No Wrong Door for Newcomers
As the Saint John Region continues to grow and welcome newcomers, settlement agencies that serve individuals and families who are arriving from outside of Canada are extending their reach.
Mohamed Bagha arrived in Saint John as an international student in 2003. Today he is the Managing Director of the Saint John Newcomers Centre, and he shares how there was a lack of services for newcomer students when he first arrived. Nearly 20 years later, that is no longer the case.
The Saint John Newcomer Centre was established in 2009 with five people working to support multiculturalism in the region. Today, they have more than 20 staff and a crew of volunteers working across three departments to serve more than 3,000 newcomers annually.
“When I started with the organization, we were serving about 70 to 100 newcomers, in 2021 we served 3,200,” Mohamed explained.
“Saint John is embracing the growth. We can see it in our city and region through the number of ethnic entrepreneurs, food in our traditional grocery stores, and festivals that celebrate multiculturalism.”
The YMCA of Greater Saint John’s Newcomer Connections department will celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2023. Kathryn Melvin joined the Y six years ago, in 2016 to support the Syrian response as a Documentation Liaison. Today she is the General Manager of Newcomer Connections and oversees 90 employees who are serving newcomers through a variety of supports.
Their work includes picking up government assisted refugees at the airport, finding housing, providing language
classes, employability programs, integrating youth into the education system, and providing overall community connection resources through several initiatives. Kathryn shares how every day is a new adventure, and government-assisted refugees are arriving from all over the world.
“We aren’t just seeing people from war torn countries,” she said. “The changing demographics also makes us change our team and operations. We have staff from more than 25 countries. It’s amazing to see former clients who become staff and go full circle.”
And the agencies in the sector have come full circle as well. Five years ago, the formation of the Saint John Local Immigration Partnership (SJLIP) took place. It brings a partnership of stakeholders within the region to develop a coordinated settlement, integration, and retention strategy.
Pride of Race, Unity, and Dignity through Education (PRUDE) is also part of the SJLIP. Managing Director, Li Song arrived in the Saint John Region 21 years ago as an international student. She shares how every agency has their niche, but together they achieve stronger outcomes.
“I don’t think we are ever stepping on each other’s services. I like to describe it as different phases of integration, and we are all part of ensuring people can find the resources they need to feel connected,” Li said.
“PRUDE focuses a lot on community connection, trainings, and workshops. Sometimes our services interlock with other agencies, but it makes the support stronger.”
As the regional growth agency, Envision Saint John works strategically to connect and collaborate with partners to drive meaningful growth.
“Envision Saint John understands that to advance in our mandate to attract people, we need to surround ourselves with organizations that have been on the ground for years,” explained Daniel Rito, Director of Growth at Envision Saint John. “Our role as conveners and accelerators is to support the ecosystem and address the gaps to provide a positive experience for new residents.”
When newcomers arrive in the region, it can be overwhelming to discover all the available supports and determine what services are right for each individual. In 2022, Envision Saint John launched a pilot to turn Visitor Information Centres into Welcome Centres. By working with the organizations that are providing settlement services, the growth agency was able to train Welcome Ambassadors with information about the programs available to new residents.
More 170 new residents went through the Welcome Centre doors in 2022 and were referred to the appropriate supports. This is one example of how collaboration is implementing changes that are driving growth for the Saint John Region, ensuring we are Always Moving Forward.