Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre administration reflects on busy year at AGM

Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre Board Chair Kristy Sletten speaks during the annual general meeting, June 13.

By Matthew Liebenberg

For the SW Booster

The role of the Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre in providing a variety of support services to newcomers were highlighted during the organization’s annual general meeting, June 13.

Board Chair Kristy Sletten described the work of staff during the 2022-23 reporting year as a “well-oiled machine” in her presentation.

“We do try to act in a support role when we can, but certainly we do allow the staff to steer the ship and they do that very well,” she said. “They are a committed and very hearts in the right place group.”

The board undertook a review of policies and procedures during the past year to determine if they were still working for the organization or needed amendments. The board also started a mission and vision project to evaluate the role of the board in the organization.

“Both of those projects are still in progress as we did shift our focus quite a bit once we knew that we were going to have to do some future planning and hire a new executive director,” she said.

That change in focus became necessary due to the departure of the organization’s long-time executive director Icasiana de Gala to pursue a career in law. Sletten expressed appreciation towards De Gala, who attended the meeting, for her contribution to the organization during the past 12 years.

“The Newcomer Welcome Centre In the southwest is really what it is because of the work of Icasiana,” Sletten said.

She indicated the board was nearing the end of a process to appoint a new executive director and Deanna Baje has taken on the role of interim executive director.

Sletten felt the past year signalled the return to a more regular way of functioning after the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In my mind, this year was one of coming back together, not only as a board, but for the events that the Centre put on,” she said. “I saw the staff plan a multitude of events that brought people back into the Centre and brought people back together. It was really lovely to see and I think it really created this kind of reboot of the momentum that the Newcomer Welcome Centre had prior to the pandemic.”

She felt the Newcomer Welcome Centre continues to push the envelope for how to best support newcomers in the southwest.

“It just seems like there’s always this constant conversation about what else can we do and I really appreciate that as not only a person who lives in this community, but as someone who works with newcomers myself,” she said. “So I really appreciate not only the work, but the out-of-the-box thinking that often happens within this organization.”

She noted that the Newcomer Welcome Centre is very good at building bridges between the newcomer population and the existing local population.

“I think that’s really important and really valuable work, because it’s really important for the newcomers to feel a sense of belonging in the place where they choose to settle,” she said. “All of the events the Newcomer Welcome Centre puts on, they act to build that kind of cooperative environment that can come from learning about each other and understanding what each group brings to this local dynamic.”

Sletten announced the appointment of new board members, which became necessary due to some board members stepping down. The new board members are Gwen Uher and Oscar Maluleke. There is also a change in representation from the Saskatchewan Health Authority on the board, with Chaline Silbernagel taking on that role.

Deanna Baje presented an overview of the organization’s activities during the past year. She expressed appreciation towards staff for their support in her role as interim executive director.

She noted that the Newcomer Welcome Centre had 455 individual new clients during the past year, of which 70 were from Ukraine. The Centre also provided services to over 500 existing clients in 2022-23.

Newcomers came from 32 different countries. The top five countries of origin during the past year were the Philippines, India, Ukraine, Mexico and South Africa. The majority of new arrivals settled in Swift Current, Shaunavon, Gull Lake, Leader and Maple Creek.

The top five topics of inquiry by newcomers who connected with the Newcomer Welcome Centre were housing and accommodation, family and children, medical, immigration and settlement, and employment.

The number of settlement workers increased from two to three staff members in December 2022 to meet the growing demand for services. They assist clients with various processes during their settlement, including applications for health cards, driver’s license and finding accommodation.

The settlement team started an outreach program to make it easier for newcomers to receive services. Team members will travel twice a week to smaller communities in the region.

“Our settlement team is ready to provide those services not just in Swift Current, but also all around the region,” she said. “So they have been traveling to the different parts of our community in the southwest and that’s why there’s an increase in the cost of travel.”

The Settlement Worker in Schools (SWIS) program helps to connect newcomer families to services and resources within schools and in the community as part of the settlement and integration process.

“Our SWIS team is really busy, because this year the schools have opened back to services and they allowed the SWIS team back in the schools,” Baje said. “They’re doing more visits, more one-on-one clients and programs, not just in person, but also on Zoom. So they’re doing hybrid programs. … There’s a lot of programs and activities lined up all throughout the year.”

The Newcomer Welcome Centre provides career and employment services to clients in partnership with several organizations. Activities during the past year included a work preparedness workshop, tax clinics for newcomer clients, a resume and cover letter service, and the annual career expo.

“A lot of success stories come out of the career expo,” she noted. “There are newcomer clients that get hired immediately on the spot after talking with employers there.”

The Community Connections program aims to involve newcomers in the community and to make the residents of southwest Saskatchewan more aware of the presence and contribution of newcomers in their communities. A variety of successful activities were carried out by this program, including the annual lunch fundraiser, Thanksgiving meal and multicultural family fun day. Two new activities were the Bringing Culture to Market Square program and the Welcome to my Table event.

The third year of the Southwest Saskatchewan Immigration Partnership (SSIP) was completed in 2022-23. Its website was launched in September 2022 to provide newcomers with information and resources about living in the region. A regional settlement strategic planning workshop in October created working groups for four priority areas.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program carried out various engagement efforts during the past year to connect with temporary foreign workers. The program was able to assist 233 individuals. Most of them were from India, Philippines, Ukraine and Mexico, and they usually worked in the hospitality and agricultural sectors.

The Economic Recovery Work Experience (ERWE) program was successfully completed in December 2022. This 16-week project was initiated by the provincial government and administered by the Newcomer Welcome Centre in the southwest. It provided work experience to participants and 17 employers were involved with the program.

Editorial note: The Southwest Newcomer Welcome Centre announced on July 14 that the board has appointed Deanna Baje as the organization’s new executive director and she officially began her role on July 1.