November 19, 2018 7:22 pm
Updated: November 22, 2018 8:49 am

Saint John YMCA calling for ‘First Friends’ volunteers to help new arrivals

WATCH: It has been three years since Syrian refugees began to arrive in Canada en masse and four more families are due to arrive this week in Saint John. The YMCA is working to ease the settlement process for newcomers but they do need a little help from their friends. Silas Brown has more.

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The Saint John YMCA is putting out a call for friends — First Friends that is.

The First Friends program matches up refugee families that have just arrived in Saint John with a YMCA volunteer to help acclimatize them to their new home.

Tracey Hogg has been volunteering with the program since February of 2016, and if you ask her, she’s gained more than she’s given.

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“At first I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to help out in a pinch and offer services if I could to help out initial families but I’ve just gotten so much out of it with the volunteering aspect. We truly are good friends now, the children refer to me as auntie,” she said.

“I know for myself my biggest worry was the language. I’m not going to understand what they want, they’re not going to understand what I want. But language has been the least of our worries.”

READ MORE: UN aid trucks reach Syrian refugee camp to deliver food, health supplies to 50,000 people

As helpful as they are, friends aren’t the only thing a family needs when starting out in a new place.

The Lancaster Baptist Church houses a furniture bank for the YMCA to help outfit newcomers with the necessities they need to begin building a home.

Wayne Murphy, senior pastor of the church, says that simple things like chairs and kitchen supplies go a long way to helping newcomers settle.

“It helps them, in terms of, they’re not then responsible to go and find how to buy those things or have to buy those things. We can provide them with some decent quality items to help furnish apartments,” he said.

“It can just save them some money, give them a little bit of a head start.”

The furniture bank opened its doors in December of 2015 and was only supposed to be open for three months.

It’s now been almost three years and Murphy says there are no plans to close it.

While people have been extremely generous with donations, supplies at the bank have started to dwindle over time.

“We always need things like lamps, tables, chairs, you know, coffee tables, kitchen tables, kitchen chairs — those kinds of things, they’re always hard to get,” he said.

“Those are usually the things that are hardest for us to find.”

With four more families expected to arrive before the end of November, the YMCA is looking for more volunteers and the Lancaster Baptist Church for more furniture.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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