Family Programs Manager, South Burnaby Neighborhood House
Maheen came to Canada as a refugee from Iran in 1986 with her husband and daughter. She understands what if feels like to be a newcomer. “Being in a new country, I had no idea what was out there. It’s almost like I couldn’t breathe – how will I make it here?”
When Maheen was looking for a preschool for her daughter she heard about Neighbourhood Houses and their involvement with the local community.
She fell in love in with the Neighbourhood Houses. She says, “There are always a hundred different things happening… it was the warmth of the people working there that attracted me.”
Her involvement began on her first visit. She recalls, “I just walked in to register and was asked if I wanted to be involved… would I want to do a Persian dinner? I was so amazed that somebody was interested in my culture. That was my first involvement with a Neighborhood House. It was a great experience, and one thing led to another.” Since that initial volunteer cooking experience she has stayed with the Neighbourhood House organization and is now the Family Programs Manager.
Maheen believes that making communities welcoming and inclusive is an honour and the responsibility of everyone.
A client once said to her, “I want to be wanted – I want someone to need me to do something.” Maheen says, “At SBHS we give everyone something to do”. Her co-workers say she has a special ability to gently and gradually involve newcomers until they become leaders themselves. When people walk into the Neighbourhood House and say it feels like home, Maheen knows that she and all the staff at the Neighbourhood House have made a difference. She has never wanted to work anywhere else.
Maheen knows how important it is to be open-minded and not afraid to learn new ways. She says, “Change is good. I encourage everyone to try to make friends – I hear from a lot of newcomers that it’s the hardest thing to do. Everybody’s afraid. My suggestion is simple; make the effort. Try.”
“Each of us needs to make a difference; what are we going to do to make a difference for a newcomer to Burnaby?”