Immigrants helping immigrants is the philosophy behind Richmond Public Library’s “Champions” program.
NewtoBC’s Library Champions trains people who are new to Canada on how to reach out to others who are even newer to the country and let them know what resources RPL offers -- resources that might not have been available at libraries in their home countries.
Libraries in China don’t have the same type of community- and family-based programs and children’s play areas that RPL offers, explained Jessica Yang, 33, one of three new library champions interviewed by the News.
“Here the library is almost like a community centre, which is different than Shanghai,” Yang said.
Through the library, which she visited twice a week, Yang was able to connect with parenting resources and join ESL classes.
“I met a lot of friends here… I really appreciate what the library gives to me (so I) also want to volunteer to give this information to other newcomers,” said Yang.
The Champions training has also taken her connection to community a step further.
“(In the training session) I met a lot of people who have different backgrounds and I learned a lot of communication skills… We do presentations and they made me more confident to speak English,” said Yang.
Helene Rasmussen, facilitator for the Library Champions said she constantly hears of the “transformative” connections that the champions form amongst themselves and in the community, which can help lessen new immigrants’ feelings of loneliness or isolation.
During the three month volunteer program, a group of 10 to 15 champions are trained to outreach to other new immigrants in their community. The sessions aim to build communication and presentation skills that better enable the champions to strike up conversations with other new immigrants they meet at work, school, in the park or grocery store and throughout the community, and let them know how the library can help them integrate.
“One of the things that I’m constantly struck by is the really creative and diverse ways that our library champions make these connections in the community with other newcomers,” said Rasmussen.
Library champion Grace Zhu, 43, first heard about the library and its resources through her English classes at SUCCESS, and thought it would be a good place for her to meet and talk with people.
“I heard the library was a popular place, and here I can connect with different people and due to the library champion project I have a lot of information I can share with others. So now I help my group (of friends),” said Zhu.
The champions also form close ties with each other within the program.
“We are constantly communicating,” said champion Melanie Valerio-Marquez, 43, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines. “To me that’s one by-product of the project that’s personally enriching.”
Millicent Mabi, community services librarian at RPL, said that the champions and facilitators become “like family” during the program, adding that some of the newcomers have only been in Canada for a few weeks when they become library champions.
Valerio-Marquez thinks that newcomers will feel more welcome, less anxious and lonely, when they are approached by a library champion.
“Having someone approach me and then offering these programs (makes me feel) this government or community has thought about me, because of the mere fact that there is a program for newcomers like me.”
The Champions program has been run at the Richmond Public Library (RPL) since 2013 and is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The program is also run in libraries throughout the province.
Newcomers to Canada who are permanent residents can volunteer for the program. RPL is holding an information session for the library champions’ project on Oct. 31.