In the midst of a global pandemic, Newmarket’s Tracee Chambers has seen her family grow by embracing newcomers to our community.
It’s no surprise that the longtime local resident renowned for her big smile and abiding love for her town — she was appointed one of the Town of Newmarket’s inaugural Community Positivity Ambassadors last March — would go out of her way to help somebody in need despite the barriers created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last spring, she was approached about the rental of the Airbnb unit in her Timothy Street home to a couple immigrating from Nigeria.
Chambers admits she was hesitant initially about hosting international travellers in the midst of a pandemic, but after an ICU physician she knows assured her that the layout of her home would allow her to safely accommodate the couple, she felt compelled to welcome them.
“If you win the lottery, basically, and get to come to Canada, and then to find out no, you can’t come because no one will host you … I couldn’t do it,” Chambers said.
When the young couple, Simi and Oyinda, arrived last June after three strenuous days of travel, she discovered they were expecting their first child in a few weeks.
“I had great admiration for the courage they had, coming here knowing no one, to start a new life with a new baby,” Chambers recalled.
The couple, 30 and 32, had met Canada’s stringent requirements for permanent residency, speak English fluently, and are educated with degrees, she added.
Safely meeting outdoors and maintaining physical distance, Chambers said she grew close to the couple and “fell in love” with their son, Jayden, who arrived on July 25.
Since they had no car to travel to doctor’s appointments and for other necessities, she volunteered to drive, and also helped them find the basement apartment they are renting in Newmarket.
As is her way, Chambers inspired many others in the community to help the couple settle into their new home.
Her single post on Facebook asking for used furniture and household items garnered a “beyond fantastic” response.
“I could not believe it, within a week or two, their whole apartment was outfitted. Honestly, every time I got a new message on my phone, it would make me cry — all these people were reaching out, wanting to help.
“The community was amazing,” she said, adding the Salvation Army also donated items.
Chambers said some residents were kind enough to offer cash donations, but with so much need “on the frontline” during the COVID-19 battle, she refused them, “but if you’re going to throw out that coffee table, I’ll come and pick it up and this couple would be thrilled to have it.”
“In six months, they have their life all organized, it’s amazing what they have accomplished,” Chambers said of Simi and Oyinda.
Simi initially worked in a factory, then was able to get a job with a call centre that allows him to work from home.
Oyinda is also employed full time.
“It’s been incredible watching these two young people. In six months, they have moved to a new country where they don’t know a soul, found jobs, had a baby, found a new apartment, got their driver’s licences and bought a car,” Chambers said with delight.
“And they are so appreciative of everything,” she added.
The little family has become part of her extended family, she said, and after she rejected the suggestions that little Jayden know her as Grandma (“I’m too young”) or Big Mama (“What, now I’m old and fat!”), they have happily settled on CGT — Canadian Grandma Tracee.
In the meantime, Chambers continues to spread her brand of positivity on the Stand Apart Together Facebook page, as well as among the neighbours on her street.
Across the street, her new neighbours from India have become a part of her family, too, she said.
“They’ve made a huge difference to me because they’ve brought me so much happiness.”
On Christmas Eve, she encouraged all her neighbours to come out on the street to ring bells and sing carols — again, connecting community and highlighting that we’re all in this together.
Chambers is focused on creating a kinder, more compassionate community, particularly given that “we’re inundated with negativity and doom and gloom right now.”
“The fallout of (the pandemic) is scary for everyone,” she added. “The reality is we’re all dealing with this. I’m trying really hard to not be judgmental, whatever works for you.”
She acknowledges that there are times, too, that she feels down “and I don’t feel guilty about that.”
“People can try too hard to be positive, it’s exhausting,” she said. “But I bounce back and have even more energy.”
And then there’s that big smile that brightens the hearts of all who see it.