protected bike lanes along Danforth Ave, right through his neighbourhood.

CultureLink Post Banner Volunteering in Times of Covid

Volunteering in Times of Covid

CultureLink Mentorship News

Edward Haddad believes that “engaging the public with awareness sessions on various healthcare topics during this critical time is vital to model healthy behaviour, allow for efficient communication between the community and healthcare professionals and hope for a healthy environment.”

Edward is a PharmD student at the University of Waterloo and has been a volunteer with CultureLink’s Community Connections Mentorship Program (CCMP) since 2019. As a mentor for one of our English Conversation Circles, he shares his knowledge of the healthcare industry with our newcomer clients. The group meets weekly and our staff suggests health-related topics (based on the needs of the group, and requests made by participants) that he prepares to present during one of the sessions.

With this methodology, newcomers are able to practice their listening skills, improve reading comprehension of presentation slides, and gain confidence in speaking to ask questions and comment on the subject. When technical terminology is necessary, our staff is keen to help explain their meaning, and also to help translate difficult expressions from the participants’ native languages.

The quarantine has changed the way this program is delivered, but not its essence. Volunteers, more than ever, are committed to continuing to help our clients through virtual sessions. It is by sharing our knowledge that we create community.

Edward’s last presentation was titled ‘The Best Way to Deal with Covid-19 – Strengthening the Immune System Plus Other Preventive Methods’. Since the pandemic started, health has become a trending topic and participants had expressed the need for information on this subject. They learnt about the Coronavirus, and how to lead a comprehensive healthy lifestyle in order to boost their and their families’ immune systems. Edward went one step further and also made himself available to answer all of their questions after the presentation.

Thank You, Edward, we hope you know how much we appreciate your contribution and efforts.

CultureLink Post Banner Seniors Without Limits

Seniors Without Limits

CultureLink Uncategorised

A testimonial from Martha Galdamez, a Spanish-speaking Seniors’ Group participant:

One of the main things I want to let you know is what CultureLink means for me. Well, CultureLink is information, guidance, care, contentment and engagement that touch the seniors´ lives in a positive way.

By sharing and socializing with the Seniors’ group at this organization, our souls rejoice. Dora Ines and her team of volunteers make every single moment enjoyable, which results in great benefit to our physical and mental health.

We are thankful to belong to CultureLink because, in the middle of the isolation due to the Covid-19, they have been our company. They have met most of our needs in psychological, recreational, and social terms; even, we have been benefited from a weekly donation of veggies, document translation, online banking support, information from the government and health authorities etc. To have a virtual room, through the weekly meeting via zoom, has been a relief as we have the chance to see again most of our faces and to enjoy our songs, poems, stories and experiences told in our own voices.

We celebrate to be part of this amazing program that Culturelink created to support seniors without limits.

This testimony was shared via radio last month (May 2020).

Virtual Tax Clinic

Rakesh Bhardwaj News, Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

Our Volunteer Tax Clinic at Culturelink has been serving clients in person during the tax season for many years. But this year due to concerns surrounding COVID-19 pandemic and isolation the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has allowed community organizations to host free Virtual Tax Clinics through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP) while respecting physical distancing guidelines.

LSP program worker Yan Gu has been offering eligible clients virtual appointments for tax preparation services, helping to complete and file their tax returns in April and May through the phone, email or video conference interactions.

Like in-person free tax clinics, virtual tax help is available to anyone with a modest income and a simple tax situation, including newcomers to Canada, social assistance recipients, persons with disabilities and seniors.

Meeting the needs of some clients who didn’t feel comfortable to provide their personal information online, Yan organized Zoom group training session teaching clients how to use certified tax preparation software, such as Studio tax and Simpletax, to complete their own tax returns online.

CultureLink Event Banner MH Eating Healthy

Healthy Eating & Safe Shopping during COVID-19

Sarah Ahsan SWIS News

On April 30th, CultureLink’s SWIS and Newcomer Mental Health Program joint forces to hold a virtual health and nutrition session in conjunction with Sherbourne Health.

The hour-long session, led by a registered dietitian, was called Healthy Eating & Safe Shopping during COVID-19. This presentation was developed in response to the current climate of fear and anxiety around health and safety, as well as the prevalence of misinformation around safe shopping and eating practices during the pandemic.

The presentation explored healthy and culturally sensitive eating guidelines, shared recipe ideas that use limited fresh ingredients and non-perishable pantry items, dispelled myths around washing fruits, vegetables and packaging with soap, and explained current recommendations on how to safely disinfect and consume groceries after shopping. The session was well attended and the participants were engaged in asking questions and sharing their own practices, which feels particularly important during a time of isolation and uncertainty.

