Summer Programs for Newcomer Youth in Victoria

How can organizations better support and engage newcomers in their summer programming?

Organizations like the Inter-cultural Association of Greater Victoria (ICA) are leading efforts to empower newcomer youth through inclusive and impactful summer programs. In 2023, these initiatives not only provided recreational opportunities, but also served as platforms for cultural exchange, community engagement and youth empowerment in their communities.

In Victoria, newcomer youth received priority access to summer programs through the ICA. Thanks to government funding and facility and equipment support from the City of Victoria—and partner agencies like Power to Be and Greater Victoria Naturehood Society, among others—these programs offer an array of activities, ranging from sports to cultural events, at minimal to no cost for participants.

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“We have summer camps for our elementary- and middle-school-age youth, and for the older youth, we go camping. We have many evenings of just playing in the park, biking programs, food and garden programs and just exploring Victoria,” says Gita John-Iyam, ICA Youth & Family Services Coordinator.

“We want to encourage kid-led sessions, meaning that the program leads provide the equipment and space for youth to be active while they interact with one another and build friendships and do their own thing, play their own games. We make sure that it’s a safe space like a park and we bring snacks, lay out equipment and say, ‘Go and… play with your friends!’”

In 2022, a mentorship program led by Sport for Life, was also offered to 15 newcomer youth from three different organizations, including those from the ICA.

“It was nice for the youth to understand how important activity and movement are in their own life, and also think about their community,” says John-Iyam.

“Many of the youth who participated in the mentorship program have leadership aspirations, so it was nice to get them that training. Many came back and volunteered at our camps and they still volunteer today.”

ICA also supports participants in applying for funding through KidSport and JumpStart, so they can access local sports programs on a longer-term basis, like soccer or gymnastics.

When asked how to best support newcomer youth and provide programming that they will engage in, John-Iyam noted that it is primarily about having fun, community-oriented spaces for the youth to gather, and listening to the youth themselves—having them decide what a meaningful opportunity would be when it comes to activity and having a variety of activities for different abilities and interests.

This mindset helped ICA implement a climbing activity, with passes made available to a local climbing gym, and opportunities to try yoga at a downtown studio. For ICA youth participant Eman, her passion and enjoyment of climbing today was sparked through an initial homework club ICA hosted at her high school.

“I don’t think I had ever heard of rock climbing before. Honestly, I thought it was going to be so scary or hard, but I said, ‘I’ll give it a shot; I might like it.’ I went to the climbing program, and everybody there was so happy, welcoming and nice. I started to come more often with friends and bring more people,” she said.

Eman is climbing two to three times a week through the ICA.

“I never expected I would like it so much, that it would be one of my favourite activities to do with my friends. I’m not a professional climber, I do it for fun—and I’m really happy with it!” she says.

Born in Egypt, Eman moved to Canada in 2019 with her family. Since arriving in Victoria, the ICA has provided her with incredible opportunities to try new things and meet new people.

“It’s so nice that we, (newcomer families and youth) have them—I’m really grateful for that. The people at ICA are really kind and welcoming. I’m thankful for them,” she said.

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