COSTI Immigrant Services

COSTI provides educational, social, and employment services to help all immigrants in the greater Toronto area attain self-sufficiency in Canada.

Our Impact Why We Exist

COSTI, founded by the Italian community to meet a shortage of services for immigrants in the post war era, is today a multicultural agency that works with all immigrant communities having a shortage of established services.

Our Story What We Do

History of Organization

COSTI originated with the amalgamation, in 1981, of two major service agencies, COSTI and the Italian Immigrant Aid Society, each of which had a lengthy and proud history of service in the immigrant community. Formed in 1952, the IIAS emerged as an agency whose main purpose was to provide newcomers with the basic necessities of life.

Today, COSTI Immigrant Services is a community based multicultural agency providing educational, social, and employment services to new Canadians and individuals in need of assistance. For more than five decades, COSTI has been helping those in needs, providing hope to refugee families, protecting women and children, strengthening families, combating racism and discrimination, and assisting all those who function at a disadvantage in society. With a staff of more than 300 people, speaking over 60 languages, COSTI works with all communities and vulnerable populations having a shortage of services. COSTI is committed to creating a community where there is respect and equity for all and to this event, strives to ensure that all individuals, regardless of languages, cultural or financial barriers, are given the opportunity to use their existing skills, learn new ones and participate in all aspects of Canadian life.

Accolades and Accomplishments

In addition to providing services to individuals in need, COSTI recognizes the importance of working together to achieve systemic and social changes that contribute to an environment that supports the successful integration of newcomers. The organization has a mandate to undertake community development activities that contribute to the coordination, planning and development of services, the socio-economic advancement of new and emerging communities, and that assist agencies in developing services to meet the unique needs of specific target populations. More specifically, COSTI has mentored and supported a number of organizations over the years including the African Canadian Social Development Council, the South Asian Women’s Rights Organization and Human Endeavour.  

Recognizing the contribution and challenges faced by immigrants, COSTI Immigrant Services and visual artist Laurie Swim formed a partnership to create Breaking Ground, The Hogg's Hollow Disaster, 1960, a lasting tribute to the workers who lost their lives in the tragedy, and a public recognition of the contribution that immigrant workers have made to the development of this province. On March 17, 1960, five immigrant workers were killed in the prime of their lives while constructing a watermain tunnel at Hogg's Hollow (near Old York Mills Road and Yonge Street): Pasquale Allegrezza, Giovanni Battista Carriglio, Giovanni Fusillo, and brothers Alessandro and Guido Mantella. According to official reports, the untimely and tragic deaths of these men were the direct result of continuous safety violations.  The Hogg's Hollow Disaster, as it has become known, stands as a woeful reminder of the widespread exploitation of workers, particularly immigrant workers, that existed during the early 1960s - a turbulent time for this city's labour movement. In commemoration of this watershed event in the history of Canada's labour movement.

The Commemorative Quilt was unveiled on March 17, 2010 at York Mills subway station, where it permanently installed and where thousands of visitors view it daily and learn about the hardships endured by immigrants over 50 years ago.

Our Programs How We Do It

Operating from 18 locations in Toronto, York Region and Peel Region, COSTI provides services in more than 63 languages.  Last year, over 59,000 individuals received assistance. Services and programs include:

  • Specialized employment services for internationally trained individuals, as well as information and referral to appropriate services, employment assessment and counselling, work placement, job search training and job development for adults and youth.
  • English language (ESL and LINC), skills training and Enhanced Language Training (ELT) programs.
  • Settlement services including orientation, information, counseling and cultural interpretation for recently arrived immigrants.
  • Post-settlement support for settled immigrants who continue to require social and government services.
  • Housing and settlement services for government-sponsored refugees.
  • Family counseling and mental health services.
  • Housing support for families facing eviction, or those marginally housed.
  • Rehabilitation services for workers who have mental and physical challenges.
  • Help for immigrant women to overcome barriers in their lives and to access opportunities.
  • Services specific to the needs of seniors to help them lead a satisfying and dignified life.
  • Translation and interpretation services.


