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The days of the week are displayed in Punjabi and English as student Jagteshwer Grewal writes the Punjabi word for carrot during an exercise in a grade 5 class at Newton Elementary School in Surrey, B.C., on Friday June 22, 2012.Darryl Dyck/The Globe and Mail

Inspired by their experience helping their parents with ESL homework, two Toronto men launched an innovative approach to integrating immigrant adults into their community.

Agazi Afewerki and Mohammed Shafique created Youth Empowering Parents (YEP) in 2010 to connect immigrant adults with youth who teach them the skills they need to become engaged in the community, including English-as-a-second-language tutoring.

A year later, the group received an Intercultural Innovation Award, a joint initiative of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and the BMW Group that provides funding and support to 10 grassroots organizations a year that promote intercultural understanding. Of the past 20 winners, three were from Toronto. They were recognized Thursday at a lunch event at Regent Park.

Operating out of the Daniels Centre of Learning, YEP's youth volunteers partner one-on-one with adults who speak the same language to teach English and basic computer skills to the older generation.

The group has served nearly 500 people from five neighbourhoods since it began. It recently connected with local schools to run the programs out of their computer labs to work through the group's waiting list of 300 names.

"The people that we typically get are someone who's been here for many years but has been frustrated with all the other classes that they've taken," Mr. Afewerki said.

The idea emerged out of a desire to help immigrant women who have limited interaction with people outside of their homes, Mr. Shafique said.

"It's also beneficial for the youth because it allows them to break free from their traditional roles as service receivers," he said. "YEP is really one of the first programs that actually allows them to be providers of a social program in a meaningful way."

Carolyn Acker, who helped YEP start up, said, "It's having an impact on the adults. They're learning how to communicate their symptoms to a physician, how to do banking, how to do grocery shopping."

Ms. Acker founded Pathways to Education, a tutoring and mentoring group that Mr. Afewerki and Mr. Shafique were part of, created to address barriers to education in low-income communities.

The two other Toronto-based recipients of the IIA award are the Maytree Foundation, which won second place in 2011 for connecting qualified individuals in visible minority communities with governance positions in NGOs, and TakingITGlobal, fifth place winner in 2013 for its multilingual online learning programs to educate youth about global issues.

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