Celebrating the strength and diversity of our community - West Neighbourhood House

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Dear Friends of the House,

The calendar changed to 2024 and a new year always brings optimism for new beginnings, and new aspirations for the future.

The beginning of each year also brings some special events. The House hosted a number of gatherings together with staff and the community that marked Black History Month and the Lunar New Year. It has been a welcome change from not too long ago, when most programs were operating remotely.

We have been able to welcome new people into our community, as well as welcome back familiar faces, through more in-person programming, events, and celebrations.

This emphasizes one of our organization’s values, neighbourhood-based and community-centered. That means we are ‘place-based’ and we see the House as an asset belonging to the community. We commit to honouring the different traditions, histories, languages, and cultural experiences that make up the community in which we are a part.

April is also Volunteer Month! We celebrate the incredible group of volunteers who donate their time and effort to serving their community.

Read below to learn more about what has been happening at the House.

Celebrating our wonderful volunteers!

April is national volunteer month!

We are grateful for your willingness to give your time, energy, and talents. Your support of West Neighbourhood House allows us to continue fulfilling our goal of building a resilient and inclusive community.

We thank you all!

The House is always looking for volunteers to support our programs. For current volunteer opportunities, please visit westnh.org/volunteer/.  Call 416-532-4828, ext. 171 or email volunteers@westnh.org for more information.

If you would like to apply, complete application form:

Sign Up

Newcomer volunteer giving back to community and building connections as a literacy tutor.

Volunteer tutor writing on a board
Rahul volunteers in the Adult Literacy Program teaching English-language skills

Rahul arrived in Canada as a newcomer during the pandemic. “When I came to this country in 2021, I didn’t know too many people,” he says. On his regular commute on the 511 Bathurst streetcar, he began taking notice of the large West Neighbourhood House sign at our 588 Queen Street West location and decided to see about volunteering opportunities.

“I had been wanting to do some volunteering for a long time. And, I had some time available after work in the evenings.”

“I also thought volunteering was a great opportunity for me to meet other members of the community. I like to think of this as my community now.”

Rahul has been an adult literacy tutor for over a year and sees one student, typically once a week. The Adult Literacy Program at West Neighbourhood House helps adults to improve their English-language skills, as well as basic/intermediate level math, through one-on-one individual lessons or in small groups.

Rahul was a teacher for a time back in India. “I thought it was a skill that I was not using. Since I had the skill, I thought, that I could put it to use here. That’s one aspect I liked. The other aspect is that I love reading and writing. I love to be able to show to someone else that there is great value in being able to read and write.”

“For me, it’s also about engaging with people from the community I live in. I like to think that I know people here [at West NH and the community at large]. I like to think I am making a valuable contribution.”

The student that Rahul sees has low proficiency in English, so Rahul concentrates on teaching English sounds and pronouncing words, and then completing full sentences. They do this primarily through reading texts, sometimes provided by staff. He has also been able to do a little writing with the student every week.

Rahul says that he has built a good friendship with his student. They were able to openly discuss their goals. Rahul looks for texts about topics that the student might find interesting. Eventually, the student is hoping to reach a level where they can read full articles in English on their own.

“We haven’t gotten there yet because the complexity of the language is maybe a little beyond their ability right now. He loves basketball and wants to read articles about basketball, I don’t want him to feel discouraged after a couple of attempts. So, we are building up to that.”

“We start putting everything in basic sentences, then enhancing them, adding quality descriptions and timelines. Eventually, we edit it, and check for grammar and spelling.”

Over the past year, Rahul has seen a notable improvement in his student’s English proficiency. “You can see what he was able to read when we started and what he’s able to read now. It’s not just that he’s able to read more complex words or complex texts but the ease with which he is doing it. And the confidence he has while he is doing it. All that is a great factor in what motivates me.” “It’s been rewarding to see someone grow and learn and improve in front of my eyes.”

The Adult Literacy Program needs volunteers to teach English-speaking adults language skills, reading and writing, and/or Math at a basic/intermediate level.

For a full description of the position, please visit: westnh.org/adultliteracytutor/

Celebrating the strength and resiliency of Black Canadians during Black History Month with the community.

Musicians perform at Black History Month event
Musician Moyo Rainos Mutamba performing at our Black History Month event in February.

Black History Month this year celebrated Black Canadian excellence. Throughout the month of February, the House hosted several different events with staff and the community.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee hosted a series of tea events with Associate Director, Zaria Duncan, who provided staff in attendance an opportunity to learn and discuss significant events and figures in the Black diaspora, past and present. The theme of these teas focussed on how Black history is always about Black futures, and by extension, as a lens, a profound prism through which we all must reconsider our place in the world and a way of seeing our shared futures.

