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SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre supports Surrey children, youth and families during pandemic

September 23, 2021

Additional funding from TD Bank will facilitate another five years of community engagement

In 2013, nine-year-old Rama Zeineddine Eter and her family made the harrowing decision to flee their home country of Syria to escape escalating violence and civil war. The family made their way to a refugee camp in Lebanon, where they remained for seven years before finally being permitted to resettle in Canada under the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada resettlement program in early 2020.

Unfortunately for Rama and her family, the already difficult task of adjusting to a new life and home in Surrey was turned upside down as the COVID-19 pandemic began to significantly impact the country. As businesses and schools began closing their doors, Rama’s studies were moved online – a challenging scenario for a new student facing language barriers and without a computer.

“When I first arrived in Canada, I was scared to talk to people because of the language barrier,” says Rama. “It was challenging when we had to start studying from home and my family didn’t have a computer.”

However, not long after the pandemic started, Rama’s family received a computer, donated by the SFU Surrey – TD Community Engagement Centre (SFU – TD CEC) as part of a new initiative aimed at helping children access education and stay connected during the pandemic. In total, 60 refugees and low-income children across Surrey received a new tablet, laptop or desktop computer, allowing them to continue studying and learning remotely.

According to Rama, now a 17-year-old high school student, the computer has allowed her to continue studying remotely and access other essential learning opportunities like the Bridge Program – an educational program offered by the School District 36 Welcome Centre and supported by the SFU – TD CEC, which provides support and mentorship to English Language Learners in high school.

“I love being in the Bridge Program,” says Rama. “My teacher and volunteer mentor help me to learn English, build up vocabulary and make sentences. My English is getting so much better now.”

Answering the call

The Bridge Program is just one of many programs the SFU – TD CEC has partnered with that have successfully adapted to meet the needs of Surrey residents since the pandemic began. In fact, while many organizations were forced to scale down operations, 2020 was one of the most active years on record for the centre thanks to an outpouring of support from volunteers and community partners.

“In a normal year we would typically see about 80-85 volunteers over the summer months, but in summer 2020 we had more than 250 volunteers,” says Rachel Nelson, associate director, partnerships and programs at SFU – TD CEC. “I couldn’t be prouder of all the SFU students who stepped up to volunteer their time and we are so grateful for our strong relationships with community partners which has enabled us to shift our work together during this unprecedented time.”

According to Rachel, they were able to quickly pivot after-school programming to virtual formats and even launched five new community initiatives specifically aimed at supporting the Surrey community during the pandemic. The centre was also able to offer support to many community organizations as they transitioned to virtual programming by sharing knowledge, co-designing virtual workshops and sessions, and providing access to subscription accounts on programs like Zoom.

A bright future

Looking ahead, there are even more reasons for optimism when considering the future of the SFU – TD CEC, particularly because of the generosity of TD Bank Group, which has donated $500,000 over the next five years to support the centre. The gift is just the latest in a series of donations from TD, already totaling more than $1 million over the past eight years.

“We have been in operation since 2013 thanks to the generous funding from TD,” says Rachel. “Knowing we now have another five years of stable funding means we can focus on what we love to do, which is working with our partners to build community capacity through place-based initiatives that reach children, youth and families in our community.”

The latest gift from TD reaffirms their support for SFU – TD CEC’s vision to be an effective enabler of connection and support for the pursuit of university-community collaborations that contribute towards the health, vibrancy and resilience of Surrey.

“At TD, we know that when people come together to interact, learn and share, good things happen," says Andy Cribb, Senior Vice-President of Branch Banking in the Pacific Region at TD. "Rama's story and the overall success of the Bridge Program speak to the importance of gathering spaces – physical and virtual. TD is proud to support SFU and the centre in their ongoing work to promote connection, participation and belonging in the City of Surrey."

With renewed funding, the centre plans to offer several initiatives that align directly with the primary TD Ready Commitment focus on early learning, as well as a secondary focus on income stability. The centre also plans to resume more in-person programming in the months ahead, while permanently adopting some virtual programming, with the hope it will continue to allow for increased engagement by students, volunteers and community members.

For more information on programming or volunteer opportunities, visit the SFU – TD CEC website

Fast facts:

  • Activities of the SFU – TD CEC focus on the City of Surrey. The city settles close to 10,000 new residents each year, has an immigrant population of 43% and it is home to more refugees than any other municipality in British Columbia. Approximately one-third of the population is below the age of 19, and Surrey is home to the largest school district in the province.
  • Since the start of the pandemic, TD has enabled the centre to pivot and respond to the community in innovative ways that have strengthened connections, fostered literacy and encouraged resiliency.
  • Over the past year, over 410 SFU – TD CEC volunteers engaged with more than 3,000 community members across Surrey.
  • With the generous commitment of the TD Bank Group, the SFU – TD CEC has worked with over 100 community partners to co-design, deliver and support creative programs and services to improve the lives of over 17,000 low-income children, youth, families and newcomers and empower 1,500 SFU students to become community-engaged leaders.
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