Program helps newcomers build homes, lives

Loud applause and big smiles met 20 immigrants who recently graduated from a YMCA home-renovation training program that equipped them with marketable skills for life in the new country they’ve made home.

The Nov. 8 event marked the completion of six months of intensive training under the YMCA-YWCA of the National Capital Region, in partnership with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and John Gordon, founder of Ottawa-based company Your Reno Guys.

Participants in the program received technical training in drywall, carpentry and tile setting, while being offered access to academic training and co-op education credits. 

Offered through the newcomer services branch of the Taggart Family Y on Argyle Avenue, the program was held at a home renovation training centre on Albert Street, in the former Ottawa Technical High School.

Abdilatif Diriyeh, 33, who immigrated to Canada from Somalia in 1994, could barely contain his excitement minutes before he took to the podium to receive his diploma.

“I feel so happy and blessed right now because today is a really good day,” said Diriyeh. 

“Over 100 people applied for this program and only 20 got in. I was one of them and after they believed in me I’m done and I have so many doors opened for me.”

The program emerged from the Y after Gordon detected a particular need for an influx of immigrants in the home renovation sector, as opposed to the construction sector. 

It was set in motion in a proposal submitted in 2015 to Employment Ontario, an arm of the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development,

“We saw a lot of immigrants who wanted to take technical training, but couldn’t always afford it,” said Kendra Duval, the YMCA-YWCA’s director of immigrant employment programs.

The Y says more than half of the program’s participants have already received job offers in the renovation industry.

Following a speech from Gallagher, Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi — Ontario’s Pakistan-born attorney general — congratulated the graduates and commended them for their success.

“With that comes a lot of challenges and opportunities,” said Naqvi. “With that comes a renewed vigour to build a new life, because that’s why most immigrants come to Canada — to build a better life for themselves and for their families.”

He also praised the Y’s work in assisting immigrants in getting practical skills in trades.

“We need more people in the sector and creating opportunities for newcomers, for our immigrants to learn the skillsets, to get qualifications through apprenticeships and then practice the trade is a fantastic opportunity, so thank you,” he said.

 Ny Nguyen, 36, the only woman to enroll in the program, hopes to entice other women to sign up.

 “Everyone has been so welcoming the entire time I was here,” she said. “Now that I have potential jobs lined up, I want more women to be confident in the field. There’s so much potential for them and I know because I’ve experienced it myself.”