Upcoming events

After the success of this session, we have organized a second session called Kids’ Nutrition and Health during COVID-19, which will focus on guidelines and resources for keeping children healthy and happy during this time. The session will be held online on Thursday, May 28th at 2PM. For details or to register, please contact Janika Oza, School Settlement Worker, at


Go Digital with LSP: clients learn how to use e-resources

Rakesh Bhardwaj Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

Our Library Settlement Partnerships program started to deliver the programs online. The first step of this initiative for LSP Settlement Worker Stanley Teo was to organize ZOOM lessons for his clients.
An online workshop was conducted on May 1 with the TPL Outreach Service Specialist, who showed the clients how to use the most popular e-resources: RBDigital and Flipster for e-magazines, for movies and music Kanopy and Hoopla.
Over the next few weeks, Stanley will be ‘ZOOMing’ clients to the five National Parks in Ontario. Many of the clients had expressed interest in learning more about these parks as all of them had already visited and explored Rogue National Urban Park on a field trip with Stanley.

CultureLink Slider Banner Eat at Home Campaign

Eat at Home to Learn at Home

CultureLink Uncategorised

A Fundraising Campaign to feed the children of Parkdale and West Toronto Families in need.

In the city of Toronto, two in every five children go to school hungry each day. And every day, over 200 thousand students participate in Student Nutrition Programs at Schools across the city. With schools closed due to the pandemic, a lot of families are struggling to feed their children.

During quarantine, Settlement Programs have been listed as essential services in Canada. While schools are closed, CultureLink’s team of Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) is in regular contact with parents at home. They provide information about accessing benefits and offer support to kids learning from home. Most importantly, they help families access nutritious meals for their children throughout this crisis.

One can’t help but wonder though, are we doing enough? Is there anything else we can do to make things better? When asked what she wanted for her birthday, Lisa Randall, Manager of the SWIS Program, replied: “I want the children in Parkdale to have enough food to eat”.  And so the idea was born.

Children can’t learn if they are hungry

We have teamed up with Roncesvalles Refugee Relief to help secure food for the children of families who have lost access to the Student Nutrition Programs, in Parkdale and the South West Toronto area. Our goal is to raise $5,000 to feed at least 100 children between April 29th and May 19th. Can you help? Please use the form below to make a donation, or tell your friends about our campaign.

UPDATE May 6, 2020
We reached our first goal! New target: $8,000 – another 60 grocery cards to help even more families.

Roncesvalles Refugee Relief (RRR) is a group of residents in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. Moved by dangers and devastation faced by many families fleeing their homes and seeking asylum, they got together to find ways to help, and have so far sponsored 3 families (23 people altogether) to come to Canada. In 2015 they partnered with us to collect donations for our Distribution Centre, they organized a sewing machine drive and a bicycle drive and helped provide clothing and household goods for Syrian refugees.

CultureLink Post Banner Cybersecurity Alex Story

The Three-Month Journey of Alex

CultureLink Find a Job News

Alex Munoz Marin started the Cybersecurity Training Program with Culturelink on Nov 29, 2019.  He had no previous experience in IT, however, he brought his expertise in auditing for banking and commercial industries. With his background, he was able to transfer his skills and expertise to capitalize on the CSX training.

During the first part of the program, the week of Career Development Training at Culturelink, he demonstrated commitment and determination to the program. With our mentor’s help, he improved his interview skills and worked on his resume to match his previous experience and what he had learnt from the program.  He understood how to promote himself on LinkedIn and in the Canadian Job Market.

The next seven weeks are dedicated to specific Cybersecurity knowledge. After finishing the CSX Fundamentals, Alex qualifications were undeniable and he was matched with an employer.

On February 24, he started a new job in the role of Risk Analyst and Cybersecurity Specialist. His success story will continue, and we’re proud to say his journey started with the help of CultureLink’s Cybersecurity Team. Congratulations Alex!

CultureLink Post Photo Alex Story

Citizenship Test Preparation: Virtual Training series

Rakesh Bhardwaj Settlement in the Community News, Workshops and Group Sessions

On April 21, 2020 all 54 participants of our first Virtual Training for Citizenship Test Preparation were awarded with certificates of completion. The five days training was organized by Library Settlement Partnerships program worker Claudia Montoya in collaboration with Learning Enrichment Foundation.

Online model of Citizenship Test Preparation provided a broad scope of interest and participation, with a post reach of 31 700 users and participants from Montreal, Quebec province, Calgary and the GTA.

50 participants have joined second Virtual Training for Citizenship Test Preparation started on April 27 to learn and review Canadian history, geography, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, governing system and other Citizenship test topics.

