Volunteer Debbie: Building trust and sharing life with newcomers


Volunteer Debbie

A GGP mentor, Debbie has supported several newcomers and their families navigate life in Canada. Debbie, a regional manager of chaplaincy services in the federal correctional system, came to GGP two years ago after meeting a newcomer family at her church and helping them get established in Canada. Wanting to offer more newcomers support in their settlement journeys, Debbie has helped clients prep for the IELTS and Canadian citizenship exams, complete their ESL homework, and navigate an array of practical matters.  

To Debbie, it’s very important to demonstrate that she is a trusted source clients can reach out to, whether they have questions about a letter they received or need someone to patiently practice English with them. When assisting a client with a process like filling out forms Debbie makes sure to engage and “give the person the tools” to build their understanding.     

Debbie’s conscientiousness extends to all aspects, including food. Debbie regularly sees a family from Syria that she met through volunteering—they have remained part of one another’s pandemic bubble. Debbie cooked the family a Halal Thanksgiving dinner and says, “I took a picture of the turkey with the Halal packaging and the pan I was using so they would have confidence that I what I was giving them, they could actually eat. ” 

While Debbie is able to assist newcomers with various issues, she notes that it’s important to acknowledge her limits. Some goals that newcomers have, like getting family members to Canada quickly, aren’t always possible. “I work hard to have good boundaries and say what I can and can’t do.”  

Through building trust, Debbie enjoys a close level of friendship with some clients she has mentored. She has often been a guest in clients’ homes, which she doesn’t take for granted. “I appreciate that they’re comfortable having me in their homes, and they trust me with their business,” Debbie says.

“I am enriched by being invited into their context, participating in what their life is about. I can be here and you’re okay with me being here, and I don’t need anything extra or special. I can just be here with you. For me that’s golden.” 

Through “sharing life,” as Debbie says, she has played a role in memorable life moments for GGP clients. One client Debbie was mentoring—a woman from Korea named Jiae—was interested in volunteering so Debbie recommended a few places that suited Jiae’s background in palliative care. A care home that Debbie suggested contacting ended up hiring Jiae for a job!  

Also memorable for Debbie is simply the time she is “just able to sit with someone, and really for them to have those ‘aha moments’ of I understand that.” In the stretches of time spent sitting with someone, Debbie ends up hearing stories from the person’s life and migration journey. “I appreciate being there to offer some solace and honour their story; it has such value.”  

Debbie credits being a GGP volunteer with giving her new relationships and allowing her to glimpse life in other cultures, which builds “engagement and understanding, and makes things better for everybody.”  

“How do we build the bridge? Nobody can do it for thousands of people at a time, but I can be a bridge to 3 or 4 people for a while,” Debbie says. “You journey along for a stretch of the road. Some you part ways with and others you stay with for a stretch longer. I’m grateful to experience the cultures, family dynamics, and other aspects of life together.”