Give your time and talent

You want to lend a hand to Ottawa's resettlement of refugees, but you aren't sure how or where? We're here to help.

The people of Ottawa have responded to the refugee crisis in overwhelming numbers. More than 5,000 residents have told Refugee 613 they want to volunteer in support of refugee resettlement — another example of this city's big heart.

Not everyone will have the volunteer opportunity they envision, because there simply isn't enough work to go around. But the good news is that many residents are already volunteering and more opportunities open up all the time.

Here are some options for connecting with programs and services that welcome volunteers.

Volunteer directly for a settlement agency

The professionals working for agencies of the LASI coalition (Local Agencies Serving Immigrants) support the integration of refugees and other immigrants every day, providing vital settlement counselling, housing assistance, career mentoring and much more. They rely on volunteers to help them in that mission. Here are the links to their volunteer pages:


Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO)  

Catholic Centre for Immigrants  

Jewish Family Services 

Immigrant Women Services Ottawa 

YMCA-YWCA Newcomer Information Centre

 Volunteer for Refugee 613

Refugee 613's mission is to provide information and connections to support our partners in sponsorship, settlement and the wider community. We were created by a team of volunteers and professionals, and our success continues to depend on a crew of dedicated volunteers. They lead task forces, provide translation and interpretation, facilitate workshops, design promotional material and organize outreach programs.

It takes an enormous amount of work to manage all that effort, and Refugee 613 is grateful to volunteers for creating our new volunteer management system using Kindness Connect, a web platform that enables us to better match volunteers with opportunities.

Visit the Refugee 613 volunteer page to create a profile, view volunteer opportunities and apply for them online.

A few things to keep in mind:

Create your profile and start making a difference!

Volunteer Ottawa

Many local organizations outside of the settlement and sponsorship sectors serve refugees and other newcomers, and they also need your energy and talent. Visit the web site of Volunteer Ottawa to find opportunities in the broader community. Volunteer Ottawa has extensive listings of positions throughout Ottawa, for every age, skill level and interest. If you don't see one that specifically lists working with newcomers as part of the role, ask Volunteer Ottawa for more information.

Create your own opportunity

Your faith group, school, sports club, community association or professional group may have refugee initiatives that need volunteers. If they don't, do some research to see what you can do to create one.

Look at your networks and communities and ask yourself how open they are to newcomers, regardless of where they come from, and what you can do to be more welcoming. Sponsor a refugee family, host an event, create a program to encourage newcomers to join your networks  — the possibilities are wide open. For some inspiration, check out these resources from Welcoming America, a non-governmental organization in the United States dedicated to building bridges between communities in support of immigrant integration.

Just remember: check with settlement agencies and others in the field while still early in the planning stages of your initiative. Someone else may be doing exactly what you're thinking of, and it's always good to learn from the experts. If you're not sure who to ask, send an email to info@refugee613.ca and we'll see how we can help.

Working together, we can help refugees feel at home in their new city!  



I signed up to volunteer a long time ago — why haven't I heard anything?

There is far more interest in helping refugees than there are opportunities. We can take pride in being a generous community while also acknowledging that not everyone will have a chance to help out directly. 

Another factor to consider is that volunteer management takes time and money — both of which were in short supply in the early stages of the government's effort to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees. Responsible organizations working with vulnerable people such as refugees ensure that they screen volunteers, verify they have up-to-date police record checks, interview them to find a volunteer opportunity that fits their profile and give them some training on refugee issues.

The agencies working closely with immigrants receive funding to provide things like orientation services, housing assistance, health support and employment advice. They receive little to no funding for selecting, training and matching volunteers. We are hopeful that more support for this important part of community connection and integration will be found, and we're working with partners on new models for combining the expertise of the settlement sector with the energy of the general public.

Why have I heard that some of the refugees are lonely, when there are thousands of people who want to help them?

The government-assisted refugees have each been assigned to a settlement counsellor from the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, to meet their needs with the initial paperwork and ongoing settlement needs. This is different from the extensive social support large sponsorship groups are able to provide. Some government-assisted refugees with high needs have been connected with volunteer supporters, but it has not been possible to match every new arrival, for the reasons outlined above.

Why can't I just start helping  a newly arrived refugee on my own?

You can – but it's not recommended for you or for the new arrival, especially if you don't first check with the settlement agencies mandated by the federal government to provide them with support and advice. Because of language barriers and an overwhelming flow of information on arrival, many refugees aren't completely aware of what has already been done for them and what services they are receiving. At the same time, most volunteers know little — if anything — about the refugee experience, the services they receive and how to support them with integrity and sensitivity.

As a result, some refugees have found volunteer efforts to be intrusive, while others have welcomed the volunteers but asked them to buy them things they will receive from settlement, or fill out forms already completed on their behalf. This can lead to a lot of confusion that duplicates or even interrupts the settlement services already under way and delays their integration. If you meet a refugee and want to help him or her, be sure to first contact the Catholic Centre for Immigrants, OCISO or Jewish Family Services for advice.