Welcoming Communities Coalition coordinator Jorgina Little

MISA launches local Welcoming Communities Coalition

Immigrant Welcome Centre expands role with community partners in Campbell River, Comox Valley

Campbell River’s Immigrant Welcome Centre has always sought to make the city a welcoming place for newcomers to Canada.

Now, it’s extending its reach to embrace all residents.

The North Island Welcoming Community Coalition brings together willing partners across a spectrum of public and private service organizations, businesses and individuals who are all in the business of serving people in Campbell River and the Comox Valley.

“We can play with anybody,” said Jorgina Little, coalition coordinator. “Anybody can be a partner, if they want to make the city a more welcoming community.”

The coalition was rolled out in Campbell River with a launch and social mixer that drew 20 members or prospective members Wednesday at Harbour grill. That followed a similar social one week earlier in the Comox Valley.

The Welcoming Communities Coalition is organized through the Immigrant Welcome Centre, which drafted a proposal and secured funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Little said the North Island chapter has started up with 26 partners in Campbell River and another 20 in the Comox Valley, after estimating 15 partners in its proposal to CIC.

“I’m honestly surprised how willingly people are receiving it,” she said.

While the Immigrant Welcome Centre is focussed on assisting Canada’s newcomers with direct, one-on-one services covering everything from navigating the bureaucracy to finding a babysitter, the Welcoming Communities Coalition will allow it to expand into indirect services through referrals and community partnerships.

“This is open to businesses, not-for-profits, anyone with a vested interest in people,” said Little.

Among the sectors anticipated for inclusion in the coalition are transit and transport; health, recreation and fitness; First Nations; employers and employment; education; criminal justice; service providers; immigration and ESL language; social justice; ethnic and religious groups; women’s groups; business sector and tourism; and arts and culture.

Participation is voluntary, and can take a variety of forms, from inclusion in a working group or action team to, eventually, a strategic planning council for long-range planning.

At the moment, Little said, the coalition is still collecting partners and laying the groundwork for future collaboration.

“Our of our membership, we’ll get a steering committee to direct me, so it isn’t a dictatorship,” she said with a laugh. “Then we’ll move forward with the things we identify as manageable.”

There are no regular, scheduled meetings at which attendance is required, and even the working groups and action teams are dissolved when their mandate is completed.

“When it’s beneficial to your business or organization, you would come out,” said Little. “When a topic is identified and we start a working group, you would only come and give time if it’s self-serving for your organization.”

CIC has funded the program in several provinces for years, but it is just now moving into B.C., said Little.

Among the themes researched by existing coalitions elsewhere in the country, that might find an application here, are child care, health, religious and ethno-specific supports, social inclusion, housing, needs assessment, education and population attitudes.

“If it makes people more welcome in Campbell River,” it’s part of the coalition,” said Little. “It certainly includes immigrants, but it has to be about making all people welcome in Campbell River.”