Happy Halloween! Friends of the Family

By: Becky Zentner-Barrett

My placement for the 2nd rotation of the Career Launch Program is with the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization. OCISO is an amazing organization that offers a number of different programs to immigrants and refugees to support them in their journey to make Canada their home. The organization is driven by dedicated and passionate employees, generous and energetic volunteers and committed community partners and donors. I feel very lucky to have been placed with OCISO.

OCISO offers settlement and integration supports, employment and mentorship programs, multi-linguistic and culturally relevant clinical counselling, off site programming in partnership with Ottawa school boards, language instruction for newcomers, youth programming at a youth drop in centre, scholarships for immigrant students and so much more.

I have learnt so much about the unique challenges that immigrants and refugees face when arriving in Canada and about what is being done by community agents to address some of these barriers. Social integration of newcomers is an issue that is of particular importance to OCISO. My first week with OCISO, I attended a volunteer orientation session for an OCISO program that aims to promote social integration for newcomers called Friends of the Family.

It is a new program that offers recently arrived newcomer families the opportunity to make new friends and learn about the community and life in Ottawa. Newcomer families are matched with a local family or group of friends and they meet once a week to explore Ottawa, learn about each other and engage in recreational, social and cultural activities. Some examples of activities that Friends have done together: going to a museum, skating at a local rec centre, hanging out at their homes, teaching each other how to cook meals from their culture, going to the library and so much more.

Friends of the Family Program flyer

In addition to once a week meetings, all newcomer families and volunteer families in the program are invited to attend monthly events. Some examples of previous monthly events: snowshoeing, ice fishing, beach volleyball, picnics in the park, visiting the humane society and many more.

For the month of October, the event was pumpkin carving and mixed martial arts. In the basement of the Hintonburg Community Centre we set up tables, pumpkin carving kits, fall themed food and over 60 pumpkins donated by community partners. Double the amount of expected people showed up and almost half of the people in attendance had never carved a pumpkin before.

One 9-year-old girl carved one of the five winning pumpkins and said that she must be “really good at Halloween” because this was her first time ever carving a pumpkin. Local businesses donated prizes for the winners of the pumpkin carving contest and everyone had the opportunity to learn about mixed martial arts after they were done carving their pumpkins.

PART 1: Pumpkin Carving

Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #1
Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #2
Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #3
Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #4
Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #5
Newcomer child getting face painted
Newcomer child with face paint
Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins #6

PART 2: Mixed Martial Arts Demonstration

Mixed Martial Arts Demonstration to newcomers #1
Mixed Martial Arts Demonstration to newcomers #2

I hope to get more involved with the Friends of the Family program. It is a very special program that enriches the lives of everyone involved. Demand for volunteer groups (groups of friends or a family) is very high so if you are Ottawa-based and want to get to know your city better, make new friends, stay active and learn about different cultures you should consider volunteering with Friends of the Family.

I am happy to answer any questions about the Friends of the Family program, OCISO and any of OCISO’s other programs. They are truly one of the most impactful organizations I have ever worked with and it is a privilege to be part of their team for three months.


Newcomers carving halloween pumpkins picture #7

Becky Zentner-Barrett is an Associate with RBC’s Career Launch Program. Over the course of the year long program, associates complete rotations in personal banking, with one of RBC’s charity partners and in head office. Currently, Becky is completing her second rotation placed with OCISO. 

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Our Mission!

OCISO supports immigrants through the journey of making Canada their home by providing creative and responsive programs that are culturally and linguistically appropriate, by building community through mutual respect and partnerships, and by fostering healthy and inclusive spaces for open dialogue and healing.

What we do 🙂

We are community based non-profit organization that has been providing services in Ottawa since 1978. We are motivated by the stories of new immigrants, and we are there every stage of the journey. OCISO directly serves over 10,000 immigrants and refugees every year. Our work is augmented by the generous efforts of our enthusiastic, caring and talented staff, volunteers, both established and new Canadians.