Williams Lake is opening its doors to diversity through a Welcoming Communities project.
The project is a fresh look at the benefits of diverse cultures for residents, for families and for the community, and program co-ordinator Sharon Taylor said they are hosting an open house on April 4 at the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Centre on First Avenue.
“The purpose of the event is to launch Welcoming Communities and let the community know where we are and what we’re doing,” Taylor explained.
She says Mayor Kerry Cook, MLA Donna Barnett, and executive director Baljit Sethi of IMSS in Prince George will be at the event.
Chief David Archie and drummers from the Williams Lake Indian Band will join elder Mary Thomas in blessing the space and welcoming guests to the traditional territory of the T’exelc people.
“The open house will give us the opportunity to touch base with the community — let them know what we do and ask them for their ideas and opinions.”
Taylor said her focus will be on “starting a conversation within the community about what diversity looks like, how it strengthens the community and what some of the barriers are for new Canadians.”
The Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society (IMSS) of Prince George has been offering English Language Services for Adults classes in Williams Lake for several years.
The instructor, Susan Nelson, moved into a new classroom/office space at 118C North First Avenue in the fall of 2012.
“When Welcoming Communities was introduced in Williams Lake, it seemed a good fit for IMSS to oversee a project in this community as well, one tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of the region,” Taylor said.
Partners in the new program, which started locally in January 2013, include the City of Williams Lake, Canadian Mental Health, Communities that Care, Cariboo Chilcotin Partners for Literacy, Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, Horton Ventures, Social Planning Council and Fraser Basin Council.
The greater number of local immigrants by far are English-speaking (from the UK, the U.S. and South Africa, Taylor said, but adds the Cariboo-Chilcotin is has traditionally welcomed immigrants from Switzerland, Germany, and India.
Two questions asked quite often since are what people may need if they are considering citizenship, and what people need to know about the new language requirement
“At the moment, we are seeing increasing immigration, particularly of women, from the Philippines, Korea, and China. Thompson Rivers University is planning to bring international students from Saudi Arabia and India, and the school district is considering international students as well,” she said. “Here’s my question: is the community prepared to accept and help integrate cohorts of immigrants? Part of my project will be to work on ways we can make all spaces welcoming.” She said other agencies and organizations are welcome as partners.
“We want to encourage First Nations elders and youth to get involved with Welcoming Communities,” Taylor said. “They have been welcoming newcomers to their territories and their communities for hundreds of years.”
“We recognize that a broad range of people come here from all different places, and we want the community to know that it’s more than about the language; it’s also settlement issues, citizenship classes, advocacy and practical support.”
The goal is make people feel welcome in the community.
“My role is to make sure that all the people in the front lines who end up helping newcomers, such as real estate agents, shop keepers and people in service industries have the support and information they need to pass on. We are thinking about putting on a ‘welcoming fair’ where are new community members visit information booths with local organizations, service providers, prospective employers,” Taylor said.
“There are people who may not know who to ask and who can help, and there are people who have help and support to give. My role in this project is to be a conduit between these two groups.” She said diversity is always a benefit because it makes a community stronger and more resilient.
“The more knowledge and skills you can draw on, the more resilient you are,” Taylor said.
“I’ve lived here about 30 years and, other than a temporary surge or two, it hasn’t really grown. People are moving away to find work and people are having smaller families. We need an infusion of new blood and new energy. We need to work to build families and create a community.
“Williams Lake has always been about neighbours. And although the neighbors themselves have changed, the neighborhood hasn’t. We’ve learned about our shared history here, and what we’re built on, such as the Chinese workers and residents, First Nations people and pioneers,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter who your neighbors are: you help them because something it might be you who needs help. And it builds stronger, more sustainable communities. It makes it better for everyone.”
The open house will take place April 4 at 2 p.m. at the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society in Village Square on First Avenue in Williams Lake. For more information, visit imss.ca/welcoming_wlake.php and https://www.facebook.com/pages/Welcome-WL/140988839389257.