On February 11, 2018, participants of Arts Milton’s Friendship Project battled ice covered roads to gather in the Del Ridge Community Room at the First Ontario Arts Centre Milton for an icebreaking afternoon of board games. Families of varying cultures and ages scarfed popcorn and valentines treats as they tried their hand at numerous games – including Ludo, Scrabble, Jenga, Pictionary, Snakes n Ladders and Uno. The room was filled with chatter, laughter, and multiple topples of the Jenga tower.

Arts Milton, whose goal is to facilitate creative expression and cultural enrichment, has pioneered The Friendship Project in partnership with the FirstOntario Arts Centre Milton, and funded by the Government of Ontario. The Friendship Program partners 30 newcomers to Canada Community Members with 30 volunteer hosts from the community. Together they attend and experience all of the arts and culture that Milton has to offer, in both a participatory and spectator format.

Participants have been enjoying a season of amazing shows including Tale of a Town and 3, 2, 1, DANCE! at the Arts Centre, Noises Off by the Milton Players, and The Little Mermaid by Milton Youth Theatre Productions. Hands-on activities for some families consist of art classes in printmaking, paper creation, and ceramics painting. Other groups will participate in music lessons, dance classes, or cooking classes. Other community groups and businesses who are working with Arts Milton to make this program come to life include Bollywood West Dance Studio, PC Cooking School, Crock-a-Doodle Milton, Life Yoga Studio, Rick Imus Music Studio and FLEURISH.

First and foremost, the project brings together families and creates a foundation of friendship between them. It also highlights Milton’s diverse offerings, and allows participants to try something new, and discover activities which might normally be cost prohibitive. Volunteer host, and owner of Enable Education Amy Leask says, “It really is about building community through the arts. The activities allow us to feed our inner artist, and kick back and do something creative, while sharing ideas with new friends.”

The origins of newcomer families span the globe including Turkey, Pakistan, Kenya, China, Egypt, Mexico City, the United Arab Emirates, and India. Participant Dhram Paul Gulati, who refers to himself as the senior citizen of the program, finds it immensely interesting. Gulati is a courageous man, who participates by himself in an effort to get to know other community members. He notes that The Project has built confidence in him, and he finds himself telling both friends and family of his experiences thus far. Syed Zaidi, who participates with his wife Fareena and two outgoing daughters Fatima and Maryam feels grateful for the experience: “Thanks for providing me and my family a wonderful opportunity for meeting new people and making new friends!”

At the midway point of the program, Arts Milton Board President Auleen Carson remarks on the program’s success thus far. “The Friendship Project has created a true spirit of community among participants as they get to know one another and share experiences related to arts and culture. It has been inspiring to see how newcomers, volunteer hosts and members of the arts community involved in the Project have embraced the objectives of the program: to build understanding and friendship among all community members.”

In summation, participants of The Friendship Project will gather at Paramount Fine Foods on March 24th to celebrate the program’s completion and all of its wonderful experiences.

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