The Power of Community

Abeer Al-Salihi and her family arrived in Canada with limited income and very few friends and family, but it didn’t take them long to become a part of the YMCA Northumberland family.

After living in Syria all her life, Abeer married her husband and then they moved to United Arabs Emirates (UAE) where she took a job as a civil engineer assistant. Not long after moving, Abeer had her first child, Abdulla. Unhappy with her work, she decided to pursue her passion for teaching and children by starting a new career path at ABC’s Nursery in Sharjah, UAE. After two years at the nursery, Abeer received a job teaching kindergarten at a private school in Dubai, UAE, and one year later, she had her daughter, Sama. She absolutely loved her career and her coworkers, but after seven years of teaching children, learning new things and improving her English, Abeer decided it was time to start a new adventure in Canada.

In 2014, Abeer and her family moved to Cobourg with the hopes that the small town atmosphere would give her an opportunity to understand, appreciate and connect with Canadian culture and habits. Although she researched many Arabic communities in Mississauga and Scarborough, Abeer knew in her heart she wanted to come to Canada to be Canadian, and Cobourg could give her and her family that experience.

Upon arrival, Abeer approached YMCA Northumberland to inquire about how her family may be eligible for a membership with limited income. Through YMCA Northumberland’s Membership Assistance Program, in partnership with funds raised through the Northumberland United Way annual campaign, Abeer and her family were granted a fully sponsored family membership so they could enjoy programs and amenities at the Cobourg YMCA. At 11 years old, Abdulla immediately joined the Y Waves swim team, a youth leadership program and wrestling, while 7-year-old, Sama joined swim lessons and gymnastics.

“Having a membership allowed my kids to play sports, meet new friends and take part in fun and new activities,” says Abeer.  “They have gained so much confidence and enjoy all the programs they are involved with. To my kids, the Cobourg YMCA is their second home.”

While Abdulla and Sama explored a variety of youth programs, Abeer became a familiar face at the Cobourg YMCA, especially to Coordinator of Membership Services, Nancy Little. Abeer enjoyed sharing her stories from her experience teaching in the UAE. Realizing her potential, Nancy encouraged her to continue her passion in Cobourg by volunteering in the Cobourg YMCA Ontario Early Years Centre (OEYC).  Excited about the opportunity, Abeer applied for a position and began volunteering in September 2015.

“We want to welcome people to our community and make them feel at home at our YMCA,” says Nancy. “Through conversations with Abeer, I could tell she had a passion for children and she really missed her career. I am so pleased we are able to give families, like Abeer’s, the opportunity to enjoy the YMCA and its programs, while they get to know the community.”

The Cobourg YMCA staff were impressed by Abeer’s experience and abilities, so they suggested she apply for the new employment opportunity that had been recently posted with YMCA Child Care. Within a couple weeks, Abeer was hired as a Childhood Teacher at the after-school child care at C.R. Gummow Public School in Cobourg.

After arriving in Cobourg with limited resources and no social connections, Abeer’s children now participate in fun and healthy activities, meeting new friends and building confidence, while Abeer enjoys her new job and continues her volunteering at the Cobourg OEYC. Although, Abdulla is only 11 years old, he is already looking forward to becoming a YMCA volunteer and eventually training to become a certified lifeguard.

“Since I arrived, the YMCA considered me part of their family. The staff care about my kids, respect my religion and everyone is always happy,” says Abeer. “I just love being a part of the YMCA.”

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