This Calgary organization is helping newcomer youth find community and a sense of belonging

Mayor Jyoti Gondek along with conference co-leads Pierre Demeulenaere and Jenica Ocampo. (Omar Sherif/CBC - image credit)
Mayor Jyoti Gondek along with conference co-leads Pierre Demeulenaere and Jenica Ocampo. (Omar Sherif/CBC - image credit)

Disconnection. It's a feeling that Kristina Salvino became familiar with while growing up in Calgary.

The 18-year-old was born in Canada to immigrant parents from the Philippines. Her friends were not newcomers. She doesn't speak Tagalog or Ilocano — two languages native to that country.

"It felt like I had no connection with either side," Salvino said. "I'm Canadian born, but I'm not necessarily Canadian. I'm Filipino by blood, but it doesn't feel like I'm Filipina."

Recently, she said things have changed for her. She found a community and a sense of identity among people she met through the Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth (CBFY) and its annual Power of Voice Conference.

It's an event that aims to create a platform where newcomer youth can develop a stronger understanding of voice, identity, and well-being.

On Saturday, more than 100 youth between the ages of 13 and18 packed the auditorium in Calgary's Central Library to participate in a series of workshops, watch performances and listen to guest speakers with different backgrounds — including a police officer who is on the Diversity Resources team, an LGBTQ recording artist as well as a homelessness, addictions and mental health advocate.

"Being involved with this type of stuff definitely makes me feel more connected to a community that I feel lost with," Salvino said.

Omar Sherif/CBC
Omar Sherif/CBC

Jenica Ocampo led the team that organized the conference. She came to Canada with her parents at a young age and says navigating society was a learning process for them.

There were cultural concepts and nuances that neither she, nor her parents knew how to navigate. It's something she sees reflected in those who attended her conference.

"I do quite relate to the youth. As an immigrant myself growing up, you know, there are things that I wasn't aware of and even that my parents weren't aware of," Ocampo said.

A resource like the Power of Voice, she says, would have been valuable throughout her upbringing.

"We want the youth be able to be inspired by our guest speakers and to know that they're not alone in whatever they feel," she said.

"The goal every year is for the youth to know that there are places where they can go to for help, but also ... that they do belong here in Canada."

While the conference is aimed toward people between the ages of 13 and 18, one participant is hopeful that opportunities like this will expand and become available for people even younger.

Omar Sherif/CBC
Omar Sherif/CBC

"I would really love it if it's more like it goes farther than that to new immigrants because there is a lot of kids who come in grade elementary levels or early junior high," said Natalina Tesfe, who came to Canada in 2018.

She's been a mentor through the CBFY and says its a way for her to give back to something that helped her feel like she belonged here.

But with immigrants from all ages coming into the country at an increasing rate, further expanding it to other school levels, she says, can only do good.

"It really shaped me, like it had a great impact on who I am today. So I feel like it's my responsibility to help others who were in my who are in my shoes," Tesfe said.

"I would really love it if I got the opportunity earlier."

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