Originally from Ontario, Eilish moved to Saskatoon when her husband took a job here four years ago. Hoping to make social connections, Eilish knocked on GGP’s door and inquired about volunteering. Since then, Eilish has been a reliable volunteer in GGP English classes, Conversation Circle, and other programs, contributing her business acumen developed as an entrepreneur and in her corporate IT career.
In conversations with students, Eilish found that many newcomers had interesting business plans that motivated them to improve their English. “I’m always interested to know, what did you do before you came to Canada and what do you want to do now? It was really interesting to see how people pivot because you have to in some cases. It’s a huge challenge because many people can’t hop into their same profession in Canada. And people are willing to make that trade off.”
For newcomers wanting a sounding board for their business idea or information about what their professional pivot might take, Eilish was a supportive resource. She also managed to draw from her knowledge of various industries to help clients navigate various issues. For example, when a client’s car suffered irreparable damage due to a flood, Eilish drew from her family’s lengthy experience in collision repair to help the client understand how the insurance process worked.
What Eilish liked most about volunteering in GGP classes was that “you would meet this wide variety of people, but in the class, everyone was equal, and everyone was patient while the other person spoke or tried to convey their ideas. Some were from professions and some were not, but it didn’t matter in the GGP class. Everyone’s trying to communicate, and that makes it a level playing field.”
In addition to English classes and Conversation Circle, Eilish volunteered with Coffee and Conversation and BrightStart!, a program for moms with preschool aged children. Eilish also enjoyed experiencing parts of the city for the first time with GGP participants. Through Family, Fun & Fit, Eilish helped facilitate groups to Wanuskewin, Remai Modern, and skiing in the park. “That was fun because I felt like I was going as a tourist,” she says.
Reflecting on what she has gained from volunteering with GGP, Eilish says that among other things, her cooking has improved. “The students would make fantastic meals. I was helping them learn English while I learned about their cultures and how to make better food.”
Moreover, Eilish says that through volunteering, “My assumptions are always being adjusted.” Talking to newcomers, hearing about their backgrounds has reinforced the importance of giving space and understanding to people “because everybody’s got a story.”
“In Toronto, I was very busy with my own life so I didn’t think too much about people from different cultures, and I think more about them now. I think there are a lot of excellent people coming to Canada, the potential and talent is great and Canada will be better for it. I think we’ll have a better democracy.”
We are sad to say goodbye to Eilish. Her husband is retiring and they’re moving back to Toronto. They look forward to reconnecting with family and friends as well as traveling when it’s safe to do so. We hope to see Eilish again when she returns for a future Jazz Fest. We’re grateful to Eilish for her dedication and for spending so much of her time in Saskatoon with us!
For those considering volunteering with GGP, Eilish says she would recommend it to anyone. “The people are kind and encouraging; it’s a nice environment. I got started out of a need for social connection and it fit with my interest. I feel really current and like I’m feeling the pulse, as opposed to staying in your bubble, which makes your world a little bit smaller. “