Growing up in an immigrant family from Jamaica, Carolee Israel Turner is aware of the challenges that newcomers can face when entering Canada. However, she approaches her experience in a positive way by working with immigrant youth at the Centre for Newcomers.


Hear the full story above. Produced by Sarah Green

Israel Turner began her journey with the Centre for Newcomers in January 2016 and has a heart for every person who sets foot through the door.

“I understand the challenges newcomers experience because my parents were newcomers,” says Israel Turner, “I was born here in Calgary, and I can only imagine what my parents thought coming in the mid-sixties trying to adapt to things.”

Israel Turner is the manager of the Real Me youth program at the centre. Her work focuses on embracing young immigrants’ identity.

The program encourages young immigrants to accept their identity by providing six services: mentoring, tutoring, counseling, recreational activities, family support, and employment support.

Israel Turner believes that if young immigrants accept their cultural ethnicity, racial identity, and sexual orientation it will increase their sense of belonging.

Through her work with the program, Israel Turner hopes to see young newcomers come to terms with who they truly are. She believes that this will help divert them away from joining gangs or becoming involved in criminal activity.

She explains that many young newcomers struggle to find a balance between their cultural identity and their Canadian identity. Often, she hears comments from her clients about fitting into their new surroundings.

As manager of the Real Me youth program, Israel Turner is dedicated to supporting young newcomers in any way possible. She says that seeing the transformation in the youths’ lives makes all her work totally worthwhile. Photo by Sarah Green

“[They say,] ‘I just want to be like everybody else. I want to wear clothes like everybody else. I want to wear make-up,’ which seems to be a big thing.”

When she was the same age, Israel Turner remembers struggling with the very same insecurities.

“I remember growing up, my parents embarrassed me,” says Israel Turner, “Back then in Calgary, I was the only ethnic anything. So you didn’t want to stand out. You wanted to blend in.”

Today, Israel Turner has embraced her identity and is hoping to inspire young immigrants to do the same through the Real Me youth program.

Kelli Stevens, project manager of Identity Based Wraparound Intervention (IBWI) at the University of Calgary, oversees the IBWI approach, which is the foundation of the Real Me youth program.

Much like Israel Turner, Stevens wants to show young immigrants that they can create their own identity.

“It’s yours. You get to choose, you get to shape it, and you get to add to it. Nobody gets to say who you are – only you get to say who you are.”

Stevens recalls a story of two young newcomers who started reading books to second grade students.

“They had a glimpse of somebody looking up to them and all of a sudden they’re like, ‘oh, maybe I could be a role model to somebody.’”

Israel Turner has also shared many meaningful moments with her clients. She explains that the nature of her work is to fill any role her clients have lacking in their life.

“Sometimes that’s being a referee, teacher, parent, friend, or an older brother or sister,” says Israel Turner, “for the two clients that I work with, I’m all of those things.”

Elias Mbah, a mentor of the Real Me youth program, believes that everybody is capable of turning their lives around. He says, “[t]he heart that I have for my clients is the same heart that I have for myself.” Photo courtesy of Kelli Stevens

Elias Mbah, youth facilitator within the program, has several young clients of his own. He believes that the success of the Real Me youth program comes down to the sense of community within the staff.

“It’s as close as siblings living in the same home. I don’t believe in emailing my manager or my colleagues, I just knock on their door. [Israel Turner] has an open-door policy, so that means any time that I want to talk to her, her door is open.”

He believes Israel Turner’s dedication comes from her strong desire to see young newcomers succeed.

“The vision that [Israel Turner] has means that in the next couple of years, [this program] is going to be a big deal.”

Israel Turner says that the Real Me youth program has been very successful even though it is only in its pilot phase. Five young immigrants have graduated from the program, and some of them are in post-secondary education with secure jobs.

She recalls a time in April when one of the program’s graduates participated in a panel discussion.

“He was fantastic. To read where he was from and to see where he was at in a room full of professionals, and to see how highly regarded he was, that was so cool.”

Israel Turner hopes to see more people pass through the Real Me youth program. Her heart is set on showing young immigrants that there is always someone who can identify with their story.

sgreen@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this piece is Maria Dardano, and can be contacted at mdardano@cjournal.ca