CultureLink Settlement Services
Our Impact Why We Exist
CultureLink is dedicated to facilitating the independence and full participation of newcomers in Toronto’s diverse community. This is done by:
- enhancing skills that promote self-sufficiency;
- promoting positive interactions with and understanding of newcomer communities;
- providing innovative programming to meet the changing settlement needs of newcomers and volunteers; and
- promoting the well-being of all participants.
CultureLink works within a non-discriminatory framework to ensure a respectful, safe, and inclusive environment.
Our Story What We Do
CultureLink’s history begins in 1988 with the establishment of the Metro Toronto HOST Program, an innovative initiative to involve caring volunteers in building a welcoming community for newcomers. In 1992, the program was incorporated as CultureLink Settlement Services. We were registered as a charitable organization in 1994 and our application for membership with the United Way was approved in 2002. Since its inception, CultureLink has been committed to meeting the changing settlement needs of newcomers with creative programming, and has continually expanded its services in partnership with schools, libraries and community organizations. Today, CultureLink is a leading settlement service provider in Toronto and is a true reflection of our communities. Our talented and multilingual staff serves clients in more than 30 languages. CultureLink serves over 16,000 a year in schools, libraries and other community partner locations, and at our main program site. CultureLink enjoys the respect of our peers and we participate in the Citizenship and Immigration Canada steering committees for the Settlement Workers in Schools program, the Job Search Workshop, and the Library Settlement Partnership. Our Executive Director serves on the board of directors of the Ontario Coalition of Agencies Serving Immigrants. We are expanding and enhancing our established programs by developing new partnerships with (among others) the YMCA Youth Exchange Program, Outward Bound, Luminato Festival, St. John’s Ambulance, David Suzuki Foundation and Toronto Dominion Bank. Our work with Cycle Toronto has been recognized with five awards including the Alliance for Biking and Walking 2010 Advocacy Innovation of the Year Award, and the Bhayana Family Foundation 2009 Innovation and Creativity Award. More than 25% of our staff members are certified Information and Referral specialists, and we are accredited by Imagine Canada.
Our Programs How We Do It
CultureLink's current strength is built on a history of embracing innovation. Our ongoing programs are enhanced by smaller-scale project and pilots, including these featured below:
School Bike Clubs
- March Break Leadership Camp
Newcomer Youth Summer Theatre Program
School Bike Clubs
School bike clubs supported by CultureLink increase access to recreation, encourage diversity, and develop leadership among youth by supporting a weekly bike clubs in Toronto high schools. The program consists of three main activities: safety training; group rides and group trips to recreational facilities, cultural institutions, and City Hall; and leadership training. Our clubs empower participants to incorporate cycling as an affordable and healthy physical activity into their everyday life, increasing their mobility and access to recreational and cultural resources, and promoting leadership and engagement with decision-makers at the local level and beyond.
“A councillor from my church decided to give me her bike; this was one of the very best gifts I received,” says Jessica, a member of her school’s cycling club in 2012-2013. “I have had so many great opportunities. I got to meet new friends, go on bike rides to places in Toronto and enjoy beautiful views. Also, I got to share and express my own thoughts at the meeting in City Hall about the contra flow bike lanes on Shaw Street. Each experience has led me to understand myself and about the community better. If I need to commute to places around Toronto, I choose my bike so I don’t have to deal with getting car sick, and it saves me cash that I can keep towards my savings or use. Thank you so much for supporting our Bike Club, it has really brought friendships together and provided consciousness for better healthy living.”
"If the choice were theirs, 90.2% of children would choose to walk or bike to school," according to the Toronto's Vital Signs® report of 2012.
Youth on Two Wheels builds on CultureLink’s experience in promoting cycling to diverse newcomer communities, and in creating innovative partnerships.
March Break Leadership Camp
Many newcomer students face isolation and boredom during March Break. Their regular daily routine is interrupted, and they may not have developed strong social networks. This program turns a challenge into an opportunity by bringing 25 newcomer students together to develop their skills, confidence, and interest in engaging in their community. Activities include field trips to introduce Toronto history, cultural institutions and recreational activities. They participate in a Photo Rally which enables them to share their perspective on Toronto with their peers and a wider audience.
