Build Strong Support and Improve Mental Health through Volunteering
By Sally Phung-Ip, Coordinator of Volunteer Resources
For a lot of new immigrants, fitting into their new lives here in Canada is important. Canadians are known around the world for being friendly and helpful. What could be more Canadian than volunteering? Statistics from the latest census shows that 4 out of 10 Canadians choose to volunteer and donate their time, that’s about 14 Million people! Aside from the obvious benefit of gaining that elusive Canadian work experience employers are often looking for, volunteering is also a great way to make friends, expand your support network and improve your mental health.
When I first came to Canada, I struggled with making friends. I was worried because I couldn’t speak English and meeting new people always (and still) makes me nervous! It wasn’t until I started volunteering at the local community centre that I started to get over my fears. Volunteering allowed me to meet people of all ages and different backgrounds, from immigrant youths like myself to Canadian-born locals. I realized quickly that the people I meet through volunteering already have something in common with me, that’s why we ended up here at the same place, at the same time. Once you figure out what you have in common with others, it’s easy to find other similarities and common interests from there. Maybe the person you are volunteering with at the next event is also shy and just waiting for you to speak up first!
Now, one of my favourite things about my work as a volunteer coordinator is seeing volunteers interacting with one another, networking, forming friendships and becoming each other’s support system. I’ve seen volunteers form friendships and online groups that are still going strong after many years. They plan regular get-togethers, post relevant information about jobs/events and share important milestones in their lives. They offer congratulations, support and words of encouragement when needed. Staying connected, even virtually, is vital for those of us who can’t find time to socialize or meet up with friends because of work, family or other personal responsibilities.
Volunteering is a great way to meet people and build a strong support network. This is especially important for people who are new to Canada and experiencing difficulties fitting in. Meeting people who are similar lets you see that you are not alone in your struggles. You may be surprised by just how many others are also facing challenges in learning English, adapting to the new culture and making new friends. When people open up and share their experiences, they discover new ways of coping with challenges in their everyday lives. By volunteering to help others, you really are helping yourself in the process.
Interested in volunteering at MOSAIC? To learn more about our programs and how volunteers contribute, please visit mosaicbc.org/volunteer.