Tag Archives: Refugees

Access Alliance, Then and Now: 25 Years at a Glance

Report insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy
First clinical meeting at Access Alliance, 1989

Over 25 years ago, a group of dedicated community members, all newcomers to Canada, got together to address concerns they shared.  Here is the journey of Access Alliance from then to now; 25 years of achieving health with dignity.


1989 – Access Alliance Multicultural Community Health Centre opens

1990 – Interpreter Services begins providing interpreters

1991 – Service model is initiated to address women’s health issues

1992 – First mission statement and creation of the ED position

1993 – 32 languages served in Interpretation Services; start of mental health screening

1994 – Services begin for the non-insured

1995 – Social work added to the list of agency services

1996 – Start of multicultural service provisionReport insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (2)

1998 – Develop an approach to food security issues and food access programming

1999 – Launch of Legal Services; Special clinic for Kosovar refugees established

2000 – Board of Directors commit to the “most disadvantaged” immigrants and refugees, causing a shift in the focus of clients served

2001 – Every Child’s Right to OHIP Coalition formed

2001 – Accredited by Building Healthy Organizations for the first time (now called the Canadian Centre for Accreditation)

2003 – The “Access Model” is developed to improve access in under serviced areas

2003 – The first Peer Outreach Worker training held, the start of one of more successful programs

greeting-card22004 – Healthcare Interpretation Network becomes incorporated, Access Alliance’s Executive Director elected president

2005 – Launch of Peer Outreach Worker Training curriculum; Best Practice Report for Mental Health Services and diverse Communities Issued

2006 – Among Friends, a 3 year program launched to support agencies becoming LGBTQ+ immigrant and refugee positiveReport insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (3)

2007 – Access Alliance changes its name to “Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services”

2008 – Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funds Access Alliance to have a robust Settlement Services Department

2009Greenwood Youth Clinic opens

2010 – Access Alliance launches its Make Yourself At Home campaign

2010 – AccessPoint on Danforth opens at 3079 Danforth Ave

Report insert - 25th anniversary timeline1 - Copy (6)2011 – AccessPoint on Jane opens at 761 Jane St

2011 – Launch of the Green Access Program and Green roof opens at the APOD

2012 – Access Alliance Language Services becomes nationally and internationally certified for Interpretation and Translation

2012 – AALS launches RIO (Remote Interpretation Ontario Network)2013 SpiritAwards Trustmark_Winner_Vr

2013 – NIWIC opens at AccessPoint on Jane

2013 – Access Alliance is awarded the United Way Spirit Award

2014 – SHY clinic (for Sexually Healthy Youth) opens at AccessPoint on Danforth

Sharing our Shared Journey: You are Among Friends

Aamer Esmail

By Aamer Esmail, former Manager of Youth and LGBTQ+ Services at Access Alliance.  Aamer is currently the  Newcomer Community Engagement Coordinator at Supporting Our Youth at Sherbourne Health Centre 

As Toronto welcomes and celebrates World Pride this week to highlight lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ+) communities in Toronto and around the World, Access Alliance is celebrating its commitment to being an inclusive and positive space for LGBTQ+ and newcomer clients, staff and community members.

My own journey of settling in Canada has been shaped by organizations like Access Alliance. When I arrived here in 2003, I didn’t know anyone and did not have much of an idea of what life would be like. I quickly started attending and volunteering with LGBTQ+ community organizations as it gave me an outlet to meet new people, learn new skills and not feel so alone in my settlement process.

But for many of my peers, it was a struggle.

It was a struggle to find spaces that were accepting of us – of our newcomer identities and our LGBTQ+ identities. At times we had to prioritize one over the other just to fit in. At times we hid one to not stand out. At times we just didn’t show up as it was easier to remain invisible.

So what changed?

Back in 2009, I had the privilege of coordinating the Among Friends Initiative, a project I had previously been an advisory member to.  A partnership between Access Alliance, The 519 Church Street Community Centre and CultureLink, the aim of the initiative was to recruit and train LGBTQ+ newcomer volunteers, and together we trained service providers in Toronto on how to better serve LGBTQ+ newcomers. This meant services for LGBTQ+ newcomers needed to be competent to support their settlement process while also being LGBTQ+ inclusive and positive. Over 400 providers were trained when the project ended in 2010 and we thought we were done.

But we weren’t.

We were at a crossroads.

Was this it for our LGBTQ+ newcomer programming as around the same time many other programs like the Stepping Up to the Plate project and LGBTQ+ Settlement Services were wrapping up?

How would we ensure that those LGBTQ+ newcomer volunteers that were part of Among Friends would continue to stay engaged and help transform Access Alliance to the next level? How would we work together with partners and funders to prioritize LGBTQ+ newcomer communities as a key population to invest in?

At every level of the organization – staff, management, and board – there was a commitment to continue.

And so we did.

