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If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout this pandemic, it’s the importance of community. Before the pandemic began, I was living an individualistic life: I had my partner and a good job and that was all I needed, right? Wrong. While romantic relationships and stable work are valuable aspects of a fulfilled life, they are certainly not the only ones. I took my community for granted.

Over the past year, I learned that community needs a higher spot on my priority list. I didn’t understand the value of establishing a community—like I said, I took it for granted. This year, I had to make an extra effort to connect with people (we all have), so I got creative. Many Zoom hangs, phone calls, cards, letters, and outdoor walks later, I’ve learned that your community—whether that’s in-person, long-distance, or virtual—plays a big piece in the well-being puzzle. For me, another piece of that puzzle this year was volunteering for Here In Canada. 

I’m currently completing my MA in Intercultural and International Communication at Royal Roads University. I found out about Here in November 2020 when Fiona, the CEO and Managing Editor, spoke at one of my classes. I was immediately drawn to her calm, kind, and compassionate energy—the type of qualities I admire in a leader. She mentioned that they always look for volunteers, so I quickly followed up after her talk to inquire about volunteering.

The Here community welcomed me with big smiles and open arms. Initially, I felt guilty being there. You see, I am not a newcomer to Canada. I am a white girl, born and raised in Vancouver. What am I doing here? They wouldn’t want me. I thought. This is a place to hear newcomer voices, not mine. I am taking the spot of a newcomer. But I underestimated the power of the Here community. They welcome anyone and everyone who shares their values, and—you guessed it—they do so with big smiles and open arms. Their mandate speaks for itself: we “are dedicated to helping newcomer, immigrant, and IBPOC communities be equitably represented and enjoy full and meaningful social, civic and economic participation.” If you care about this, they extend their metaphorical hands for you to jump in and join them. They are the true definition of inclusivity.

When pandemic fatigue set in, the Here community kept me motivated. The kindness, inclusivity, and generosity among this group of people are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This community is strong. It’s powerful. It’s a force to be reckoned with. And if I feel this way as a non-newcomer, I can only imagine how it feels for a newcomer. I am endlessly grateful for this community—it’s been a bright light during darker days. And so, I’ll end with this: big smiles and open arms have more impact than we realize.

Image Credit: Canva

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