Calgary immigrant services team up with innovative newcomer project

‘The plan talks about the client’s dreams, their goals and their priorities. You’re coming to this country, what can we do for you?’

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Organizations dedicated to welcoming newcomers to Calgary are finding better ways of helping people who were forced to leave everything behind.

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Seventeen agencies forming the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative are joining forces again to coordinate efforts to support Ukrainian temporary residents arriving in Calgary, and others who look to make Alberta their new home.

Hyder Hassan, CEO of Immigrant Services Calgary, said organizers have been working on a “transformational project” aimed at better serving and supporting newcomers since 2019.

Gateway is a software solution that connects newcomers to hundreds of services and programs they need in one place. Planners meet with individual clients to create their own personalized plan, referring them to other partner agencies for the supports they need.

“The plan talks about the client’s dreams, their goals and their priorities. You’re coming to this country, what can we do for you? Do you want to start a business here? Where are your kids going to school? Where do you want to live?” Hassan explained.

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“Once we have the recommendations, then your planner has access to more than 600 programs. For example, a client may say they want to start a business, but they don’t know how to register their business. Through our partner portal agencies, we can find an agency that has that exact same specific program and we can enroll them in through the referral.”

Traditionally, each organization functioned individually rather than collaboratively to help settle newcomers to the province, he explained. Operating in a silo meant people would fall through the cracks, either through mismanagement of referrals or staff burnout.

“What we’re trying to do is raise the bar in a rising tide to lift all the boats. The more clients we can see, the more we can refer to other agencies.”

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The CENC was first formed during the beginning of the pandemic, when they joined in vaccine education and outreach efforts to northeast communities. The collaboration achieved a 99 per cent first dose coverage rate for eligible residents at the time, the first in the province to do so.

“We’re really built as a collaborative throughout Calgary, where all newcomer and non-newcomer serving agencies can work together in any type of crisis response,” said Anila Lee Yuen, president and CEO of the Centre for Newcomers. Lee Yuen is also the chair for the CENC.

Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen poses for a photo outside her house in Calgary on Saturday, May 1, 2021.
Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen poses for a photo outside her house in Calgary on Saturday, May 1, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

CENC’s collaborative approach is revolutionary in its ability to put clients and communities at the forefront, Lee Yuen explained. It doesn’t matter if a person comes into the system through CFN or another agency, they’re all interconnected to help the person in need.

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“They don’t have to go shopping around to try to figure that out and navigate the entire space. It’s already there for you. No matter where you enter, you’re able to do that.”

Working together has proved to be a more cost-effective solution as well, Lee Yuen explained. Instead of having hundreds of organizations fighting over the same pie, they can work together to pull in resources. Creating a sense of community between settlement services in Calgary is another benefit, she said.

Compounding international crises have forced millions from their homes to flee war, poverty and violence, including refugees from Afghanistan and Ukraine. The pandemic has only heightened the need for support, Lee Yuen said.

“They have lost their homes, they’ve lost their livelihoods. They’ve lost their loved ones. The resiliency of refugees is just overwhelming to me,” she said.

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“As good global citizens, it’s extremely important to be able to provide that (support) because unfortunately, war and political unrest can happen anywhere, anytime.”

All the CENC needs now is fundraising power.

“We need fundraising as soon as possible. We want to have Ukrainian newcomer planners hired. And we’re even thinking about a pre-arrival process,” Hassan said.

The ISC is accepting donations for the CENC at The CFN and Islamic Relief Canada is also holding an Iftar fundraising event on April 28 at The Hub in Livingston in support of refugees with tickets available online.

Twitter: @BrittGervaisAB

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