Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre celebrates decade of support
The Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre is celebrating its 10th anniversary as a non-profit organization while also preparing to expand its programs.
It has been providing support to many newcomers who came to southwest Saskatchewan during the past decade to build a new future.
Welcome Centre Executive Director Icasiana de Gala appreciates the support that the organization has received from the community during this time.
“It’s hard to quantify all the support that we’ve received in the last 10 years from the community,” she said. “So I would just like to extend my gratitude to the community and to everyone who has helped us deliver our programs and everyone who has helped any newcomer, even not through us, and made this community more welcoming.”
The Welcome Centre formally became a standalone non-profit organization on May 26, 2010. Various activities have been planned to celebrate this milestone, but the COVID-19 pandemic and public health restrictions will not make it possible to have public events.
However, the anniversary is still celebrated on social media through the Welcome Centre’s Facebook page. De Gala and Dr. Conor Barker, the current board chair, made a presentation via video conference at a City of Swift Current council meeting on May 19 to highlight the 10th anniversary.
A key focus of the Welcome Centre’s celebration on Facebook since early May has been the launch of the My Saskatchewan Story project, which provides an opportunity to newcomers to share their stories with others.
“One of the things we wanted to do actually during the planning stage of our anniversary was to compile stories of newcomers,” De Gala said. “We really wanted to have that as part of our 10th anniversary to compile those stories, and that’s not only from recent newcomers, but also from anyone with an immigration story.”
The original intention was to interview people and to help them to create videos, but now it has become a fun project for people to carry out during the pandemic. They can create their own short two-minute videos at home to tell their personal Saskatchewan story and they can share a poem, song or dance.
These video submissions will be posted on the Welcome Centre’s Facebook page and if enough submissions are received, these stories might even be used to create a publication or to produce a play.
De Gala felt it is important to share these stories, because the journey of each newcomer is unique and it can help to create a greater understanding of the reasons they came to Saskatchewan and of their contributions to the community.
The Welcome Centre’s main focus is to assist newcomers who have decided to settle in southwest Saskatchewan, but she believes this service has a broader benefit to the community.
“If you’re new to a community and someone approached you and said we are here to help you, that means a lot to that person,” she said.
“It’s the feeling that someone is there to help us, that we are not alone coming here. We help one family at a time.
… For individuals or families, it’s a huge help, and when you bring all the newcomers together who received that support, you have a better newcomer community, because now they want to give back.”
The region has become more diverse during the past 10 years and newcomers from almost 100 countries have come to southwest Saskatchewan. Some of the programs and activities hosted by the Welcome Centre help to bring community members together to share and enjoy the cultural diversity in the community.
The history of the Welcome Centre stretches back to 2005, when the Labour Attraction and Retention Committee in Swift Current formed an immigration subcommittee to look at ways to attract and retain foreign workers in the region and to support the newcomers.
The Welcome Centre started to function in early 2007 with a single staff member from an office located at Great Plains College.
The Welcome Centre received additional funding in 2008 and a second staff member was appointed. The organization also moved to its own location in downtown Swift Current.
It became a standalone non-profit organization on May 26, 2010 and a third staff member was appointed. The Welcome Centre moved to its current location at 237 Central Avenue North in September 2010.
De Gala was appointed as executive director in 2011, and she recalled that the Welcome Centre continued to operate with only three staff members for several years.
She focused on program development and the identification of funding sources for these initiatives. The organization currently employs seven staff.
“We tried to do everything, when there were three of us,” she said.
“Now there’s a specific program that would handle a specific task. So we have the employment, the community connections, and it’s becoming departmentalized. Now that there are people doing certain parts of the work, we’re able to look at the program and deliver it more efficiently, instead of having to be the jack of all trades.”
The Welcome Centre recently signed a new five-year federal contract with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, which will make it possible to expand programs and staffing capacity.
The Welcome Centre is in the process of hiring four new staff members, who will be starting their duties on June 1. The positions of administrative assistant, settlement worker and community connections worker will provide additional support and capacity to existing program activities.
The fourth position of local immigration partnership (LIP) coordinator will be responsible for overseeing a new initiative. The
LIP program will include a steering committee and other structures to enhance collaboration and coordination between partners and stakeholders on the community level in support of the settlement of newcomers.
De Gala feels excited about the new five-year contract and the possibilities to increase program delivery in the region. She noted that the Welcome Centre will continue to evaluate the needs of newcomers and develop programs to support their settlement.
“There’s always that opportunity to do more or to change what you’re doing and to improve what you’re doing to cater to the need of the time,” she said. She is thankful for the many volunteers and partners who have supported the Welcome Centre during the past decade.
“Definitely within the last 10 years we would not be able to do the work that we do if not for our partners, all of the other organizations that provide support to newcomers and all the employers that have employed newcomers,” she said.
“We are just thankful for the partnership either offered to us or that was built, and the different partners that we have. We treasure the volunteers that we have and we’re just thankful for the people who come there to help us.”
The Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre is located in downtown Swift Current.
ICASIANA DE GALA