Newcomers to Toronto connect to city on two wheels
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Newcomers to Toronto can now connect with the people, culture, language and landscape of the city by bike.
CultureLink,which offers immigrant services such as English classes and employment counseling, has launched a new program to match newcomers with Canadian hosts tasked with initiating them into their local community — with a twist.
While such social orientation programs aren’t a new idea, Bike Host is the first to integrate newcomers on two wheels.
“This is a good way to help new immigrants build networks, make friends, learn about their new environment and feel more at home through cycling,” said Kristin Schwartz, the agency’s cycling outreach coordinator.
Over a four-month period, participants can attend free workshops about cycling in Toronto, road safety regulations and bike maintenance. Mentors will lead newcomers for rides on trails and do activities together as they cycle around the city.
The idea is for newcomers to brush up on conversational English and develop communication skills and professional networks through their mentors, all of whom are volunteers and experienced professionals from various walks of life. The program also aims to help cultivate a lifestyle of cycling among newcomers to the city.
In return, participants must volunteer to contribute to the various projects of the Bike Host program, from promotion and outreach to web marketing and event planning.
“This is all about helping people new to Canada appreciate Toronto and smooth their transition in settling in a new environment,” said Nishit Shah, one of 18 mentors who participated in the program’s pilot last summer.
Shah, an online marketing consultant, mentored three newcomers while also taking them on the city’s bike trails.
Participants in last year’s pilot rode along the lakeshore and Humber River, through Chinatown and Greektown, and stopped at Queen’s Park and City Hall for lessons in history and politics.
It was a godsend to Nelson Diaz, who moved here from Venezuela with his wife, Noryen Villaba, last April. The couple, both engineers, knew only an uncle and aunt here.
“We got to meet different friends outside of our ethnic group, and we’ve learned so much about Toronto from our mentor,” said Diaz, 41, a recreational cyclist back home and now a confident rider on Toronto streets.
“But most important, my mentor’s support and encouragement has helped me not to lose my hope and enthusiasm,” added Diaz, now a bank application specialist.
Bike Host is funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and the Trillium Foundation. Newcomers can register online at culturelink.ca.
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