From Volunteer Match to Lifelong Friends and Co-workers
Published On September 4th 2018
In her homeland of Colombia, Claudia was a lawyer with a busy career and family life. Everything changed when she immigrated to Canada with her husband and young son in 2009. Unable to speak English and without her family and friends, she found herself sitting around at home while her husband worked. She tried taking English language classes at UFV, but had to stop once her second son was born. For the first time in her life, Claudia felt isolated.
At the same time, Jen had recently returned to Abbotsford after spending two years living in Peru. When she returned to Canada, her husband’s immigration was still in process and she missed the Latin American culture she’d become accustomed to.
Happily, Claudia and Jen were both put in contact with Abbotsford Community Services; Claudia as a program participant and Jen as a volunteer. They were matched through the Community Connections program, and their volunteer-based relationship quickly turned into a genuine friendship. Soon, Jen said, it was strange to refer to herself as Claudia’s “volunteer.”
Claudia and Jen soon found themselves in a slight dilemma that they laugh about today; they loved being able to speak to each other in Spanish, but it meant Claudia wasn’t getting as much English practice as she’d intended. Still, through Jen she was able to learn more about Canadian culture and gain the support she needed to feel settled into her new life.
In turn, Claudia was there for Jen as she awaited her husband’s arrival in Canada, dealt with her first pregnancy without him by her side and readjusted to life in Abbotsford.
During an uncertain time for both women, they forged a bond that lasts to this day. Their friendship has even extended; when Jen’s husband arrived from Peru, he became friends with Claudia’s husband and their kids play together.
The connection that Claudia and Jen made through Abbotsford Community Services ended up helping them in their careers, too. Due in part to her dedication as a volunteer, Jen was successful in obtaining a paid position with the Community Connections program. When she applied, she used Claudia as her reference.
Later Claudia was also looking for a new career opportunity in Canada. She had found obtaining employment difficult, in part because she wasn’t a native English speaker and also because she wanted to balance her career with time at home. When the perfect opportunity to work for Abbotsford Community Services arose, Claudia was aided by a reference from Jen. Today, she’s the Spanish Legal Advocate for the Multicultural and Immigrant Integration Services department.
Claudia’s background as a labour lawyer in Colombia has been put to good use assisting Spanish-speaking temporary workers and others who come to her for advice. She also organizes aid for those in need and special events like an annual health fair for agricultural workers.
Community Connections Program
Given the fantastic experience they’ve had, both Jen and Claudia are quick to recommend the Community Connections program. Volunteers and participants are supported and there are great opportunities to expand your cultural knowledge and social circle.
“Often people live in a very homogenous bubble,” says Jen, “but this program is a great way to expand your worldview and gain different perspectives.”
If you’re interested in participating in Community Connections, please visit the Community Connections page.