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Promoting Inclusion and Respect for Newcomer Youth through Mentoring

MARCH 6, 2017
Newcomer youth

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel has been working with newcomer youth since 2009. Our Conversation Club Program is a site-based group mentoring program for “newcomer” youth, or young people who have recently immigrated to the U.S. Our youth, ages 12-18, are matched with young adult volunteer mentors, ages 18-24, in a group program offered at schools and settlement agencies. The mentors and mentees build their relationships by interacting in group activities during the weekly mentoring sessions that are facilitated by our staff.

The Conversation Club Program is built on the values of inclusion, respect and youth engagement. The findings of our three year program evaluation were that newcomer youth in our program experienced an increase in their sense of belonging and sense of hope and improved English Conversation skills. The relationships between mentors and youth were critical to youth success.

Understanding the Needs of Newcomer Youth

It is important to be aware of the challenges and issues newcomers face when arriving to their new host country and to understand the overall immigration experience. Newcomers face barriers and transitions in the settlement journey, such as frequent moves, families’ financial and employment concerns, isolation, language barriers, bullying at school and missing and worrying about family and friends who remain back home. Depending on their experiences, some newcomer youth may be triggered and stressed, as a result of their experiences of trauma, by loud noises, speaking with an authoritarian voice and activity topics connected to war, death, weapons, etc. Be aware of world and local events that may also impact newcomer youth from a specific country or community. It is helpful to connect one-to-one with the youth, building a trusting relationship and finding out about their journey at the youth’s own pace. Build a safe environment in your program where youth can have fun within a respectful, inclusive space, where the group dynamics are monitored and supportive. Encourage cross –cultural understanding and building relationships with new friends from different home countries, cultures and religions to broaden the youths’ perspectives.

Recommendations for Mentoring Programs Serving Newcomer Youth

When developing a program specific to a community of newcomer youth, we believe it is important to connect and build partnerships with leaders and youth allies in that particular community so you can listen to and understand their concerns and build the program collaboratively to meet youth’s specific needs. From our experience, it is important to build a basic knowledge of the cultural backgrounds of the youth you are serving, including celebrations and holidays, cultural norms and nuances, dietary needs and an understanding of common family dynamics and expectations. Recruiting mentors from the same cultural and religious backgrounds who share lived experience can be very supportive and encouraging to the newcomer youth. Providing diversity, equity and inclusion training for your staff and volunteers is important to ensure your program is a safe space where difference is celebrated and respected. Programs can build cross-cultural bridges and understanding among youth, building their sense of belonging and increasing their network of support in their community and school.

We believe that mentoring programs for newcomer youth should be based on values that will “live” in the group guidelines, interactions, relationships and dynamics of the program, including:

  • Commitment to inclusion & respect
  • Appreciation for all cultures & for diversity
  • Strength-based approach and view of youth
  • Emphasis on youth engagement & youth voice in all areas, including program planning, leadership of activities and evaluation.

Set the group guidelines together and have the youth, volunteers and staff hold each other and the volunteers and staff accountable to these values. As a staff, monitor interactions and dynamics and respond immediately if there is disrespect shown. Hold a session on community resources for youth and share Youth Help Line numbers and websites that can offer support. Get to know the youth individually so you connect them personally to school or community supports as needed.

Additional Program Management Tips and Resources

We believe it is very important to hire the right staff to deliver your program. It is important for staff to have relevant education, experience and passion for working with newcomer and underserved youth. Staff may share lived experience as a member of an immigrant or minority community, or a common language or cultural background. A strength-based view of youth and strong youth engagement skills are essential to ensure that the program is encouraging, supportive and empowering for the youth. Providing ongoing staff training in diversity, equity, inclusion and cultural competence is very important. Build your program in partnership with schools, settlement organizations and community groups who are connected to underserved youth and can work with you collaboratively to recruit newcomer youth and enhance your program and understanding of the communities you serve.

The four resources below provide information on effective practices in mentoring for underserved and newcomer youth, and resources for working with refugee youth in particular.

You can find out more about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Peel here.

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