YMCA / YWCA: Helping Across Canada

By Sandra Fletcher

Dmitri had never been someone to exercise – he’d never even tried before, but someone at work suggested he try his local “Y”. He did and enrolled in a group personal training class that showed him what to do in the gym and how not to hurt himself. While he became more comfortable at the gym, he noticed signs for other programs being offered...English language skills LINC classes, access to computers and settlement services for newcomers (like him!).Soon, the YMCA became his second home – and a place he will always be grateful for joining.

For many people the YMCA is a constant presence in their community and has been for as long as they can remember. That’s because the YMCA/YWCA has been around for more than 150 years in more than two dozen countries around the world. Although originally established as the “Young Men’s Christian Association”/”Young Women’s Christian Association”, the “Y” has welcomed all people, regardless of their faith for decades.

As a matter of fact, the very first YMCA established in all of North America was in Montreal. The focus of the YMCA then, as now, was to help their members to use their time away from work to learn and improve themselves in addition to belonging to and improving their communities.

The history of the YMCA as an umbrella organization which provides assistance to all Canadians is a long and varied one. In one of the most terrible tragedies in Canadian History, the Halifax explosions, it was the YMCA that housed thousands, and acted as a makeshift hospital and rehabilitation centre.

Each community across Canada is different and, reflecting this, so are the programs and services offered by each YMCA location. The services reflect the specific needs of the community including programs for children, youth, newcomers, seniors, etc.

A great example of this is the Regional Newcomer Centre in Prince Albert Saskatchewan. The YWCA Regional Newcomer Center is a drop-in Center where newcomers can go to receive information on their new home and get assistance on settlement issues.

This Prince Albert “Y” has provincially funded programs and deals with Temporary Foreign Workers, Student Visa holders, Visitor Visa holders, Refugee Claimants and Permanent Resident newcomers. The Centre provides information to the participants by helping them navigate the city, get settled, feel comfortable and meet contacts and friends alike. The Centre offers free computer use, referral services and general information on services and opportunities in the community. The YMCA provides newcomers with help to navigate provincial and federal websites and the links to where to find appropriate information for their immigration issues.

YMCA settlement programs help individuals find housing, apply for health cards, social insurance numbers, register children in schools, daycare and any other settlement issues that may arise.

YMCA Newcomer Centers offer assessment and referral processes to provincial language programs to determine if English classes, and at what level, are needed. LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) programs are offered at almost every YMCA across the country. LINC is devised to help newcomers to Canada improve their English language skills in order to become successful in English.

Youth programs are very popular at the YMCAs and the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) also offers a program called Settlement Workers in Schools (SWIS). SWIS is a school-based outreach program aimed at helping newcomer students and their families settle in their school and community. According to Amanda Parenteau, Manager of the Regional Newcomer Centre in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, “the SWIS will connect newcomer families to services and resources in the school and the community in order to promote settlement and foster student achievement. This program increases the awareness and ability of newcomer students and their families to access appropriate services and resources within the school and community that will enhance the settlement process. As well, it increases school and community awareness and involvement in the integration process of newcomers, as well as promote respect for cultural diversity by informing the school community of newcomer topics.”

The small community programs address their particular needs, and medium sized communities with both newcomers and established immigrant populations have different needs. The purpose of YMCA Immigrant Programs offered at the Halifax YMCA is to help immigrants to Canada settle into their new homes in the Halifax Region, and to help the general population understand the issues and barriers newcomers face while adjusting and adapting to a new language, culture, climate and community, while maintaining their own. The Halifax YMCA offers several programs for newcomers including school support programs, youth programs, education programs and active living programs.

Providing services to large communities can be an even greater challenge. The YMCA in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) serves multiple communities and millions of citizens (see sidebar) in 6 different sites.

Teresa Costa, General Director of the Newcomer Settlement Programs in Toronto tells us that “Programs are developed and evolve organically. The YMCA has always been in the “business” of helping newcomers settle and build communities, whether it was during Industrialization and offering young men and women a place to call home as they migrated from the countryside to the urban centres, or offering ESL classes and other training or providing an opportunity for individuals to experience personal growth through volunteerism. If staff, volunteers and clients see a gap in service then if we can do something about it, we do. Or we help other organizations meet the need/gap.”

People belong to the YMCA for a variety of reasons ranging from fitness needs to social opportunities to child care. Adults, families, seniors and youth all find a place to belong at the YMCA. Many YMCAs have funded newcomer programs and/or fee-for-service programs. Their membership fees can be subsidized for low income families to allow access to programs and services for all.

It is the inclusivity and commitment to their community that sets the YMCA apart from so many other not-for-profit organizations. For decades the Y has adopted and lived its philosophy to “ to foster the growth of all persons in spirit, mind and body and heighten their sense of responsibility to each other and the global community.”

Where is YOUR YMCA?

There Are Ys Located In Over 250 Communities Across Canada - Here Are A Just A Few And Their “Claim To Fame” Programs For Newcomers!

YMCA of Wood Buffalo located at 221 Tundra Drive in Ft. McMurray, Alberta. A strong member of the Fort McMurray community, the YMCA has facilities, programs and support for the whole family.

YMCA Cross Cultural and Community Services of Cambridge and Kitchener Waterloo is located at 800 King Street West in Kitchener. Their comprehensive programs for newcomers include employment and self employment programs, language training and assessment and social and mentoring supports.

YWCA Prince Albert Settlement Services and LINC Program at 1895 Central Avenue, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. This YWCA services newcomers to Prince Albert and has Settlement Services, Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada, Settlement Workers in Schools and The Regional Newcomer Centre.

YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth Centre for Immigrant Programs 65 Main Avenue, Halifax, NS. Provides services to newcomers from infant daycare to senior LINC classes.

YMCA Connections, Robert Lee YMCA – Community Programs, 955 Burrard Street, Vancouver, BC has been open for just over a year in the completely revamped heritage building houses programs for newcomers, a daycare, wellness and fitness programs in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

YMCA (GTA) - The YMCA of Greater Toronto (Dufferin, Halton, Peel, York, Toronto and Durham Regions) offers 4 unique programs out of 6 sites in 3 cities: Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton. Programs fit into Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s third Strategic Outcome which is the successful integration of newcomers into society and the promotion of Canadian citizenship.

The 5 programs are as follows:
● Language Assessment & Referral Centres (4 sites in Toronto)
● Newcomer Information Centre (3 sites in Toronto)
● Newcomer Youth Leadership Development & Family
● Engagement (5 sites: 3 in Toronto; 1 in Mississauga and 1 in Brampton.
● YMCA Korean Community Services