Children & Youth Programming at the Reception Centre

Each year COSTI’s Reception Centre is faced with the challenge of developing and providing programs for children and youth as they and their family’s progress through the Reception Centre program with very little financial support. Even with this difficult financial constraint, COSTI’s Child Services work with both children and parents in creating a supportive environment that fosters spontaneity, creativity, and growth, and one that nurtures their full and healthy development.

Funding and Program Partners

Citizenship and Immigration Canada has provided ongoing funding for the services offered at COSTI’s Reception Centre since 1989. Services have been delivered in partnership with local libraries, Toronto Public Health, YMCA – Toronto, the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture and other community partners.

Program Impact

Over the past 20 years, the house on Lippincott has been a first “home” in Canada for about 20,000 refugees. The staff – many themselves refugees – have created a safe haven for their guests, providing nutritious meals and arranging for health services and counselling, and providing  orientation to life in Canada’s largest city.

COSTI’s Children & Youth Programs at this site have helped thousands of young immigrants adapt to the issues in their lives - positive and negative- so that they can face the struggles of life in a new country. These programs help to provide a smooth transition for children & youth through art therapy, social interaction, trips and entertainment.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“One-third of Toronto’s children are living in poverty, and the number is growing. 32.3% of children in Toronto were living below the Low-Income Cut-Off.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2009)

Participant Vignette

One afternoon, a few months back, our childcare centre had a special visitor. Her name was Rita, and she is six years old. Rita was returning to visit old friends. She looked very happy to see us, and, with a smile on her face, she presented us with a picture that she drew. Later, when she left, we reminisced about the first day she came to our centre.

In the doorway stood a terrified little four-year old girl, wrapping her tiny fingers around her mother’s hand as tight as she could, and staring at us with her big blue eyes. Rita had come to Canada only one week earlier. It was some time before Rita adjusted to the program. Initially, she was hesitant to take toys from the shelf, and spent a lot of time alone, observing the other children. Slowly, Rita began to draw pictures and participate in various activities. Gradually, Rita became so comfortable that she would run to the room with excitement and happiness, leaving her mother behind without fear. She began to speak broken English, and would tell us stories about her family. She started becoming friends with the other children, and they began to look upon her as a leader.

When it became time for Rita to leave us to start school, it was a very sad and difficult process for us to say goodbye. In such a short time, we had seen her develop and grow, and, knowing that we had something to do with it, the bond and attachment we felt for Rita was that much stronger.

Seeing Rita today as the confidant and happy little girl that she has grown into is the greatest reward that we could ever hope to have.

Youth Services

The COSTI Youth  Program is designed to initiate and support Education , Social and Physical Development in Toronto's Immigrant Children and Youth  at risk by presenting them with opportunites to select extracuricular activities that are of  interest to them!  These young participants will be encouraged to maintain a balance of scholastic, social and physical activity through homework assistance, social programs/events, general sports activities, and  Track and Field training.

Funding and Program Partners

Ongoing support for youth services had been provided by the City of Toronto, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and Service Canada. The Toronto Community Foundation, Raptors Foundation, and George Cedric Metcalfe Charitable Foundations have provided strategic grants over the last three years.

Program Impact

  • Provide Crime Prevention information sessions to youth in order to help them to avoid becoming involved in and/or becoming victims of crime.
  • Educate youth on Substance Abuse in order that they avoid becoming involved in substance abuse activities.
  • Develop a mediation program.  Areas covered in the mediation include, but are not limited to, disputes about theft and name calling.  The areas mediated are not ones where a crime has been committed and are not mandated by the court system.
  • Build the capacity of youth to take a leadership role in dealing with conflict.  To provide guidance to youth in alternative peaceful methods of conflict resolution.
  • Educate youth on the dangers of the intenet and how to protect themselves.  Provide assistance from volunteers on math and reading  for elementary students.
  • Provide a forum and discussion among young people on the topic of " no-means-no."  Frank discussions among teens about dating and their right and responsibilities.
  • Provide  newcomer and minority children and youth of Scarborough with increased accessibility to recreational opportunities in the form of  an organized after school program.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“58% of Torontonians are inactive during leisure time, including 38.9% of youth.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2009)

