A project that connects newly-arrived government-assisted refugees with Canadian families is expanding beyond the GTA.
The Together Project matches groups of Canadian volunteers, called Welcome Groups, with refugee families. The Welcome Groups help the new families navigate everything from health care and education to culture and employment.
The project applies Canada's unique private refugee sponsorship model, which sees groups help newcomers for at least a year after their arrival to the country, to government-sponsored refugees.
The biggest difference is that Welcome Group volunteers aren't financially responsible for the families they're teamed up with.
"Government-assisted refugees in particular really seem to need some volunteer support," said Anna Hill, the director of the Together Project, which has been running since November 2016 in Toronto.
The project is looking for volunteers in London, Ottawa and Thunder Bay.
Helping with complexities of moving to Canada
"What we found is that there has been opportunities to augment the services that are provided by community agencies," said Hill. "Our target, by next spring, is to be working with 100 families and 100 welcome groups across the province."
The volunteers get training about how to work with the refugees, who come from a variety of countries.
The work can involve helping the newcomer families sign up for school, get a doctor, figure out grocery stores or sign up for extra-curricular activities.
"For people who have lived in a city for many years, it's easy to achieve things that may be very important to the newcomer families but that may seem quite daunting. It's simple things that can be very complex," Hill said.
The welcome groups and refugees also work with a cultural ambassador who helps translate. That cultural ambassador's role diminishes as the newcomer family's English improves.
Eventually, Hill would like to see the project expand to all Ontario cities.
Information about volunteering can be found on the project website.