Co-Founder of Journey Home Community Association
Rebecca has been volunteering in Burnaby for about twenty-nine years. Her volunteer work has included mentoring young mothers, especially those new to Canada, working with primary grade schoolchildren, and translating for Spanish speaking newcomers.
When her husband’s career took the family to Colombia for five years, many years ago, she got to experience being the newcomer in a different language and culture. Rebecca who has always enjoyed caring for those in need came back to Canada and began connecting with newly arrived Latin Americans through a Spanish-speaking church.
In 2005 Rebecca co-founded Journey Home Community Association, which helps refugee claimants with settlement issues. She remembers how it began, “My husband and I asked what could we do to help refugee claimants and their families. For example, we knew of a family with two small children who had to sleep in a downtown homeless shelter because they knew of no other options. We needed to step in.”
Journey Home Community Association is a faith-based organization. Rebecca says, “We have religious beliefs and tell people up front. Even if they are not religious, we still help them.”
Rebecca adds that often what new refugee claimants need is a friend; “We walk alongside as they go through the legal process. Everybody needs a helping hand. I’ll also visit and drink tea and bring lots of Kleenex.”
“Refugee claimants often can’t tell any family or friends where they are so you become their lifeline.”
Her own home has become an informal ‘centre for inclusion’. She and her family invite new arrivals to share meals and conversation. As well as introducing Canadian culture, Rebecca asks guests to share theirs. She says, “Each culture has great value and newcomers need to speak about theirs.”
Rebecca remembers a recent conversation: “Every culture eats bread. The other day we got into a huge discussion about bread – who eats what, leavened or not, baked or fried. Even the babies quit crying – it was an important discussion! Afterwards we all burst into giggles – we’d spent 45 minutes discussing bread. Even those who understood little were engaged.”
Rebecca says that Burnaby is making great strides in becoming friendlier, and that we can each help. “Put on your shoes, get out of your house and go find an agency to volunteer. Reach out to your neighbors – do you know everybody on your street, especially the ones who don’t look like you? Ask what they need; what do you need me to do?”
“Think about how you can make a difference in someone’s life. Start small. You can always have somebody over for tea. It’s the idea that you can make a difference in someone’s life. That’s part of being Canadian. We all came from a different country – most of us did three or four generations ago. Someone helped our grandparents, now we need to pay it forward.”