The team at OCISO gives newcomers support and hope for a new start

David Rain has run 25 marathons, 14 of these in Ottawa alone. He is an urban marathoner. For last year’s virtual race Rain started on May 23 at the Armoury near Ottawa City Hall, running to Patterson Creek and back eight times.

“It was going to be HOT, so I started at 3am and finished at 8am. Rain wondered how others were adapting to the circumstances. “There are no washrooms open and no water fountains due to the covid pandemic”. However, Rain was innovative. By hiding water in bushes and other places along the route he was able to complete his 42km.

“It was wonderful to see Leslie come out and join me as I was completing my run, the social element of OCISO’s Run for a New Start is a priceless reward of being a teammate. We really miss the live Ottawa Race Weekend experience with volunteers, staff members, newcomers, employees, parents, and youth all coming together on race day. Whether running the 2K, 5K or 10K, it helps connect us as a community by being in the same space.”

Rain and OCISO (Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization est. 1978) first connected at a December 2015 concert where his singing group, the Stairwell Carollers, donated $2000 to OCISO. Leslie Emory, OCISO Executive Director, came to speak about the organization and he was impressed and inspired by their work. Rain had run by their office in Hintonburg regularly and was aware of their excellent programs. As a volunteer, and then as a fundraiser and communications coordinator, Rain has helped organize OCISO events and campaigns to raise much-needed funds for support programs for newcomers to Canada in the Ottawa area. 

OCISO Youth Program Manager Donnielle Roman is organizing an OCISO newcomer youth team with 10+ members so far, who will be participating in the virtual Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and fundraising to support the youth programs they are benefitting from. 

In Jan 2016, OCISO created its first-ever Run for a New Start team, with 51 volunteers who raised over $12,000. “Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend is such a great fit for us to fundraise with. It is an excellent institution, promoting health and generosity every year. The Scotiabank Charity Challenge has helped so many — OCISO has raised well over $100,000 since we started! Scotiabank generously covers the admin cost so that 100% of funds raised can go to the charities.

Every year our team got bigger and in 2019 our 158 volunteers raised close to $38,000 — we received a $,2500 prize for coming in second behind the Ottawa Hospital Foundation for most dollars raised! That year we also had corporate sponsors: SOLE Responsibility generously subsidized $1,000 worth of registrations for newcomer youth to participate; and a team of SurveyMonkey employees matched by the corporation raised over $3,400,” says Rain, OCISO’s 2021 fundraising volunteer and team captain.

OCISO knows from years of experience, nothing compares to face-to-face interaction especially when it comes to youth engagement. “2020 has been a horrific year for the clients we serve. Newcomers face unique challenges including economic hardship, lack of social support and chronic life stressors arising from hardship and trauma experienced before and sometimes after arrival in Canada. They have been amongst the hardest hit during the COVID-19 outbreak. Please remember, they are resourceful, resilient, and successful people who find themselves in an extremely vulnerable position due to the stage of their immigration journey and systemic inequities further exposed under COVID-19”, explains Emory. 

Connecting and supporting individuals is more challenging virtually, so OCISO “tried to be fearless with technology to create connecting opportunities, like evolving from zoom meetings to movie nights for youth, offering remote cooking classes to language learners, and the creation of a service delivery platform to best meet service needs in the evolving context,” shares Emory.

MLO’s (Multicultural Liaison Officers) are a vital connector for newcomer students with school and parents and community. “This work previously done in person, where trust can be formed and nonverbal cues understood, has now become more challenging and depends on the tech savviness and access to each family or individual. The amount of time it takes to deliver virtual services is not time saved, nor is the quality of interaction as meaningful or engaging. Working with multiple languages and tech barriers while not having real-time nonverbal cues can be a real challenge to build trust or connection.” 

OCISO has an urgent need for dollars to spend beyond their set fundraising goal this year. While generously funded by institutions for activities, OCISO has found an increased need for flexible funding. Newcomer communities have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

“I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have funds available to address unexpected needs as they arise. Issues emerge quickly, especially over the past year, and we serve the community best when we are in a position to respond just as quickly. For example, the delivery of food hampers and winter supplies was important this year.   Another example is the desire for service responding to mental health needs expressed by youth has arisen quickly and, where we didn’t have funding, we were able to draw on donations,” says Emory. 

“Even though lockdown will hopefully be over in May, we will only do an IRL event if it is safe. Possibly a celebration when fundraising closes. A picnic? How do we all maintain that “esprit de corps” virtually? We are going to try!” Rain says. “We need to maintain momentum for next year when we can, hopefully, be back together in groups!” Rain shares eagerly.

OCISO’s Run for a New Start teammates in the past Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekends include staff, volunteers, alumni, and community members from around the world. OCISO’s goals include exposing the community to the incredible newcomers in Canada each year. For many years, a highlight has been running alongside newcomer students from Ridgemont High School, as this 2019 CTV news segment shows:

OCISO’s Board and top fundraisers, like volunteer Elizabeth Gluckstal – with more than $10,000 raised since Run for a New Start began – are gearing up to meet a conservative target this year but are ready to bump up their goal with more teammates and donors coming on board. OCISO will use social media and creative approaches to connect their runners. “We are really just getting started!” says Gluckstal.

Community investment in OCISO creates energy for connection. Funding and engagement from the community is appreciated and welcomed! 

Visit the OCISO – Run for a Start Scotiabank Charity Challenge team page to register or donate today!