Certificate sample

CultureLink Post Banner Wellness During Quarantine

Wellness During Quarantine

CultureLink Settlement in the Community News

In February 2020, CultureLink proudly launched the Newcomer Mental Health Program. The goal of this new program is to welcome newcomers and provide a range of wellness workshops to support a positive settlement experience.

In an environment of wellness together, the Newcomer Mental Health Program helps newcomers to learn new ways of coping, connecting and sharing with a like-minded community and learning new skills. Some of our group sessions so far have included information and resources in the community, nutrition, yoga, relationships & love language, sleep hygiene and self-care. Participants were able to improve their well-being and exercise self-reflection using journalism as a medium.

Our Activities Have Gone Virtual

As soon as the first six group sessions ended, the quarantine began. However, no form of isolation could stop our exciting new program from quickly transitioning to become an online and live zoom activity! April virtual groups in the works include a morning Chair Yoga session and a presentation on understanding relationships.

The next series of six group sessions start on April 22nd and will be led by Doris Rajan, an experienced facilitator, artist and writer. Participants will receive a certificate upon completion. To register, visit Creative Workshops for Women.

SWIS Event Reaches 2200

Sarah Ahsan SWIS News

Live Facebook Events reaches over 2,200 Hungarian ROMA clients in response to COVID-19

Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) is highlighting a valuable partnership that supports the Hungarian Roma community and is between The Neighborhood Office, Yorktown Family Services, West Neighborhood House and CultureLink Settlement and Community Services. This team of Hungarian speaking workers have set up meetings every other month for the past 10 years to share experiences and brainstorm about how to best support this community.

When quarantine came into effect, it was clear that the current situation needed rapid actions from the government, so the partnership thought it would be essential to inform the community about the changes and give them a forum to ask questions. A live Facebook Event was quickly planned early in April with over 1,000 viewers engaged. With so many changes happening on a daily basis, the following week, a second event where the team answered questions live reached over 2,200 viewers. It was an incredible response to an overwhelming need. The presentation is still available on Facebook. The team continues to meet and composes the main points to share with the public.

At this moment, smaller and more specific groups are being formed on Facebook for youth and families to meet once or twice weekly. This way, they will be able to divide the huge number of clients among the four partner agencies to provide more effective support. Right now, the most important need is to connect the students with the schools and their homework. The goal is to ease their uncertainty by giving youth a platform where they can share their feelings, ideas for session topics and meet with their peers while staying safe at home.

Partnership Team:                       

CultureLink Post Banner Biking Through COVID

Biking through Coronavirus

Kristin Health and Recreation News

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our city. Our hearts are with those suffering from the disease and all those working to help them get through it. It’s important that we all do what we can to stop the spread of the virus: stay home, wash our hands, and keep at least two metres of distance.

One interesting development during these challenging times has been the prominent role that cycling has taken on. From couriers delivering food and medical supplies to seniors, to essential service workers looking for an alternative to commuting by TTC, to isolated Torontonians running essential errands or getting their daily exercise. People all over the city are relying on their bicycles to keep them going through this pandemic.

CultureLink’s Cycling Programs

Thanks to CultureLink’s Sustainable Communities program, thousands of Torontonians have gained valuable experience cycling in the city, more valuable now than ever. Bike Host pairs newcomers with Toronto cyclist mentors, who lead them on rides meant to build their skills and introduce them to the city’s possibilities. The Bike to School Project provides cycling education, support for after-school bike clubs and help to engage with local safe street projects. The Bike Hub at 15 Tobermory teaches youth from the Jane and Finch community to repair their bikes or build a bike in their fully-equipped bike shop space within a TCHC tower. Mississauga Cycles operates another bike hub, runs another Bike Host program and promotes cycling in the GTHA’s largest suburb. Hopefully, all our clients are better equipped to use cycling to get around thanks to their time with us!

How to Bike Safely during the Pandemic

CultureLink’s partner organization Cycle Toronto recently worked with Toronto Public Health to develop guidelines for safe cycling during the COVID outbreak. They created a website to address key questions for those thinking about taking to the streets on two wheels, including:

  • Why do I need to practice social distancing?
  • So can I still ride my bike?
  • Can I ride with groups of friends?
  • I heard that parks are closed. Can I still ride on park trails?
  • How do I know where to ride?
  • Temporary active transportation routes: what’s the deal?
  • Where can I get my bike repaired?
  • Why have some places banned cycling?

Read more about staying safe on your bike during COVID-19 at Cycling in the Time of COVID-19

CultureLink Post Banner A Friendship Circle

A Circle of Friendship

CultureLink Mentorship News

Some of our Community Connections Mentorship Program workers host the Citizenship Education Circle at different Toronto Public Library branches. This is a 10-week program where participants from around the world get together to learn about Canada, practice for the citizenship test, socialize and break the isolation of the winter months. Some joke that everyone is so bundled up, to battle the cold, that you do not recognize your neighbours until spring!

