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The federal government estimates that in 2014 Canada welcomed over 240 000 permanent newcomers. Immigrants bring enrichment to our country in ways not limited to manpower, purchasing dollars, knowledge and skills, and cultural variety.

For newcomers, their experiences can be as varied as the newcomers themselves. Some find a welcoming community with jobs, new relationships, and new lifestyles.  Others face financial pressures, isolation, and cultural barriers.  Most experience something in between.

Calgarians have established an abundance of resources that can assist in smoothing the transition for immigrants, but just because we offer them, does not mean they will be used.

In a previous news story Anne* said that she did not contact Distress Centre initially when she needed help because as an immigrant, she felt that our services were not meant for her.

We encourage anyone who needs our services to utilize them. To get that message across, Distress Centre recently began to partner with various immigrant support agencies.

We hoped to educate newcomers on our services and how to access them, encourage them to volunteer with us, and to help them integrate successfully into Canada.

After many meetings and consultations, some common themes emerged.

  • Immigrants already desire to help their community. Many said that they had a variety of self-motivated helpful activities that they provided to neighbours back in their country of origin. However, many immigrants do not associate these actions with the Canadian idea of volunteerism and see them as an everyday duty to their community.
  • Finding stable employment is the top priority upon arriving in Canada. This is due to the financial pressures of providing for their family. The belief then is that volunteering takes away from finding a job. However, this is not the case. A growing majority of companies, educational institutions, etc. now count volunteerism as a leading advantage between competing applicants. Distress Centre experienced this first hand during the 2008 recession. We received an influx of volunteer applicants (many newcomers to Canada) with long lists of education and work experience who were unable to find work.Their volunteer involvement significantly improved their chances of job placement, a significant advantage at that time.And research(link) is showing that this is a growing trend.
  • Seeking outside help and even admitting the need for help are not easy for the average newcomer.Even if the language barrier is non-existent, a significant portion of immigrants believe the family or a close-knit community should bear the burden of a crisis. However, much research shows that obtaining help in times of suffering and pain often increases coping with and working towards problem-resolution. For newcomers already trying to fit in, not reaching out can increase isolation and fear of the very place they came to for a “better life.”

It is clear these issues are bigger than one person, organization, or even city.  However, through collaboration between Distress Centre Calgary and various newcomer agencies, much learning and action has already taken place.

I have been busy finding new ways to make Distress Centre Calgary more attractive and receptive to immigrants in our city. As I am currently on maternity leave, my replacement, Kaylee Knox, continues this work, which I feel confident will pay off in spades.


Chloe McBean
Contact Centre Volunteer Team Lead

*name has been changed