Participant Vignette

“Before I got into the Youth Program I was honestly lost. Life was passing me by and I had a hard time being able to find work. Things just were all over the place and my life was a mess. Honestly, it seemed like nothing was going right for goal is to be a Police Officer...I still have a long way to go, but with the amazing help I got from COSTI staff, I have overcome a lot. If it wasn’t for the program and COSTI lending a helping hand in my life, I wouldn’t be ready for my Law Enforcement Training College.” Randy Johnson

Women’s Services

COST’s goal is to assist Immigrant women move from a situation of dependency and isolation to a more empowered state. Operating with the shared objective of enhancing the full and equal participation of women in all facets of society, COSTI assists women of diverse backgrounds and experiences in overcoming economic, health, legal, and cultural barriers.

All immigrants face substantial struggles to establish themselves in a new land; they face language barriers, cultural differences, racism, financial hardship, lack of employment opportunities and often isolation. Of Toronto’s significant immigrant population, immigrant women may often need to confront additional struggles to create a new life in a new land. Many immigrant women,

  • are sponsored by their spouse and may face the threat of revocation of their sponsorship 
  • have a lower level of education than immigrant men or unmarried immigrant women
  • do not have marketable skills or training
  • are responsible for the sole care of their children
  • work low level full or part time jobs while also being responsible for home care and child care
  • face language barriers and cannot afford or have time to enrol in ESL classes
  • lack family circles that can  offer help, guidance or care.

Funding and Program Partners

The Ontario Women’s Directorate and the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services have generously supported COSTI’s services for women on an ongoing basis, as has the United Ways of Greater Toronto and York Region. COSTI works in partnership with a number of organizations offering services to women, including the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, Humber College, the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, and Yellow Brick House.

Program Impact

COSTI is committed to helping immigrant women who are experiencing difficulty in adapting to and flourishing in their new home land. These difficulties may exist as a result of one or multiple situations and COSTI provides a wide variety of culturally sensitive and appropriate programs designed for these unique needs. COSTI’s Immigrant Women’s Programs are designed with the goal of addressing systemic and personal barriers that impact on immigrant women.

Toronto's Vital Signs® indicator(s) addressed by Program

“Toronto is a city of immigrants, and yet, our city offers newcomers an uncertain and often poor quality of life. For newcomers, ours can be a difficult and stressful city in which to fine and hold a job, or rent or buy a home.” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2009)

Participant Vignette

To Helen, a nurse and mother, the word “refugee” is not a small word. It is a big word. “As a refugee, you leave everything behind – everything, to save your life. It’s bigger than the word job, bigger than the word home, but not bigger than the word love...the love for my daughter, or the love I felt when I came to the COSTI Reception Centre and to Canada”, says Helen. “My biggest memory is arriving at the COSTI Centre, after hours and hours of travelling, and having someone carry my suitcases for me. I couldn’t believe that strangers cared so much. They didn’t just do it for me, they did it for all of us. Can you imagine that? I didn’t feel like I was at a Refugee Centre, I felt like I was home”.

“I accepted the word ‘refugee’ and left my parents behind for my daughter and for her future. Today I am proud to say that my daughter is studying at Father Henry Carr High School and recently received an award from the principle because she achieved the highest mark in religion. She will build her future here and I’m confident that once she completes college, she will find a job and contribute to this country”, states Helen with conviction.

As for Helen, she recently completed an Enhanced Language Training program for Health Care Workers and is confident she will find a job in her field. She also volunteers weekly at a food bank because she believes that it is important to help the community and give back.

“I feel like a newborn, I can walk on the street at night with no worries – I am free. You know, my landed immigrant card is the most important possession I have. It says you are free, you are safe. It has my name on it. I’m a resident of Canada. No one can tell me ‘go back’ ‘leave this country’. I am home”.

