On April 13, CIES and the University of Calgary came together to form the Arms Open Mentoring Program, a joint initiative aimed at providing Calgary newcomers with student mentors who will help them through the settlement process.
Newcomers face multiple barriers to their successful settlement, and unfamiliarity with both language and locale are two of the most daunting. Recent studies have demonstrated that the successful integration of refugees and newcomers often depends on a critical first few months where newly arrived immigrants establish key community connections. Being able to navigate their new communities effectively to meet their immediate as well as social and religious needs early on can have a significant impact on whether newcomers become socially and economically isolated or happily integrated.
Funded by the University of Calgary Student’s Union Committee of 10,000, the Arms Open program aims to help newly arrived refugees and newcomers find resources, connect with community and religious associations in the community, gain assistance establishing essential contacts, and ultimately help fast-track their settlement into Calgary. Through one-on-one consultations and follow-ups, University of Calgary student volunteers serve as mentor-guides to help CIES newcomers in tasks such as finding the most affordable place to shop for groceries, familiarization with public transportation, how to apply to get a discounted bus pass, setting up a bank account, acquiring a cell phone, where to get donated winter clothing for children, collecting requirements to apply to rent their first property, and other tasks and processes the newcomers need to engage in.
Conversely, serving as Arms Open program volunteers, university students and other members of the campus community have the opportunity to connect with individual newcomers from whom they can learn directly about the experience of being an immigrant or a refugee. This helps dispel misconceptions about newcomers, and allows the campus community to formulate understanding through direct contact. Finally, it allows university students and the campus community to establish new and potentially long-lasting connections with the newcomer community, as they play an important role at a crucial stage in their settlement in Calgary.
We sincerely thank the University of Calgary for the opportunity to offer this vital link in the settlement process. Watch this space for program updates and more news about our partnership.