Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) unveiled their new services centre in the west end of the Downtown Core on Friday, marking a number of firsts for the organization and their partners.
The new downtown hub will act as a welcome centre for new immigrants, and also serve as a location to provide newcomer services and resources like language assessments—which ISC is the sole provider for in the city.
“This is actually a momentous occasion for our organization and for our clients, as we unveil the Gateway Newcomer Welcome Center, which is a combination of two years of planning, design, and construction,” said Shirley Philips, acting CEO for Immigrant Services Calgary.
“It also represents the realization of a vision to create a center in downtown Calgary, where all newcomers can come and have access to services and support within a space that exudes dignity, pride and respect.”
Philips said that the organization has had a downtown presence for more thanb 25 years, and that the new centre would continue to service the needs of their clients by being centrally located and accessible to the CTrain line.
She said that when clients enter the new facility at 910 – 7 Avenue SW, they will be greeted by staff in their new welcome hub. There, clients will have the opportunity to speak to a Gateway planner to help them formulate a plan to receive services and resources.
Interpreters will also be available at the new hub to assist people in receiving those services.
Among those individuals taking in the soft-opening on April 21—the hub fully opens to newcomers on May 1—were newcomer Ukrainians Hanna Chepurda and Oksona Daluek.
Chepurda, translating for Daluek, said that she was very grateful for the services that ISC had provided so far.
“[My] family are really grateful because they’re all new here, and they know the services,” Daluek said.
She said that local service agency Made by Momma referred her to ISC initially.
Philips emphasized that the organization would continue to work with its partners in order to provide the best services to its clients.
“I think it’s a vital role when people are going through the process, those agencies that have portals on our database in our platform, are able to pick up what they’ve referred and follow up.”
Funding in part from private sector, government
Funding for the new hub was in part provided by ISC’s corporate sponsors, like Cenovus Energy, and the government through the City of Calgary, Government of Alberta, and Government of Canada.
Mayor Jyoti Gondek congratulated ISC on their opening on behalf of the City.
“In a city that likes to boast that it is the third most diverse city in this country, that status is only as good as the actions that we take to make us welcoming and inclusive,” she said.
“The projects the spaces the programs like the ones that are offered here at Immigrant Services Calgary and Gateway allow us to stake that claim of diversity.”
She spoke about her own experience moving to Canada in 1973, and then to Calgary in 1997.
“It has always been a welcoming experience, and with organizations like this one, we continue to make it so for newcomers,” the mayor said.
Jason Luan, Alberta’s Minister for Culture, also spoke about his experience coming to Canada as a foreign student and eventually becoming a cabinet minister for the province.
Luan provided a cheque for $900,000 to ISC as part of the opening of the hub.
The funding came from the Community Facility Enhancement Program for the work done on the hub.
“Support for newcomers in Calgary is becoming more and more important and a great priority for the Government of Alberta,” said Minister Luan.
“It is evident today when Immigrant Services Calgary reached this milestone of establishing brand new gateway programs, it touches my heart.”
The new hub will also contain a first of its kind banking pilot, with Bank of Montreal operating a full branch within the welcome centre to meet the needs of ISC’s clients.
“Upstairs right now are three of our employees who are going to be filling the space and helping having great conversations with customers,” said John MacAulay, Regional President, BMO.
“We’ve never done this before, and so we’re working very closely with Immigrant Services Calgary to figure exactly exactly what their needs are and their client’s needs are, and make sure we tailor that.”