For the last 15 years, Winnipeg’s Thrive Community Support Circle has hosted young adults from all over the world who took part in Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program.
Thrive is an inner-city agency, including a resource centre and child-care facility, that’s dedicated to offering services that support people to cultivate life, to empower individuals and to grow community.
Part of the way Thrive is growing community is through its partnership with IVEP, a year-long volunteer work and cultural exchange opportunity for young, Christian adults. Every year, 60 IVEP participants come from more than 25 countries around the world to volunteer in Canada and the U.S.
Rhonda Elias Penner, the executive director at Thrive, has worked for the organization for more than 10 years and met IVEP participants from all over the world.
She said the organization has hosted volunteers from Argentina, Cambodia, India, South Africa, Sudan, Egypt and other places.
“Over the years in my role as working with the resource centre, the day care and now as the director, we’ve had 11 IVEPers over the years. And there’s been some really strong impacts,” she said.
Thrive is located in Winnipeg’s West End, the most diverse neighbourhood in the city. Elias Penner says as the neighbourhood becomes home to more and more newcomers, their clientele has changed as well.
She believes having the staff reflect the community is beneficial.
“It’s such a good fit with IVEP because there is a familiar face. When you walk into our child-care centre it’s like the United Nations. Our staff, not just our families, come from a variety of different countries,” she said.
Madelinz Baldiviezo from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia is the newest IVEP participant serving at Thrive.
Over the last several months she worked in the resource centre with adults from the community and children in the daycare.
“My favourite moments are with people. Before I came here I didn’t imagine that people were so friendly. Every people I met are friendly with me, they’re so nice and kind,” she said. “I am feeling like home here.”
During her term, Baldiviezo became certified in family literacy and even delivered a six-week-long book-based program where she created fun and interactive reading games. She also spent time learning about Canada’s Indigenous people and the treaties in order to understand the target demographic of Thrive.
“I learned here a lot,” Baldiviezo said.
“She hasn’t just been another set of eyes and ears and hands; she really did immerse herself making connections, learning and absorbing,” Elias Penner added.
MCC Manitoba’s executive director, Darryl Loewen said hosts are part of what make programs like IVEP so meaningful for participants.
“We at MCC are grateful to all the people who take the time and effort to welcome our IVEP participants. Thrive is a great example of one such organization that’s welcomed a number of these volunteers and we feel lucky to have them as a partner,” he said.
Elias Penner said, although Thrive is taking a break from hosting IVEP participants for the time being, she absolutely recommends other organizations welcome the volunteers into the fold.
“Do it. Just do it,” she said. “It’s some work. There’s feedback, reports, there’s guidance and training. There’s all of those things but it’s worth every minute. I think we gained as much if not more as the student or volunteer does.”
To learn more about MCC’s IVEP program visit, https://mcccanada.ca/get-involved/serve/volunteer/ivep.