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Camp gives young 'newcomers' hands-on exposure to new community

'We’re trying our best to make all of our new families in our area comfortable. Some of them are coming out of some pretty traumatic things,' said co-ordinator
Students and their families get a hands-on feel for art at the Maclaren Art Centre on Thursday.

From city hall to the courthouse to the city’s beaches, this is a day camp with a twist. It's aimed at people who are new to Canada.

“We do have a lot of new families coming in from a lot of areas, Turkey and Afghanistan, along with those from Ukraine and other countries," said Christine Mink-Hiles, adult, continuing and community education and languages co-ordinator with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

“We’re trying our best to make all of our new families in our area comfortable. Some of them are coming out of some pretty traumatic things.”

While there are programs that reach into schools to meet and greet newcomers and their families, Mink-Hiles said there was a need to do something more to help them become comfortable in the community and the school system. 

The board was able to tap into provincial government funding to create a new summer pilot program they’ve called Learning about Canada Summer Camp for Newcomers, which is geared for all public education students and their families.

The group, which numbers up to 60, has travelled through Barrie on a city bus getting a broad taste of the community by experiencing its different features and meeting some of the people within it.

“It’s very interesting to see different places here and to know about them,” said Lorin, 18, who moved to Midland from Syria four months ago. 

Her sister, Mahabat, 15, enjoyed getting a chance to see Georgian College, although she’s eyeing other options for post-secondary education at the moment with the desire of becoming a dentist. 

“I like city hall,” added their sister, Rokie, 14,

Omasan, 11, who moved to Barrie from Nigeria a year ago, has been taken with the Spirit Catcher landmark at the waterfront.

Maclaren Art Centre education officer Christina Mancuso was keen to meet the group Wednesday, as a lead-up to more activities next week.

“I think for a lot of them it’s the first time coming into an art gallery and taking a look at contemporary art,” said Mancuso, keen to show off exhibits that include photography, abstract paintings and digital drawings.

Over the course of two weeks, students and families that recently arrived to the area get some hands-on learning about the place they now call home.

Starting last Monday and based out of St. Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Barrie’s south end, the group gathers online Mondays and Fridays to navigate the virtual world and develop their digital skills.

They then spend the intervening weekdays getting a hands-on feel for the area through field trips over the course of two weeks, using the school as their base.

“They take buses and charter buses we’ve arranged from all over the area from Tottenham, Bradford, we go all the way up north to Orillia and further over towards Collingwood and then our Barrie areas,” explained Mink-Hiles.

They’ve hiked the Ardagh Bluffs, had a tour of the courthouse and have met officials at city hall. Next week they are expecting to get a taste of rowing, canoeing and kayaking through clubs based at the Southshore Community Centre along with a history tour, scavenger hunt and hearing some of the local Indigenous stories.

The goal, said Mind-Hiles, is to help ease the newcomers’ immersion into their new community and make them comfortable here.

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About the Author: Marg. Bruineman

Marg. Bruineman is an award-winning journalist who focuses on justice issues and human interest stories
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