Building Welcoming Communities for Newcomer Families to Nova Scotia
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.
“The YMCA uses a strengths-based approach to working with newcomer families. Getting to know the strengths and experiences of newcomer families can help them set goals for family members in their new community,” – Matthew Ritchie Community Integration Coordinator
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.
“The team works with newcomer families as they make decisions during crisis situations, which can include financial crisis, police involvement, experiences of physical violence, bullying, family or neighborhood conflict, parenting, housing challenges etc. We build trusted working relationships with newcomer families and service providers. We get to know the needs of each family as a whole, from newborns to grandparents and are able to transfer relationships of trust with newcomer families to mainstream service providers.”
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.
“Newcomer families can have complex needs when they first arrive and become more independent over time. We are able to help families to understand cultural norms in Canada, how to be respectful with neighbors, how to get a job or how to connect with resources where they live.”
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.