CBAL puts out the welcome mat for newcomers

Cranbrook, Kimberley get $187,000 to create more welcoming, inclusive communities for newcomers.

Those seeking better lives in warm and welcoming communities will do no better than Cranbrook and Kimberley, thanks to some government funding and an intense initiative by a local organization.

The B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training and Responsible for Labour, Citizenship and Immigration Canada this week announced funding to enhance the integration of immigrants into B.C. Communities —  part of the Ministry’s Welcoming Communities Program (WCP).

The WelcomeBC funding —  $8.5 million for 51 new community projects — supports the creation of local projects and partnerships to make communities more inclusive and welcoming.

Locally, the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) received $107,000 to help achieve this goal in Cranbrook. Kimberley received a further $80,000 on top of that.

“As immigrants come into the community, we will provide the services (to help them settle and acclimatize),” said Katherine Hough, CBAL Community Literacy Coordinator for Cranbrook.

CBAL moved quickly to establish a broad team of partnerships in Cranbrook and Kimberley and to set up projects to help improve access and services, recruit and train volunteers, and bring local businesses and other organizations on board.

“We pulled together some community focus meetings in January,” Hough said. “Part of (our initiative) is helping newcomers, but also, we asked how do we make our communities more welcoming?”

CBAL therefore has put together a series of partnerships with community groups and businesses, and have several new projects in the works.

• For instance, CBAL Big Brothers and Big Sisters will create a Family Mentoring program, in which volunteer families will be trained to assist newcomers, and then paired with an immigrant family for four to six months. “They will then befriend that

family, show them around, introduce them to what living here is all about,” Hough said.

• Production of a video is also planned, which details the immigrant experience in the area. This video will then be shown available to immigrant families and local residents to further mutual understanding.

• Another project is to educate local businesses — not necessarily to hire immigrants, Hough said, but simply to make them more welcome. Hough said the Kimberley Chamber of Commerce, on board as a partner, will be conducting these employer workshops in

Kimberley and Cranbrook.

• The Cranbrook Food Action Group will be offering a gardening project, which will teach Canadian gardening techniques to newcomers, who may be coming here from radically different biological and climatic zones. Local residents will be welcome to attend

these sessions as well.

• A program will be set up to help daycares better accommodate immigrant kids and their families, Hough said. “Maybe (the newcomers) don’t speak English very well, maybe they don’t really know how daycare works.”

• The Cranbrook Boys & Girls Club has also come on board to do mentoring with immigrant families.

CBAL has set the projects in motion over a very short time window. “We pulled this together over the last few months,” Hough said. The focus groups were held in January, and the groundwork for the projects is to be in place by the end of March.

The Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL) is a not-for-profit organization formed in 2001 to promote literacy and lifelong learning throughout the Columbia Basin and Boundary regions.

The purpose of the Welcoming Communities Program is to build capacity to support the integration of new immigrants. A press release from the B.C. Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training said a community’s ability to receive immigrants is a critical factor in successful integration, which is integral to addressing B.C.’s labour market and demographic challenges over the next decade.