While living in Prague, Czech Republic, Matthew Ritchie learned firsthand how difficult it can be to be a newcomer. He faced language and cultural barriers and didn’t have the social support network he was used to growing up in Nova Scotia. When he returned to Canada, he decided it was time to help new immigrants in his home country. As Community Integration Coordinator at the YMCA Centre for Immigrant programs, he is able to help newcomers overcome those same barriers he faced. For over 25 years, the YMCA has worked with newcomer communities to support their settlement and integration in community. Central to its approach is to recognize that each newcomer experience to Canada is unique. Differences in culture, language, religion, ethnic background, and identity can intersect to create barriers and unique challenges often difficult to understand by those experiencing it. For many newcomers arriving in Canada, fitting in can be a difficult balance between cultural norms and experiences in one’s home country and in Canada. The YMCA recognizes this balance and the choices that newcomer families face as they settle in new communities.
Matthew has been working with vulnerable newcomer families with the YMCA in 2017; identifying pathways of collaboration and partnership with service providers that supported their newcomer integration and community participation. He later moved to his current role as the Community Integration Coordinator, leading the Mobile Crisis Team where he and his staff help newcomer families in the Halifax Regional Municipality to learn about systems of support and resources in the community to help prevent crisis situations. The Mobile Crisis Team has been a growth opportunity for the YMCA to connect with families in crisis who did not fully understand the systems of support available to them.
Empathy is a huge part of his role in relating to newcomer families to navigate systems that seem intimidating for newcomers. This support was even more crucial during COVID-19 when newcomer families arriving to Canada in the midst of the pandemic were even more vulnerable due to restrictions, isolation and being unable to access systems of support.
At the beginning of the pandemic the YMCA Centre for Immigrant Programs quickly responded to the urgent needs of newcomers. The YMCA adapted by using a blended program delivery model, connecting with newcomer children, youth and parents with online programs and services. YMCA Immigrant Services staff were able to help newcomer parents who lost work due to Covid-19 as they applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit as well as learn about public health guidelines for the safety of all community members.
Successful settlement and integration in community can only be built through trust and long–term investment by the community; the YMCA alleviates the responsibility on newcomers to have to do it on their own.
Matthew shared that he knows the YMCA’s approach is working when he hears that newcomer families have started to access service providers on their own and to even give back their time to participate in the community. His work shows the YMCA’s commitment to a vision of healthy communities where the most vulnerable among us are not only able but eager to contribute to a community that values respect, inclusivity, honesty and responsibility.
Consider donating to the YMCA to support our multi-service work with communities across the province
To read more stories of impact, support, and strength from the members of our YMCA community visit: The Y’s Impact of Community & Support