There were also different events across various programs to commemorate Black History Month. At the Meeting Place drop-in,  the Writing Circle group discussed poems that focused on the Black experience in Canada, including personal stories that touched on what it means to be Black in Canada. Among the works discussed were writers Afua Cooper, Lillian Allen, and George Elliott Clarke, as well as lesser-known poets Audrey Esemezie, El Woods and Glenys Obasi. These poems were specifically selected for the members who participate in the group – a significant number are recent newcomers from different African nations.

The Adult Day Program, which offers social and recreational activities for people with physical and health challenges, including cognitive impairments, welcomed staff member Francisca Rocha to lead an activity in celebration of Black History Month. Staff and program participants listened to a playlist of songs from Black artists, which set the stage for discussion. As many of the participants are from Italian and Portuguese backgrounds, Francesca discussed collaborations between Sammy Davis Junior and Frank Sinatra, as well as Cesária Évora and Dulce Pontes. “It exemplifies that, we as people, are stronger and always go farther together,” she says.

The group also talked about Canadian Black women like Viola Desmond and Mary Ann Shadd whose activism was based on their lived experiences of confronting multiple forms of discrimination and who exemplified the ways Black women speak up and show up in their practices, creating community.

The group ended with a parting snack of baked Jamaican sweet potato with a scoop of Sweet N’Nice ice cream, a Black owned company, as a sweet reminder of the joy that can be found in the Black community.

In a separate event, the Adult Day program participants were treated to a capoeira demonstration, and discussion about its origins in the African community in Brazil.

Girl holding up painting
The Newcomer Youth Program created Black History Month-themed paintings that were displayed at our community event.

The month culminated with our celebratory Black History Month event at the Stan Meek Community Hall at our 248 Ossington location at the end of February. Associate Executive Director Zaria Duncan lead a discussion on the cultural impact of the Black community in Canada. The event included musical performances from Moyo Rainos Mutamba, activities, and catering from Chef Rae Adjei’s Black food sovereignty-focused social enterprise, The Abibiman Project.

A Trivia game saw prizes from A Different Booklist go to winners, including reads by Zalika Reid-Benta, Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi and Dionne Brand.

Hallmarks of our activities this year were celebrations of the multiple dimensions of Black history globally reflected in our neighbourhoods, and the role of Black women in shaping social change from struggles for liberation to promoting rights for all people experiencing oppression. Although Black History Month has ended the House continues our commitment to recognizing the strength and cultural contributions of the Black community, as well as challenging attitudes and combating systems of inequity and injustice all year round.

Wishing everyone a happy Losar/ Spring Festival/ Tet/ Lunar New Year!

Traditional Asian dancers in costumes
The Wah Wah Dance Group visited our 248 Ossington location to perform traditional dance.

Wishing everyone a happy Losar/ Spring Festival/ Tet/ Lunar New Year!

The House held a number of events to celebrate the Lunar New Year that welcomes the arrival of spring. The Older Adult Centre celebrated the start of the festivities with staff and community with a traditional dance performance by the Wah Wah Dance Group as well as an offering of a seasonal meal.

We also welcomed Anny He from SlowMaking for a Lunar Tea event with staff, to speak about traditional crafts and the work to preserve artisanal knowledge. The event was an excellent opportunity for staff to connect while learning about diverse cultural traditions of Asian communities celebrating at this time of the year.

Staff Tenzin Ngodup, Manager of Community Programs with the Older Adult Centre, brought Losar “Kapse” snacks. These deep-fried doughs are used to build traditional alters that are a symbol of wishes to cultivate generous hearts and invoke New Year blessings into the lives of our family, friends, and community.

Vietnamese spring rolls and other snacks were served, as well as treats from local Asian-owned businesses. The event was held at the end of the Spring Festival period, where sticky, rice dumplings are served to represent sticking together for the new year. We wish everyone health, happiness, and good fortune in 2024.

Promoting civic engagement among youth through photography.

Young man standing in front of art work
This program participant created a photo exhibition that highlighted our impact on the environment.

The Newcomer Youth Program, together with our partners North York Community House and OCASI, recently completed the Journey to Active Citizenship project, which encouraged youth to engage with the community.

The program participants spent four weeks learning photography techniques and how one can tell a story through a camera lens. They started from the prompt ‘Things We Like About and Things We Would Like to See Changed in Our Neighbourhood.’ Together with staff, the participants walked around the community to take photos. Some also chose to focus on a specific theme such as street art, city parks and people’s impact on the environment.

The photos were displayed to the public as part of an event at our 248 Ossington location. If you would like to see their work, please visit: westnh.org/activecitizenshipproject/

Stay in Touch!

There’s one more great — and totally free! — way you can help strengthen our community: Forward this email to someone you know who might be interested in the work of the House. Anyone can sign up to receive our emails by visiting westnh.org/newsletter!

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Photo of a heart with the caption Celebrating Volunteers We thank you all

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