Regional Connections has a long history of providing language training and settlement services for immigrants and refugees to the Pembina Valley region in South Central Manitoba, with roots that go back more than 30 years when the first English at Work programs were launched in 1983. Fueled by that success, other programs followed: Literacy classes in 1988, ESL classes in 1998, Settlement and Employment services in 2004, the Volunteer Program in 2013, and Intercultural and Diversity Training in 2015. The project has evolved and grown in scope in response to the needs of immigrants and refugees arriving to the area. From the beginning, the goal of the project has always been to deliver client-focused services and programs to support and assist newcomers throughout the settlement and integration continuum.
In 1998, a small pilot project with the Manitoba Provincial Nominee Program brought 50 families from Russia and Germany. Word sent back to their home countries was very positive as immigrants had found employment, places to live, a good school system, and a safe community for raising families. Since 1998, thousands more have moved to the region. Initially the destination was just Winkler, but as time passed newcomers arrived to other communities and surrounding municipalities. New arrivals were able to find a range of living options to suit their families, from country acreages to towns and small cities to settle in. Since 1998, Regional Connections has welcomed over 15,000 newcomers to the area.
One of the key elements of Regional Connections’ success is multiple locations in the region that each act as one-stop-shop service hubs. Each location provides programs and services for newcomers who are either located in those communities or in the surrounding municipalities, creating a more accessible service model for newcomers who may otherwise face transportation challenges in trying to access a single regional centre.
Services at each location begin when a newcomer arrives in Canada. As a first step, clients make an appointment with a Settlement Worker. The Settlement Worker facilitates an intake process to assess the needs of the newcomer in order to develop a settlement plan.
From that first meeting, clients can be referred to an array of programs offered at Regional Connections as needs are identified in the settlement plan: information and orientation settlement sessions, employment-related services such as job search, interview skills, facilitation of credentials assessments, full and part-time English as a Second Language classes, Literacy classes, Workplace Language Training, and a Volunteer Program. Referrals are also provided to external community resources.
The Volunteer Program was established in 2013 to increase the capacity of our project to provide community integration activities and events. The program has surpassed our expectations due to the volunteers themselves who bring various backgrounds and skills, all with the desire to make a positive difference in their community.
A decade ago, there were newcomers from 10 countries accessing services at Regional Connections. Today, the organization has welcomed clients from more than 130 countries. As a result, one of the priorities of the past five years has been to address the increasingly diverse nature of our communities. We host or co-host cultural events in several communities to celebrate the people who have moved to the Pembina Valley. These events recognize and celebrate cultures by sharing artifacts, traditions, music, food, and dance. Cultural Diversity Training sessions are also offered to regional employers, community organizations, and community members in order to address individual and systemic barriers to integration and to build capacity as welcoming organizations and communities. Increasingly, newcomers are participating and becoming leaders in local communities.
From small beginnings, Regional Connections has grown immensely by responding to client needs through the development of programming and services based on input from clients, students, staff, employers, and community stakeholders.
Moving forward, Regional Connections is committed to continue building capacity to deliver relevant programs and services to newcomers to the region. We are building community together.