During his six years of visiting Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH), Gian Villanueva said participating in youth programs has built his confidence.
The 17-year-old said he wasn’t always one to approach new people but CNH changed how he interacts with others.
“I’ve learned a lot about being more sociable here,” he said. “Going to Collingwood and meeting new people that are [also] new to Canada changed me into that person, being able to talk to them more comfortably and treat them as a friend right away.”
The Grade 12 student said he moved to Canada from the Philippines in 2016. In the same year, he recalls a visit to his elementary school from CNH staff. Eventually, he made his first visit to the neighbourhood house with friends. Gian said he enjoyed it so much that he knew he would be returning “all the time.”
True to his word, Gian continued to return each week to participate in settlement programs and other drop-in activities for youth.
“It was really fun and you actually got to play sports, open-gym and do cool things,” he said. “That was also one of the ways I could spend my time since I didn’t really have electronics and since I just came to Canada.”
Today, Gian said not much has changed. He continues to play a variety of sports in the gym and experiment with new dishes in the kitchen, though he has recently started to volunteer at CNH and said he would like to eventually find a part-time job at CNH, too.
“I guess my entire life in Canada would be so different if I wasn’t introduced to Collingwood,” Gian said.
Described by CNH staff as “always super helpful” in supporting wellness activities and cooking in the kitchen, as well as “instrumental” in the seniors’ snow shovelling project this year, finding ways to volunteer or participate at CNH has simply become routine for Gian. It’s also family, he said.
Throughout his time at the neighbourhood house, Gian said he feels that everyone is treated like family, regardless of their background. He said that the Youth Services team, staff, participants and volunteers are considered equals.
“I can call Collingwood my second home now, which is nice,” he said, adding: “If I didn’t learn about CNH when I came here, I’d probably be doing nothing right now. I’d probably just be working but I’m so glad that I found out about CNH . . . and that [staff] encouraged me to go here.”