There are few things in life as stressful as moving day: the packing, the lugging, the sweat, and so much more. It's time-consuming and physically and emotionally exhausting. We all need a helping hand to make it work.
Now, imagine having to move to the other side of the world. Who could you count on to help you make that intimidating cultural transition?
That's where Wendy and her husband John come in as volunteers for YMCA Newcomer Connections. They generously donate their time as an invaluable part of our Arrivals Team. Not only are they among the first friendly faces newcomers see when they land at the airport, but Wendy and John also help settle them into their new homes and community.
"We help out on moving day by putting beds together, installing curtains, teaching them how to use the stove and a variety of other tasks," says Wendy.
In June 2019, Wendy found herself at the Saint John Airport. Little did she know, she would meet three Somalian children who would touch her heart and change her life forever.
"Three siblings would be arriving. That was all I knew," she says. "The plane arrived and we met Yasmin, Abdiaziz, and Mohamed."
Despite the children's brave faces, Wendy could sense how overwhelmed they were after she brought them to the hotel for their first night in Canada. She broke the ice with her home-made Canadian welcome bags, that contained chips, fruit, maple cookies, and – of course – Canadian flags.
"When they shyly said 'thank you,'" Wendy recalls, "I was holding back tears. My heart was breaking for these kids because they were here alone with no family and no friends."
But these siblings made such an impression on her: Mohammed and his beautiful smile, Abdiaziz and his fondness for the Canadian basketball team, the Toronto Raptors, and Yasmin's soft voice. These children meant so much to Wendy. The connection was instantaneous.
"I remember giving each of them a hug before leaving them in the hotel," she says. "I also remember saying to the settlement counselor on the way out, 'I think I just adopted three kids.'”
One of their first family trips was to Saint's Rest Beach in West Saint John. Wendy and the kids walked barefoot into the chilly waters of the Bay of Fundy. The cold was such a shock to Mohamed, Abdiaziz, and Yasmin. But once the waves rolled over their feet and their toes sunk into the wet sand, Wendy as able to watch and share in this wonderful Maritime experience. It was pure joy.
"On the way back to our car, Mohamed told me this was the first time they had ever been to a beach," says Wendy. "It was our first time being at a beach with three newcomer kids."
There have been so many "family firsts" Wendy, her family, and her new kids experienced together: movie nights at home with the Lion King, going to Star Wars at the theatre as a family of seven, Yasmin visiting Wendy's mother in a convalescent home, Mohamed’s first birthday in Canada with cupcakes and candles, and Abdi joining a soccer team. "The kids" have quickly been woven into the fabric of Wendy's family and our own community.
But Wendy's kindness, warmth, and generosity have reached far more than just "the kids." She's been involved with so many other newcomers and their families in her time on the Arrivals Team.
Wendy recalls some of the people who have made lasting impressions on her in her time as a volunteer: "Ifrah, who loved my wedding dress; Mohamed, who will someday be an accountant; Mimi and her husband, who made us wonderful tea; Muneer and Amal, who shared their baked sweets and fish dinners; Abdulrazak, Nadia, and their seven precious children, who share their laughter and love."
These are just a few of the lives of people from far-away places whose lives Wendy has been able to enrich. Her life, in turn, is enhanced by the time she has shared with them.
"Our new families bring joy in the most unexpected ways. We have always enjoyed our volunteer experiences with the new arrivals. Their optimism and eagerness give us hope for our city, our province, and our beautiful country," says Wendy.
It takes a village to raise a family and it's the mission of the YMCA to bring that village together: to unlock the power of community. The spirit of volunteerism unites us.
"Thank you, YMCA Newcomer Connections, for providing us the opportunity to be part of the village," Wendy says.
You can help enrich your life, the lives of others, and our community by volunteering with the YMCA.