We reviewed each program and service area at Access Alliance to ensure that LGBTQ+ newcomers were included in the outreach and delivery. Staff and board were trained about LGBTQ+ positive spaces. LGBTQ+ newcomers were mentioned in every grant application as a priority population that Access Alliance was mandated to serve regardless of the type of service provided. Annual Pride events at our east and west Toronto locations took place to not only celebrate LGBTQ+ communities but also to raise awareness within other client populations about our commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

Every step counted. Our programming specific for LGBTQ+ newcomers evolved dramatically. From the small grant to create the You Are Among Friends booklet, to the year long NewTQs Project, to now having funding from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for one on one and group settlement services for LGBTQ+ newcomers.

And I evolved as well. I went from being a youth who didn’t know anyone when I arrived to Toronto to being the Manager for LGBTQ+ and newcomer services at Access Alliance – working along my peers to shape what services can look like for LGBTQ+ newcomers.

There is still a lot to do. Many of us are still invisible in our communities, our workplaces, our families and even to ourselves.  And while Access Alliance has come a long way, we are not stopping anytime soon!

Links to resources:

Access Alliance is celebrating 25 years of service to newcomer populations in Toronto. Our journey has been a collaboration between people sharing the vision of a society in which all of its people, whether born into citizenry or newcomers to Canada, have equal access to health services. Today, we commemorate 25 years of helping newcomers achieve health with dignity and in finding a sense of belonging within an open and safe community. In recognition of this milestone, Newcomer Health Matters will host a special series of blog posts, each entry published on the 25th day of every month up until the end of the year. See the previous post in this series.


Sharing our Shared Journey: How Good Food Builds Healthy Neighbourhoods

Board_Jason_MarinJason Marin, Vice-Chair on Board of Directors at Access Alliance. His extensive volunteering with community agencies includes Eva’s Initiatives and Access Alliance. Jason currently works  in the Office of Governing Council at the University of Toronto.


As the images flickered across the screen and laughter poured through the speakers, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was Access Alliance’s 2010 Annual General Meeting, and the organization’s membership was watching a presentation about the Newcomer Cooking Class for Men program. I was there to be elected as a new member of the Board of Directors.

Over the course of 10 or 15 minutes, we watched how a group of newly arrived—and often single—male-identified immigrants and refugees of all ages and backgrounds learned how to dice and chop, cook and bake, and navigate Canadian grocery stores on a budget. The feeling of camaraderie and pride for what they had accomplished was palpable.

It is a truly amazing and unique program. Led by two incredibly talented and certified dietitians, participants are taught how to make healthy eating choices and prepare nutritious meals that are also culturally relevant. I recall that every participant presented a recipe from their home country for the group to make, and if I had been there, I would have brought a recipe for gallo pinto, a rice and beans dish that is popular in Costa Rica, where I was born and raised.

What I love about the program is that participants are empowered with tools and knowledge that have a direct effect on their health and well-being. And it is done in a culturally sensitive and relevant environment. Imagine moving to a new country with no family and learning how to feed yourself with food that you can afford and that makes you feel good about yourself. It’s an incredible experience.

Since I first heard the expression that Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, I have come to believe that we are truly blessed to have neighbours who appreciate culinary traditions from around the world. For example, just around the corner from Access Alliance’s office, there are restaurants that serve Ethiopian, Mexican, Italian, and Japanese food. Toronto’s newest ethnic restaurants adorn many cover pages for Toronto Life, The Grid, NOW Magazine, and are featured in write-ups for lots of newspapers.

Many of our neighbours, however, do not experience this world. Many of them do not have the opportunity to eat out at restaurants, buy nutritious food – or buy food at all. These neighbours experience food insecurity, which is one of Canada’s greatest challenges, and the reality for many families.

The CBC reported on February 6, 2014 that according to a researcher at the University of Toronto, “Food insecurity – lack of access to sufficient, health food – is either not getting any better or is getting worse in all parts of Canada”.
The report is based on Statistic Canada’s 2012 Community Health Survey which found that households with children had the highest rates of food insecurity, and that youth and women more likely to live in households with food insecurity.
And CTV reported on July 31, 2013 that “in 2012 the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the right to food visited Canada and had “extremely severe” concerns about the ability for people who rely on social assistance to maintain healthy diets.”

This is why food insecurity is recognized as a Social Determinant of Health (SDOH), why Access Alliance believes in a model of care and well-being that is based on SDOH, and why the newcomers cooking program is so important. It plays a small but vital role to ensure that many of our neighbours, to the best of their ability, do not become food insecure and are able to make healthy, affordable and home-cooked meals. And healthy neighbours make healthy neighbourhoods.

Back at the AGM, everyone clapped vigorously as the credits for the movie rolled across the screen. It was a wonderful first glimpse to the kind of organization that Access Alliance is, and what it champions. Luckily, I was elected to the Board that afternoon, and have had the privilege and honouur to serve on the Board ever since.

Access Alliance is celebrating 25 years of service to newcomer populations in Toronto.  Our journey has been a collaboration between people sharing the vision of a society in which all of its people, whether born into citizenry or newcomers to Canada, have equal access to health services.  Today, we commemorate 25 years of helping newcomers achieve health with dignity and in finding a sense of belonging within an open and safe community. In recognition of this milestone, Newcomer Health Matters will host a special series of blog posts, each entry published on the 25th day of every month up until the end of the year. See previous posts in this series.