Immigrating: Full-Service Welcome Centre to Help Immigrants in York Region

When Tatiana Kopylova immigrated to Canada from Russia, she wanted to improve her English skills and get help with her job search. Alone in this new country, she had nowhere to turn for support or answers to the many questions she had about life in Canada.

“I found I had a language shield. I can understand everything, but I can’t always speak it,” she said. She found those supports and more – all in one place – at the newly opened Welcome Centre – Immigrant Services in Vaughan.

The Woodbridge resident graduated from the highest level of English classes, and attended Job Search Workshops that provided her with an updated résumé, cover letter and the confidence to pursue a job in the banking field. “I feel very comfortable, welcome and valued [at the Centre],” she said.

With funding from Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Welcome Centre represents a new model for service delivery to immigrants in Ontario – where they are able to access, for the first time, a full range of services under one roof.

The 15,000-square foot Centre is located in Vaughan at 9100 Jane Street, at the corner of Jane Street and Rutherford Road beside Vaughan Mills Mall. The doors officially opened in June 2007. The Centre expects to provide more than 3,500 newcomers with core immigrant services such as settlement, employment support services, language training and accreditation and qualifications assistance in its first year of operation.

The Welcome Centre is managed by a partnership of five community organizations – COSTI Immigrant Services, Catholic Community Services of York Region (CCSYR), Centre for Information & Community Services (CICS), Job Skills and York Region Neighbourhood Services (YNS) – that have been serving the community’s immigrant population for more than 20 years. Representing more than 35 participating community organizations, these lead agencies are responsible for providing the core immigrant services.

“We believe that the Welcome Centre will set a new standard for services to newcomers,” said Mario J. Calla, Executive Director of COSTI Immigrant Services. “The concept of a comprehensive, one-stop, multi-service centre operated jointly by a number of experienced community agencies is an idea that will increase opportunities for success for new Canadians.” The Welcome Centre concept builds on the idea that a trusted person will be able to “guide” a newcomer through the maze of information and resources.

Over the years, urban sprawl, rapid population growth and transportation issues, have created difficulties for immigrants to York Region being able to find the needed help and resources to integrate socially and economically into Canadian society. Growing numbers of newcomers are settling in this community north of Toronto. However, before the opening of the Welcome Centre in Vaughan, the region had been under-served.

The Welcome Centre in Vaughan is the first step of a vision that could see Welcome Centres set up throughout the Region over the next two to five years, to meet the needs of immigrants, right in their own communities. Future sites would be determined by factors such as population density and transit accessibility. As well as ongoing community input, these Centres would eventually form a service delivery network in York Region that would make services and resources more accessible and effective to help immigrants become established in their new country. Angelica Galeana and Rogel Rios came to Canada from Mexico with their three young children, looking for a better future. The Welcome Centre has provided them with a wide range of information that is helping them settle in their new country, as well as providing the opportunity to network with others who are experiencing the same challenges adjusting to a new life in Canada. “You can find everything here, you don’t have to travel to find other information,” Angelica said.

“We feel very welcome here; we have the experience of others and the interchange of ideas [to help us],” Rogel added.

For more information about the Welcome Centre – Immigrant Services, visit www.welcomecentre.ca or call 1-877-761-1155.

CNM