We recently sat down with Katerina Salto of WoodGreen Community Services to learn about her and how her organization supports newcomers to Canada.
Tell us about yourself, Katerina!
My name is Katerina, and I’m your career matchmaker. That’s how I identify myself. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for over 15 years, working in program and volunteer management roles. I am a first-generation-born Canadian. My parents were also immigrants. My mom is from Greece, and my dad is from Turkey. I’ve been at WoodGreen for almost 12 years. I love learning. I have a background in public relations, a business degree, professional development courses in HR management, and life and career coaching.
What is WoodGreen’s mission?
The best way to describe it, we are a one-stop-shop organization. And we are known as one of the largest community agencies. We offer all types of services, everything from newcomer services to housing to employment. Those are all the different types of services. And our primary focus is just helping out those in the community and then helping them to thrive.
Why did you choose to work at WoodGreen? What drew you to the organization?
I have a passion for helping out others. And also, my parents were newcomers, and I’ve experienced many others who’ve gone through the experience through family or friends. And so, when I did take a look at WoodGreen, I did see that they are an organization that genuinely cares about the community, and they offer a lot of additional support. So, their mission is very much in alignment with what I wanted to do and how I can contribute to the community.
How does WoodGreen support newcomers to Canada?
WoodGreen serviced about 4,000 newcomers this past year. And so, a lot of the different types of programming that they’re able to service are language, employment, settlements, the mentorship, which I’m primarily responsible for. And, quite honestly, we’re here to help out newcomers with their transition into Canada. And so, with all the different types of services that we offer, it’s essential because newcomers, they’re coming in and need that support of being able to adapt, settle and integrate, and critical, too, to keep their own identity. Because we are who our culture is. So, navigating through the Canadian culture and the workplace is necessary, but it’s also vital that we help them succeed while maintaining their identity. And one of the things I also want to share, through the mentorship program I love. Anybody who knows me knows I love to network, and I’m always trying to find different opportunities to help newcomers network. So, I host mentoring and networking events, and I collaborate with some organizations where newcomers can come online. They’re able to meet with employers and talk with employers and build those connections, which is so incredibly important.
What would you say is the best part about working at WoodGreen?
The people. The people. Everybody. Clients who come from all different parts of the world, I love it because I have the opportunity of learning about new cultures, new backgrounds. I do see a lot of similarities in all of our different cultural backgrounds. So, that’s the beauty of that. My coworkers, everybody has passion and compassion, and they’re very talented. I don’t know if this comes through, but we put our heart and soul into it. And it’s not only me. My coworkers, we’re like a community where we just want to help out everybody. We want people to do well. We want them to thrive. And, we also have our managers, our senior management. They’re always trying to find different resources or support systems that will help us to service. And I don’t want to say, clients. I like to call them “participants” of our programs, especially with the community connections. So, they give us the support that we need so that we’re able to help out the community. And also, WoodGreen is a volunteer-driven program. And so they’re just as passionate, if not more than we are.
What is the best advice you have for newcomers to Canada?
Take advantage of the programs that are out there. There are many outstanding programs, such as WoodGreen. Take advantage of the different types of services. You’ve had a lot of courage and strength to come into a new country, and why not allow us to help you to make the transition a lot smoother and a lot kinder to you. And then get involved in the community. You said yourself, you came in, and you walked through our doors, and you were so surprised how you were able to relate to everybody. So, coming in and talking with people, learning about different backgrounds, volunteering just helps build your social network. And it just also enables you to have that confidence in knowing that you will succeed. And that’s the whole point. I want to end with this one quote. I had this one volunteer. We had a networking event, and we had this one volunteer. They came in, and this sticks in my mind. And I still say this today. They said this one statement, “Persistence breaks resistance.” And so, as a lot of newcomers, international trained professionals are coming into Canada. They’re trying to find jobs in Toronto. They’re trying to break in. Just keep being persistent. The opportunity will be there. And for every “no,” there will be a “yes.”
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.