Hani Ali is a Youth Worker at Access Alliance. She received her BA in Literature and Comparative Religions from the University of Toronto, and has a post-graduate degree in Public Administration. She used to teach as a high school teacher. Hani grew up in different parts of the world, and still considers her passport to be her best friend!
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
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
2004 – 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 positive
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
2009 – Greenwood Youth Clinic opens
2010 – Access Alliance launches its Make Yourself At Home campaign
2010 – AccessPoint on Danforth opens at 3079 Danforth Ave
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 – 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
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:
- LGBTQ+ Settlement Drop in group information for Newcomers
- Stepping up to the Plate, Best practices Toolkit Part 1 and Part 2
- You are Among Friends Booklet download
- Finding Friends Digital Story
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.