Lending a Hand Next Door

An ECF grant helps the Interfaith Housing Initiative provide support to newcomers

For many, the nonprofits and professional agencies that make up our social safety net have been a lifeblood during the COVID pandemic — people quite simply would not have survived without their help and support. And yet an unfortunate truth is that, to feel like someone who is not just living, but living in a community, you need more than just a dedicated professional; you need friends and neighbours who are willing to lend their hands and shoulders.

This fellow-feeling is the goal of the Interfaith Housing Initiative’s Help is Next Door program.

“Loving our neighbours is a command for many of us — we wanted to think about how could we help create that local community of care that goes beyond just professional help,” explains Michael Van Boom, the Network Animator for the Capital Region Interfaith Housing Initiative. “We want to feel rooted to our common values of community. Because no matter where you’re from, you were part of a community that cared.”

The Initiative tends to help newcomers of one kind or another, whether they are new to the city or to housing in general. They found that in the early days of the pandemic, the isolation and rootlessness that often accompanies a new situation had been especially acute.

“We were hearing about newcomer families staying inside all day long, in some cases five kids in a three-bedroom apartment,” says Van Boom. “They can’t get out and interact, their family is a long way away, and they need some kind of connection.”

With a $37,000 grant from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), the Initiative was able to create a host of resources to help people connect with their community, with a cross-section of language and cultural interpretations to help break down the barriers between neighbours.

“Newcomers in Edmonton already face many challenges settling into their new home,” Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy, says. “This grant will help provide key assistance to those who need it most.”

Though the full program will launch early in 2021, Yvonne Lee has already started to feel the effects of its neighbourliness. Working as a cultural translator on the project, she was able to use her experience as a newcomer to Edmonton more than a decade ago, and the disconnect she felt when she lost her job due to COVID, to find a way to help people come together again.

“I have received a lot of kindness during my difficult time, and I wished I could carry on this kindness to others,” says Lee, who adds that working on the project has helped her get over her own feelings of isolation and depression due to the pandemic. “I might not be able to financially help others anymore, but I can give my heart to others. I’m so grateful I have the opportunity to do this.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.