Helen Odeesho, Internationally Trained Professional, Breast cancer survivor, Refugee from Iraq.

What You Can Do

Children & Youth Programming at the Reception Centre

Activities a donation will support

Today's young people face numerous challenges and barriers to the healthy growth and development of their bodies and minds -- family life, advancing technology, and peer pressure are just a few of the issues that can affect their overall well-being. The situation for newcomer children and youth, however, is even more difficult. Studies show that these young people experience a much higher degree of disenfranchisement; are more likely to live in lower-income households, have less access to social supports, routinely encounter racism and bigotry, face unique challenges such as adapting to a new educational system, and have difficulty balancing the cultural values and norms expected of youth.

Grants to this program area will help to allow immigrant children and youth to approach some levels of equality with the non immigrant population so that they can begin development on a level playing field.

Donation impact

As the first point of contact that many immigrants and refugees have with Canadian society, COSTI’s Children & Youth Programming at the Reception Centre play a critical role in helping immigrant children & Youth overcome the difficulties and barriers they face in re-establishing their lives. Individual and group counselling sessions, art programs, and social activities orient young newcomers to our society while assisting their parents and families in accessing basic services.

COSTI’s Reception Centre, located at 100 Lippincott Street in Toronto, provides temporary accommodation and initial settlement services to Government Assisted Refugees referred to COSTI by Citizenship & Immigration Canada, and refugee claimants through the City of Toronto Community and Neighbourhood Services. COSTI's Reception Centre is open 24 hours a day, all year round.

Youth Services

Activities a donation will support

Support received for this program will allow COSTI to:

  • Increase the overall physical fitness of participants (by 25%)
  • Increase the number of youth who have access to recreational activities (by 350)
  • Develop up to 30 certified youth coaches
  • Increase the number of competitive individuals in track and field (by 80)
  • Promote and build awareness of nutrition and healthy living through sport.

Donation impact

Of all those that COSTI reaches, none are more in need of support than children and youth. Arriving in Canada, many young newcomers experience the trauma of racism and bigotry, particularly at school. Combined with the adjustment issues they must learn to cope with due to their culture, language, and skin colour – and the disturbing fact that there are few places for them to turn – the urgency of this situation becomes clear. Fortunately, COSTI has been working to address this situation be developing an approach to service predicated on the understanding that all young people, if they are to develop into healthy, competent, and caring adults, need to be provided with support, guidance, and opportunities.

Women’s Services

Activities a donation will support

Support to COSTI’s Women’s Programs will allow us to maintain and further develop programs that are woman centred, and focus on learning models that place a value on the diverse experiences of immigrant women. Programs for immigrant women are designed to provide a supportive environment that will move women from a situation of dependency and isolation to a more empowered state. Women’s programs must consider childcare and other supports to enhance women’s participation in programs.

COSTI Women’s Program Areas:

1. Home Childcare Training Program

2. Housing Drop-In

3. Immigrant Women's Life Skills Workshops

4. Learning Together - Women’s Depression Group

5. Violence against Women

6. Volunteer/Mentorship Program

Donation impact

Last year COSTI served over 3,400 through our varied Women’s Programs. In 2011, COSTI will serve over 3600 Immigrant women in the GTA.. Grants in these program areas will help COSTI to help immigrant women who are experiencing difficulty in adapting to and flourishing in their new home land. These difficulties may exist as a result of one or multiple situations and COSTI provides a wide variety of culturally sensitive and appropriate programs designed for these unique needs.

COSTI’s Immigrant Women’s Programs are designed with the goal of addressing systemic and personal barriers that impact on immigrant women. These programs are woman centred, and focus on learning models that place a value on the diverse experiences of immigrant women. Programs for immigrant women are designed to provide a supportive environment that will move women from a situation of dependency and isolation to a more empowered state. Women’s programs must consider childcare and other supports to enhance women’s participation in programs.


Mario J. Calla

Finance & Governance


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