The outcomes we strive to achieve with this camp are: improved skills in the areas of communication, teamwork and leadership; increased volunteerism and community engagement; and expanded social networks.
"It is an awesome experience to participate in this March Break Camp," says Nick Wang, a student at Jarvis Collegiate who came to Canada two years ago. He joined CultureLink's March Break Leadership Camp in 2013. "I am very happy that I am able to learn so many new things through all the activities and in such a short period of time. One of the activities that I enjoy the most is the Photo Rally/Scavenger Hunt. In this activity, we have to use all the things we learn about leadership, teamwork, and communication to accomplish a common goal. I have to thank our school Settlement Worker for giving me this excellent opportunity. I look forward and will definitely participate in more camps like this."
Funding for CultureLink's school settlement workers is provided by Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Our program partner for this camp is Outward Bound.
CultureLink first offered the March Break Leadership camp in 2012 for 25 newcomer students. All participants reported they had learned about leadership, teamwork and communication and said they would participate again, given the opportunity.
The 2012 Toronto's ital Signs® report highlighted that: "Past studies of immigrant youth in Toronto have demonstrated how the stresses of the immigrant experience (loneliness and isolation, a disconnection between home and school life, the effects of racism and economic discrimination, and academic challenges) may impact positive self-identity and nudge some youth to seek a sense of belonging and empowerment ‘outside’ the community (in gang membership, for example)."
With the March Break Leadership Camp, CultureLink nurtures leadership skills and capacity among newcomer students and encourages them to take on leadership roles in their communities, now and in the future.
Newcomer Youth Centre Summer Theatre Program
Every year CultureLink provides a voice to newcomer and refugee youth through its Summer Theatre Program. A theatre coordinator guides and teaches youth to create, produce and perform an original theatre piece based on their own experiences of having been uprooted from their home countries, the challenges of adapting to their new schools and new country. At the end of the program, the youth present the play to the community and youth festivals throughout the city.With the Summer Theatre Program youth develop their self-confidence and self-esteem, sharpen their English language skills, and find out about the resources that exist in the community to enhance their academic and social life. They are employed full-time in the program and for many this is their first job. The community performances foster a dialogue of understanding between the host communities and the newcomer youth.
Polina was hired for the Summer Theatre program in 2008, a year after migrating from Ukraine to Canada with her family. She had been toying with the idea of acting but was too shy to enroll in Drama classes at school, in part because she thought her English was not strong enough. In the Summer Theatre program she gained the self-confidence through singing and enunciation workshops, and became the lead actor of the group’s comedy play, called “The Loves and Pain of Immigration”. The play was showcased at CultureLink’s Annual General Meeting, in front of almost 500 guests. Polina made many friends at the Summer Theatre program, and found the confidence she needed to pursue her dream of acting in English.
“Past studies of immigrant youth in Toronto have demonstrated how the stresses of the immigrant experience (loneliness and isolation, a disconnection between home and school life, the effects of racism and economic discrimination, and academic challenges) may impact positive self-identity...” (Toronto’s Vital Signs®, 2012)
The Newcomer Youth Summer Theatre Program provides a voice to newcomer and refugee youth and fosters a dialogue of understanding between host communities and newcomers around their issues and struggles of adapting and integrating in Toronto.
What You Can Do
School Bike Clubs
Donations of funds, bicycles, helmets, locks and tools enable CultureLink to establish after-school bike clubs at more schools, to provide safety training and lead group rides to museums, community centres, parks, and libraries. Participants share their experience with other youth, and make recommendations to decision-makers about increasing youth mobility.
March Break Leadership Camp
An investment of $5,000 enables CultureLink to bring 25 low-income participants to Evergreen Brick Works for a team challenge with Outward Bound, enable field trips to Toronto history and cultural institutions, and will support a Photo Rally to encourage newcomers to share their perspective on our city. Financial support for the March Break Leadership Camp will enable CultureLink to firmly establish this program as an annual event which nurtures the leadership skills and potential among newcomer students, increases their knowledge of community resources and opportunities, and helps them enjoy March break while expanding their social networks.
Newcomer Youth Summer Theatre Program
The Summer Theatre Program provides employment to newcomer youth in the arts, and also provides a unique opportunity to empower youth with a vehicle of expression that will assist them in both their educational and job oriented opportunities.