Niagara Folk Arts Executive Director Emily Kovacs’ story of immigrating to Canada in the 1980s is a familiar one to Brock University President Gervan Fearon.
Kovacs arrived from Romania in 1988, struggled in Niagara in her first two years, and then discovered the services offered by what was then known as the Folk Arts Council of St. Catharines. With the organization’s support, she enrolled at Brock University, graduating with a degree in Psychology in 1998.
Fast forward two decades and Kovacs joined Fearon, who himself immigrated to Canada as a young man, in signing a formal agreement Tuesday, Aug. 13 that will see the two organizations working together to improve the well-being of newcomers to Canada in the Niagara region.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed at the Niagara Folk Arts Multicultural Centre’s Robertson Hall in St. Catharines strengthens a partnership based on a mutual goal of helping those new to Canada through research, outreach and support services.
Fearon said supporting newcomers helps them achieve their own dreams of becoming engaged members of society and helps build strong and inclusive communities that benefit all Canadians.
“Brock has a role to play in helping to develop the knowledge and skill sets that will enable individuals to become contributors to and champions of their new home,” he said. “We are pleased to partner with Niagara Folk Arts to help the community embrace new members and welcome new friends and neighbours.”
First launched in 1970, Niagara Folk Arts is a charitable not-for-profit organization with a mandate to support and assist the ethno-cultural and newcomer community in Niagara through a broad range of programs and services.
“As a newcomer on my journey settling in Canada, receiving service at Niagara Folk Arts and then connecting with Brock were both amazing experiences,” she said. “Tying these two amazing organizations together through this formalized partnership will continue to open doors to newcomers like me and many others to achieve our best selves. That is what both our organizations represent.”
Folk Arts has collaborated with Brock on many projects over the years, from research participation to having Brock students complete experiential education placements at the Centre. Brock also hosts a Newcomer and Community Basketball Game each March that provides mentorship and friendship through the annual friendly matchup at the University.
Helping out with Niagara Folk Arts’ Mentorship Program has and will continue to be a meaningful aspect of the partnership. Among the faculty and staff who have volunteered to work with new community members is Fearon, who started helping out in the program shortly after he arrived at Brock.
“I know how important it is for newcomers to be helped and supported,” said Fearon, who was born in the United Kingdom to Jamaican parents and moved to Canada at a young age. “Canada offered the opportunity to pursue our family’s educational aspirations and the possibility of making a contribution to the betterment of all members of Canadian society. We were fortunate to have been supported and welcomed years ago and more recently when we moved to the Niagara region.”
Some of the collaborative projects being planned for the future include enhancing Brock student engagement within Niagara Folk Arts through new volunteer opportunities and awareness building, as well as the two organizations working together to provide support to newcomers looking to upgrade or begin their post-secondary studies.
“It is a great strategic opportunity to partner with Brock University,” Kovacs said. “At Folk Arts, we are an inclusive centre for excellence that encompasses both theory and practice supporting newcomers in their journey to settle in Canada.”