Almost everyone has experienced the feeling of entering completely new and unknown surroundings — whether it be starting at a new school, the first day of a job or even just trying out the new bakery that’s close to your house. A spark blooms in your chest, and the nerves and excitement mix together in a harmonious potion within your stomach. It’s a good feeling, but it can also be scary.


These exact emotions become almost tenfold for someone who moves to a new city, not to mention a new country. It’s hard to imagine what must go through the hearts and minds of immigrants when they first move to Canada and settle in somewhere. Getting accustomed to a new language, new traditions and new ways of living. Fortunately, newcomers in Durham Region have a multitude of resources to turn to in order to make the transition a little bit easier.


Community Development Council Durham (CDCD) is a non-profit organization that runs many programs, one of which is Community Connections. This program is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and works with permanent residents, live-in caregivers and convention refugees. Community Connections hosts a variety of different social activities for these newcomers to be able to practice English, engage in and learn about the community and socialize.  


These services are important to have in Durham now more than ever, according to Alana Andrews, a Community Connections worker at CDCD.


We’re seeing a rise in newcomers in Durham Region and expanding further east from Pickering to Bowmanville and Newcastle,” she said. “Even in northern Durham, in Port Perry and Uxbridge. The need for these services is rising.”


Community Connections also has volunteers from the community who assist them in being able to meet the increasing requirement for their services. These volunteers facilitate the program’s activities and dedicate time and effort to ensuring things run smoothly.


In an effort to expand the program’s efforts in eastern Durham, Community Connections has partnered with Oshawa Public Libraries to hold regular events for newcomers. More recently, the two groups have been conducting a monthly Ladies Social for Newcomers that takes place at the Library’s McLaughlin branch. The Social started in April of 2018 and has had steady participants since.


We felt the need for the program because moving to a new country, learning a new language, you can feel quite isolated,” said Valerie Day, a Community Engagement Associate at the Oshawa Public Library. “Giving people an opportunity to come out and socialize, have fun, have a few snacks and laugh goes a really long way.”


According to Andrews, there is a similar event for women held in Ajax that occurs bi-weekly throughout the year. The Social in collaboration with the library came after they noticed a need for an event like this in Oshawa.


“I think maybe 10 years ago, Oshawa didn’t have this many newcomers,” said Andrews. “So we decided to have a women’s group here and try it out on a monthly basis … if it gets a response like the one in Ajax then we’ll do it more frequently.”


At the Ladies Social for Newcomers, women who attend can take part in activities that include painting, making homemade body and lip scrubs, learning reflexology and more.


“We try to encourage as much participation and engagement in the group as we can,” said Andrews. “So we don’t want to just say ‘Today we’re doing this and that’s final,’ there’s no tests or anything, we kind of go with the flow.” Community Connections uses feedback from participants and volunteers in order to plan activities that are interesting and relevant to the group.


The Oshawa Public Library’s McLaughlin Branch hosts multiple events for community members in their large auditorium. Photo: Sukaina Jamil/Alma Latina Online Magazine


Another activity that Community Connections co-hosts with Oshawa Public Libraries is the English Conversation Circle, an event that is open for anyone to come and practice their English with other newcomers. The McLaughlin Branch is the perfect location for this friendly gathering as it is next door to a Durham Continuing Education school.


“We have newcomers from the school next door that come over and they get to practice their English in a friendly and laid-back sort of environment after school as well,” said Day.


However, these programs are not just for learning, they also serve to help create communities and friendships.


“Both the people in the English Conversation Circle and the Ladies Social for Newcomers, we celebrate with them when something great happens,” said Day. “One of our clients recently received her Canadian Citizenship, so everyone celebrated with her! And then on the other hand, if something bad happens, people can be comforted as well.”


These programs truly exemplify the real spirit of Durham Region, showcasing how collaboration and empathy are all it takes to better the lives of the people around you. In an era where people are saying that there is no longer a need for libraries and xenophobic rhetoric is spreading, the partnership between Community Development Council Durham and Oshawa Public Libraries stands to show that neither of these ideas have a place here.


“It’s great to build relationships with people,” said Day. “People will come into the library on a day where the program isn’t even happening and I’ll wave and we’ll have a quick chat. It’s building this sense of community, a sense of belonging and I know that I personally find that very rewarding.”

For more information about the services offered by Oshawa Public Libraries, check out their website here and make sure to sign up for their newsletter!


Learn more about the Community Development Council Durham here, including information about their settlement services, housing help and Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS) program.