TORONTO — I’m early for my meeting with Joanna and Lea, so I’m sitting in the Jewish Immigrant Aid Service’s (JIAS) north office waiting room.
A young couple is sitting in front of me. We struggle a bit not to stare at each other, yet there’s something in the air. After awhile, we find ourselves chatting loudly in Hebrew. That is, Danny and I are. His wife seems quiet and worried.
“So,” I ask Danny, “what brings you to JIAS?”
Danny smiles. “We want to feel connected to a local Jewish community here in Thornhill Woods. We’d like to get some information about Jewish education for our kids, plus other programs that will help them integrate.”
“Meir?” Joanna Sasson-Morrison, the co-ordinator of community development services, enters the waiting room. “Please, come in.”
With us in the room is Lea Soibelman, a JIAS social worker. I start the interview for The CJN.
What was the reason for opening the new branch in the north?
Sasson-Morrison: We opened our north office at Bathurst and Rutherford because many current clients who originally settled in Toronto have moved to York Region. Plus, many families arriving today choose York Region as their first home. Recently, we also have a large number of sponsored parents (new immigrants to Canada sponsored by their Canadian resident children), who go to live with their children in York Region. All of these newcomers prefer to receive immigration, settlement and integration services closer to home.
How many families are registered here?
Soibelman: We’re serving close to 200 families, in addition to our LINC (Language Instruction for New Canadians) and ESL students who receive services at our York Region school at Dufferin Street and Steeles Avenue. We expect our numbers to grow, as many studies indicate that this area is projected to continue receiving high numbers of newcomers. Our services include individual and family counselling, as needed. For youth and children, we refer to appropriate services in York Region.
What kind of services does this office provide compared to those at the other JIAS office?
Soibelman: All of the same services are available in our York Region office (as in our other office). It’s a matter of providing the services in the location most convenient for our clients.
Draw me a typical profile of the clients in this branch.
Soibelman: We serve many Israeli families with young children. Also, the majority of sponsored parents are now residing in York Region. This is a change from the past when the majority of sponsored parents lived in Toronto.
Are there any activities to help newcomers blend into the community?
Sasson-Morrison: We run a variety of programs to help newcomers integrate into the community, such as English language programs, Conversation Café, youth groups, parenting seminars, Homework Club. We also hold workshops on the Canadian school system, getting ready for employment, etc. We serve as liaison with a number of community agencies, and refer our clients when appropriate.
Do you encourage the local community to volunteer with the immigrant community?
Sasson-Morrison: We welcome volunteers to participate. Our Homework Club and Conversation Café programs rely on volunteers. There is also a wonderful opportunity with our Family-to-Family for a local family to be matched with a newcomer family to share experiences together. JumpStart mentors are matched with newcomers from a similar professional program to help them learn about the Canadian labour market.
Does JIAS share any special programs with other Jewish organizations?
Sasson-Morrison: Our B’yachad program seeks to connect newcomers with different Jewish day schools and supplementary schools. We work with families, teachers and the administrations of the schools to ensure the child’s success in a particular school. We have a wonderful partnership with National Council of Jewish Women. Their volunteers distribute parcels for Passover to our newcomers (as well as to many other individuals in need) to help them celebrate the holiday.
Will you be launching any new programs soon?
Sasson-Morrison: ”When the Schwartz/Reisman Centre opens on the Lebovic campus (on north Bathurst Street) this fall, our York Region services will move there. We’ll be a part of a community service hub providing services alongside other Jewish community agencies. We look forward to this innovative and integrated approach to service delivery.
On my way out I meet Danny again. He looks satisfied.
“I’ve learned something about kol Yisrael chaverim (all Israel are friendly to one another). Our kids will have wonderful opportunities to partake in community programs,” he says.
And for the first time, his wife smiles.