Meet the youth welcoming Syrian refugees in Riverdale

Youth Focus Group
Members of Riverdale’s Youth Focus Group stand together / MICHELLE BOTH

Between school, part-time jobs, extra-curricular activities and socializing, life for today’s youth is busy. However, making a difference is also on the agenda for the Youth Focus Group in Hamilton’s Riverdale neighbourhood.

Since Areeba, 18, and Khadija, 16, moved to Hamilton eight years ago from Pakistan, they have called Riverdale their home.

“I had no support, and then I found Riverdale. I felt like there were people that I could really connect with,” said Areeba.

The two sisters now volunteer as Project Youth Leaders with the Youth Focus Group and have spearheaded an initiative to welcome Syrian refugees in the neighbourhood.

“We want to build a more welcoming community for the Syrian refugees,” said Khadija. Organizing soccer games is one of the ways, where language is no barrier. “Not everyone knows English, but playing a game uses different skills,” she explained.

Youth Focus Group
Volunteers stand with the Youth Focus Group booth at a community festival in the Riverdale neighbourhood.


Iso, 15, is also in the Youth Focus Group. He handles the food and clothing donations. The youth are collecting clothing and household items as well as distributing backpacks full of school supplies to Syrian children entering school.

“I got involved in this because I had the same experience coming here as a refugee. It was a hard experience for my parents,” he said. His favourite part is the feeling he gets from making a difference in other people’s lives. “It’s an amazing feeling,” he said.

Ahmad has been inspired to give back to his community too. The support his family received after moving to Hamilton from Pakistan two years ago is what encouraged he and his sister to join the Youth Focus Group. When they arrived, the Immigrants Working Centre, he said, was the go-to place for his family to find support as newcomers.

“Every single time when they were facing an issue, the first thing they’d do is go to IWC to solve the problem,” he explained. Now, Ahmad and his sister are both making a difference in the lives of newcomers themselves.

The Youth Focus Group formed in November 2015 with the hopes of mobilizing youth in Riverdale toward leadership roles in their community. Founder Brenna Sekerak noticed a need in the neighbourhood, and now coordinates the initiative on a volunteer-basis.

“I’ve never met youth that have such a big heart and so much to give and offer, ” she said. “They are very hardworking, they have very strong work ethic, and they are so appreciative of any opportunity.”

The changes they are making in Riverdale are encouraging. “They have learned to become leaders for other youth. It has a ripple effect. It benefits the whole community.”

Youth Focus Group
First year McMaster student Aimen connects the community with the Youth Focus Group by providing henna art to neighbours at a festival in Riverdale.