Where once there was a blank wall, now there is a picture of positivity, diversity and inclusion. A new mural in the works is spreading cheer throughout downtown Penticton, thanks to a group of local youth.

They’re called the OneWorld Youth Crew, organized by the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS). This group brings together immigrant, indigenous and Canadian-born teens and young adults to acquire leadership skills, volunteer and explore issues of diversity and inclusion through the arts.

You’ll see their mural coming to life at the SOICS building on Ellis Street, backing onto the alley.

Why this mural is so important

The OneWorld Youth Crew’s mural is part of a greater message of using positive affirmation to combat vandalism seen throughout the area.

“They began by brainstorming ideas of things that are important to them and then developed a design for the mural,” said Michael Lamont, Employment Navigator & Leadership Coach at SOICS. Water ties the theme together, including images of people of all colours in a boat and lots of animals: salmon, bears, eagles and the youth crew’s cute mascot creature. 

The group, between the ages of 15 and 24, have been working together in shifts, carefully socially distancing, with help from local artist Endrené Shepherd. The mural is estimated to be completed within the next few days.

“We’re hearing from people in the area that the mural brings a smile to their faces. It brings a little life and colour to our back alley,” says Kiana Stearns, Settlement Operations Support at SOICS.

It also creates a welcoming space for people to meet outside. The volunteers have built garden boxes, where they grow vegetables through the Growing Roots program for the OneWorld Kitchen and the local Food Bank.

“We hope that this radiant picture of unity and inclusion will inspire the local community to be more open and appreciative of the rich cultures, skills and experiences that immigrants from 111 countries bring to South Okanagan-Similkameen,” said Local Immigration Partnership coordinator Elmira Galiyeva.

What is SOICS and who is it for?

SOICS is a non-profit organization that provides immigrant and community services. Are you new to the country? They can help with language lessons, other services and opportunities for social interaction.

Or maybe you’re looking for a welcoming environment where you feel safe and included? SOICS brings together people of all backgrounds, including local indigenous communities, to build connections and strong community ties.

Demand reaches new high

The pandemic has proved to be challenging for people from all walks of life. So just imagine how isolating the experience would be for someone who is new to the country, perhaps struggling with language barriers and little, or zero, social network?

Whereas SOICS usually helps up to 1,600 clients a year, this year – during April and May alone – the organization has already helped half this many people, says SOICS’ Program Manager, Cherry Fernandez.

“There was a lot of confusion and overwhelm, with people trying to understand the situation particularly when you receive information from Canada and your native country,” she said.

Services were supplied remotely, using Zoom, Skype, phone and email. They even conducted their cooking program online, delivering food to homes and communicating virtually.

“Newcomers already feel isolated and those barriers are becoming even more pronounced due to COVID-19. It takes about 15 years to truly settle in a new country and we’ll do whatever we can to speed that up and make sure they feel this is their home,” added Fernandez.

What other services does SOICS offer?

SOICS offers English language training, settlement and employment services, life skills workshops and opportunities for interaction and cultural exchange.  

Many of their programs are being offered virtually right now, so contact SOICS to find out how you can take part.

For example, their OneWorld Kitchen is an inter-generational cooking event that celebrates multicultural cuisine. They also recently conducted a Tea Project, where people from different cultures showed how they prepare their tea, all conducted over Zoom.

For children, they offer a homework club, which pairs volunteer tutors with kids who need help learning English.

Although the on-site childminding room is currently closed, SOICS has been offering a virtual childminding program, where kids can connect and learn skills like the alphabet.

Join the OneWorld Youth Crew

Would you like to join the OneWorld Youth Crew as a volunteer? This is an opportunity to make an impact on issues of diversity and inclusion: to discover, volunteer and create. As a youth volunteer, you can help in many different ways to support newcomers.

Find out more! Visit the SOICS website or check them out on Facebook, Instagram (also the OneWorld Youth Crew Instagram page), email them at youthcrew@soics.ca or call/text 250-274-6299.

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