June 21, 2017



Every parent wants the same things for their children; to be happy, to be safe and healthy, and to have a fulfilling life. Imagine arriving in a new country as an immigrant or a refugee fleeing from war and conflict. Imagine the powerful need to feel a sense of safety and belonging. How do we, as a community, welcome newcomers and support them in settling?

A 2017 City of Guelph report estimated that 100-200 refugees recently came to the Guelph area because of the strong labour market and because Guelph has a welcoming reputation. This is evident in community support such as the Welcome to Guelph Pass, a free yearly membership at the YMCA, and the Children's Foundation's own Free to Play Program. Working with partners like Immigrant Services of Guelph-Wellington and the County of Wellington Settlement and Social Services, Free to Play provides newcomers the chance to have their children take part sports, arts, music, and camps.

Settling can be a very overwhelming process for families and especially for children. One parent wrote:

“I just want to say thank you so much for your support. It made all the difference in our lives. It was wonderful for the kids to be in the activities as they had recently arrived in Canada and needed some space for adaptation and leisure. The immigration process is overwhelming for the kids that don't clearly understand what is happening and why.”

Thankfully for recent Syrian refugees, they have had the support of sponsor groups to help navigate the myriad of things needed to settle, including finding help for their children to participate in recreational activities. One member of a Syrian sponsor group wrote to us saying:

“I just wanted to say how fantastic your support has been for their children. They are dealing with so much from the trauma of their past to the culture shock of being someplace new and having some activities that are fun, that allow them to lose themselves in Tae Kwon Do or guitar, provides some peace, some normalcy, some belonging. They could not have enrolled their children in these activities without you.”

According to renowned psychologist, Jean Piaget, “play is the work of childhood”, and the value of play goes beyond simply having fun - although don’t underestimate the tremendous value of fun! The benefits are plentiful including development of social skills, language skills, team-building and leadership skills, physical fitness, stress release and fostering belonging. You never know the far-reaching impact on a child for scoring the winning goal for their soccer team, or overcoming shyness when performing in a dance recital, or forging a forever-friendship at summer camp.

Here are a few more words from refugee and immigrant families expressing their gratitude for the Free to Play Program. We are proud to be a small part of the welcoming community that stretches across Canada and know that without the support of our generous community of donors, being able to provide a sense of inclusiveness and belonging would not be possible.

 “Being new residents in Guelph, getting my child in a dance school where she has felt the warm welcome and inclusiveness in the school made me very happy. She has made new friends and also is very keen to participate more socially.” ~ Mom of 12-year-old hip-hop dancer

 “According to what we have been through the last couple of years, I have never thought that my son with his condition will have the chance to do a normal activity like other kids, like learn music or even go to a swimming pool for swimming. I am so thankful that we are here in Canada to know exactly what humanity is.” ~ Parent of 7-year-old boy

“I have no words to tell you how thankful we are. It is been amazing to realize that this country is really interested in wellness of newcomers.”  ~ Parent of 10-year-old gymnast