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Whistler Multicultural Society takes over local immigrant settlement services

Sea to Sky Community Services Society held contract for past seven years
The Whistler Multicultural Society has taken over immigrant settlement services from the Sea to Sky Community Services Society, helping newcomers acclimate to Canadian culture, navigate language barriers, and access government and social supports.

When Syrian Mohammad Aljamous first arrived in Whistler in 2019 after spending six years as a refugee in Jordan, one of the first organizations he connected with was the Whistler Multicultural Society (WMS). 

“I remember myself. I was one of the clients when I first arrived in Whistler. I needed some help with my MSP,” he recalled. “So I reached out to the [Whistler] Welcome Centre and they were able to provide some very good advice on what I had to do to obtain the documents.” 

Two years later, and Aljamous, who works as the outreach and programs coordinator for WMS, has come full circle. As of April 1, the organization is responsible for the delivery of settlement services for immigrants and newcomers to Whistler and Pemberton. The immigrant-led group takes over from the Sea to Sky Community Services Society (SSCS), which held the contract for seven years as a partner with Capilano University’s Community Development and Outreach department.  

“Having that understanding [as an immigrant], I think it’s going to be very helpful to work on the other side, which is developing services and programs for immigrant people,” Aljamous said. 

Capilano has managed the program, thanks in part to funding from Vancouver Coastal Health’s SMART fund, since 2012, and began contracting SSCS in 2015. Since then, the non-profit has employed several immigrant outreach workers, who also helped develop programming. 

“This decision was not made lightly, and is in the best interest of the programs and the communities they serve,” said Brittany Martell, manager of adult and family services for SSCS, in a release. “I am personally grateful to have worked alongside such caring, driven, and creative individuals doing such important work in the community.” 

The transition comes on the heels of the WMS incorporating as a non-profit society in January “to give them the independence to develop further programs and representation for immigrants and newcomers in their community,” the release said. Previously, the WMS had spent eight years working in an advisory function to the Whistler Welcome Centre, as well as organizing the annual Whistler Multicultural Festival. 

“That was the biggest step for the society,” Aljamous noted. 

The settlement services available locally include orientation to the Canadian environment and culture, needs assessment and referrals and help navigating language barriers to, for instance, find work or access government services. 

The WMS also recently received nearly $10,000 in provincial grant funding to support the delivery of a 10-week, online community leadership program for the Sea to Sky and Sunshine Coast. 

Program participants will develop initiatives aimed at building awareness and understanding of bias and discrimination in their home communities and establish activities over an initial six-month period to address these issues in a practical and ongoing way. 

The community projects will be implemented with support from a multicultural outreach worker, who will provide “ongoing reviews, suggestions, connections and introductions to key individuals locally, materials and resources such as marketing, printing, computers and software” as well as helping to identify ongoing funding sources beyond the first six months, explained WMS program manager Carole Stretch in an email. Up to three projects will be selected for partial funding and implementation.  

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