Regional immigrant support services get $347,000 

Money to go into continuing and expanding programs in Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish

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Immigrant support services in the Sea to Sky corridor got a $347,000 cash injection for 2013.

The funding was part of a recent announcement that $8.5 million would be invested in British Columbia's Welcoming Communities program by the minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, Pat Bell. Whistler and Pemberton will each receive $107,000, while $133,000 goes to Squamish.

The money will be administered through programs in the three communities that are overseen by Capilano University, working with local stakeholder partners, said coordinator Carole Stretch.

She was unable to outline exact programming for the year at this time, though a number of services, including English as a Second Language (ESL) lessons, are ongoing.

"In terms of Welcoming Communities, we've gone through an initial planning process and we've had to put in our community action plans. We're now waiting for the province to say go for it. It should be approved by mid-March and active on April 1."

Funding is for one year because the federal government has decided to take control of immigration settlement services from March 2014, Stretch said.

"Everything had to be slightly reworked. The major part of it will be evaluation as well, and there will be a lot of statistics and data coming out of this. We want to ensure that the federal government continues helping us support immigrants."

Community partners include Sea to Sky Community Services, Whistler Community Services, Vancouver Coastal Health, Training Innovations, regional libraries. New contacts include the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Howe Sound Women's Centre, the chambers of commerce and the Whistler Multicultural Network.

"We've been building capacity over the last year with leaders within the immigrant community. They are sitting at the table and we think that's an important part of that process," she said.

Capilano has delivered the ESL-settlement assistance program in Whistler for the last six years; around 12 per cent of the resorts permanent residents are not native-English speakers, while around seven per cent of Pemberton's population fall into the same category.

"It's a language and capacity-building based program, a provincial program. It's a literacy program specifically aimed at immigrants, and that would be something Capilano would do as part of our community development and outreach. It's part of our mandate, to help develop in the community. That we've been doing in terms of developing community partnerships is something else we've been doing for a number of years," Stretch said.

Both communities are currently in the process of developing their fund-mandated settlement services, while Squamish's are better established.

"Pemberton is beginning to grow its own identity and it was traditionally hung off the end of Whistler and loses out that way. Squamish is, of course, a larger centre, which means they've got immigrant settlement services in place already. All of the funding going to Squamish is for Welcoming Communities activities," Stretch said.

Each community receives the funding separately, but Stretch said the communities were "talking to one another" and developing initiatives together.

A spokesman for the ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training said the money would go to new projects "that build welcoming and inclusive communities through diverse partnerships that include business, local government, post-secondary institutions and community sectors."

One program, the English as a Second Language and Settlement Assistance Program for Adult Immigrants, Citizens and Refugees, is being offered at Whistler Library every Sunday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. For information on this and other programs, email cstretch@capilanou.ca.

For more information on the Whistler Multicultural Network visit the website at www.whistlermulticulturalnetwork.com or send an email to info@whistlermulticulturalnetwork.com.

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