Each week, some participants join the group after work, others come from school or home. Some have already applied for their citizenship but have not yet received their test date. A few are still thinking of applying and join the class to see what it is like. Janet liked the class so much that she brought her children, Kenneth and Myriam, and all of them passed their citizenship test in December 2019.

Some participants come back even after they have completed the 10 weeks. They like the friendliness of the group, and the opportunity to socialize, continue to learn about Canada, improve their English and find more information about their community. Elaina, for example, used to bring all three of her children to the group, but now she leaves them with their grandmother. She told the group she made the change so that Tuesday nights could be for her (self-care).

Learning about each other

Sofia told us that when her children mentioned some famous Canadian inventors they didn’t know about, she was able to tell them who they were. She had learned about them from the Canada Discovery Guide and was proud to answer quiz questions she learnt from it.

Another participant, Elaine, arrived one day carrying a beautiful multilayer cake that she made. The sour cream cake was created from a Russian recipe that her mother-in-law taught her. She also told the group about the potato soup she shared at home with her new friend Maria (from the group), who is from the Philippines.

Christen is one of two mentors that facilitate the group and support the participant’s learning. Below is a photo of her and Elaina, from Georgia, presenting her sweet creation to the group last February.

CultureLink Post Photo Crosscultural Communication

Sharing, caring and understanding each other helps unite a community, a town, a city and a country.

If you need a Citizenship Education Circle in your neighbourhood, please contact Lily at  or 416-588-6288, ext. 213

The libraries and community centers are temporarily closed. We are working remotely to serve you better.

Rakesh Bhardwaj News, Settlement in the Community News

We keep working providing telephone and virtual support to all our clients, delivering settlement services to the newcomers regardless of the immigration status.

To find COVID-19 community resources updates click COVID-19 Community Resources

Learn what financial, social, mental health and other supports are available during COVID-19 in Ontario: COVID-19 Support Available

We will keep you updated on the current events and future developments; we are planning to host the webinars meeting the needs of newcomers to Canada and all our clients who stay isolated at home.

If you require professional assistance with information and referrals about community, provincial or government resources regarding COVID-19, healthcare, legal issues, employment, housing, childcare, education, language training etc, please email OR call our settlement workers:

Claudia Montoya
Speaks Spanish

Shakira Quraishi
Speaks Farsi

Stanley Teo
Speaks Mandarin

Yan Gu
Speaks Mandarin

Our office is closed until further notice. But we are here for you.

Rakesh Bhardwaj Find a Job News, News

We keep working providing telephone and virtual support to all our clients.
Please stay updated on the current events, we are planning to develop and host a webinar series meeting the needs of the clients who are looking for their first job in Canada.

If you require professional assistance to determine what you need to become employed, to help you develop a job search strategy based on your skills, experience and circumstances, to know your employment rights or to improve your resume:

Please contact our Employment Specialists via email OR call and leave a voice message with your contact information:

Nadeen Abu Shaban (speaks French, Arabic)
Phone: 416-588-6288 ext.215

Warda Abdulsamed (Speaks Arabic)
Phone: 416-588-6288 ext.209

Employment Rights in Ontario Workshop

Rakesh Bhardwaj Find a Job News

Labour Market Assistance program in the partnership with the Workers Action Centre provided the participants with practical knowledge, facts and tools regarding Employment Rights in Ontario including minimum wage, overtime, employment termination, cash jobs, filing a complaint, vacation and public holidays, Employment Insurance application.

We received a great interest and positive feedback from the participants of this informative workshop.

Home Slider COVID Resources

COVID-19 Community Resources

CultureLink News

Our Main Office, Youth and Children Centre, Bike Hub and Parkdale Community Information Centre are closed and all group programs have been cancelled until further notice. However, our settlement and employment workers continue to offer support to clients via phone and email.

To provide our clients with a list of resources, we have gathered some of the information made available to the public. This list is by no means complete, nor is it necessarily an endorsement. New and emerging resources are surfacing daily and we will be updating this list regularly as more information becomes available.

Public Resources

From the Government of Canada

From the Province of Ontario

If you are concerned that you may have been exposed to or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, please start by visiting the Ministry of Health website and taking their self-assessment. Please do not visit a COVID-19 assessment centre unless you have symptoms. Do not call 911 unless it is an emergency. Contact your primary care provider or Telehealth Ontario at 1-866-797-0000 if you’re experiencing symptoms of the 2019 novel coronavirus.

From the City of Toronto