Building belonging & community for newcomers through physical activity

Kamloops Immigrant Services is one of our Saputo Signature Grant recipients, six incredible organizations from across Canada who exemplify how physical activity helps #MeYouUs.

group of people trekking


Imagine leaving your home to immigrate to a new country, especially one where you don’t speak the language or have community connections. Consider how challenging it would be to not only access the essentials you need, like medical care, housing, food or employment, but to also establish the vital new connections that are so important to feel like you belong and to not just survive but thrive in your new land. That’s where organizations like Kamloops Immigrant Services (KIS) come in.

“We help newcomers improve their English, gain new skills and obtain information,” said Yenny Yao, Community Connections Coordinator at KIS. “Through our many programs, we foster a sense of belonging so that newcomers feel settled in the community.”

Yenny manages the KIS Community Connections Program, an initiative that provides free activities to help newcomers increase their social connections and gain awareness of Canadian heritage, culture and life.

“It’s such an important and meaningful program for our newcomers because when they come to Canada, they experience multiple barriers,”

Group of people hiking


said Yenny. “This program overcomes many of those obstacles. All of our activities are free, so it removes the financial barrier for a lot of newcomers, especially those who are struggling to look for a job and don’t have much income.”

“We also wanted to provide services and opportunities to newcomers that address physical health and mental well-being,” said Yenny. That’s why they launched the most popular component within the KIS Community Connections Program: the Healthy Lifestyle Series, which provides opportunities to get active while supporting participants’ mental health.

The Healthy Lifestyle Series features weekly activities facilitated by volunteers, partnering organizations and KIS staff for adults, youth and seniors. Activities include yoga, meditation, hiking, gardening, soccer, indoor rock climbing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, ice skating, cooking classes and much more.

group of kids stretching


“Not only do these activities give newcomers a chance to practice and improve their English, but they also help them feel much more connected, confident and comfortable,”

said Yenny. “The friendships the participants develop really help. Sometimes they want to speak with others who have the same level of understanding of the barriers they face as newcomers to Canada so they can feel supported.”

Each year, over 100 newcomers participate in the Healthy Lifestyle Series.

“I joined to practice my English, make friends, and, of course, exercise,” said Chizu, a participant and mother of two who immigrated to Canada from Japan in 2016.

“The Healthy Lifestyle Series gave us a very strong connection to Canadian life. We didn’t know about any Canadian seasonal outdoor activities before. The place where I lived in Japan didn’t have snow, so I didn’t know about activities like tobogganing. Tobogganing gave us great memories.”

group of kids having fun in the snow


Throughout June as part of the ParticipACTION Community Challenge and with the support of a Saputo Signature Grant, the Healthy Lifestyle Series will be offering yoga in the park, hikes featuring cultural activities, family multi-sport night, family soccer night and the highlight: a canoe course that connects individuals to the land and nature, and highlights Canada’s Indigenous roots.

As for the future of the Healthy Lifestyle series, Yenny hopes to continue their ongoing activities and offer even more ways for newcomers to get active.

“In summer, the activities are more accessible and easier to participate in. But winter is a huge part of Canadian life, and to really enjoy life in Canada, we have to embrace the cold weather. So, in the future, we want to offer more outdoor winter activities like cross-country skiing. But we need more funding to support that.”

The Healthy Lifestyle Series clearly highlights how physical activity can support connections to one’s broader community – something that’s important for all of us and especially those of us who are new to the country.