Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Services

Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Service team with English Online team members

Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Service team with Dan and Margarita from EO  by English Online.  © Used by permission

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It’s all about people

Interview with Don Walmsley, Settlement Services Coordinator
Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Services
June 24, 2016, Neepawa

Neepawa is a growing community. It is located northwest of Winnipeg, a scenic, two-hour drive along the Yellowhead Highway 15 and Highway 5. From a population of about 3,600 in 2011, it has grown substantially, buoyed mainly by the influx of immigrants in recent years. In fact, based on the 2014 Manitoba Immigration Facts report, Neepawa was second to Brandon as the top regional receiving community that year. English Online met recently with Don Walmsley, Settlement Services Coordinator of Neepawa and Area Immigrant Settlement Services, to talk about the work they have been doing to welcome and support their growing community of new Manitobans.

Here are highlights of the conversation we had with Don and his team:

English Online (EO): Thank you for having us here today Don. You run a busy office here. Could you give us an idea of the scope of your agency’s operations?

Don Walmsley (DW): We service three rural communities, Neepawa and Gladstone to the East, Minnedosa to the West. We also cover 7 municipalities. I would say, after Winnipeg and then Brandon, we may have the third largest grouping of recent newcomers. Our office has three permanent and five part-time staff. In terms of the English as an Additional Language (EAL) program, we have two part time instructors, and three part time staff for child minding. I have an extremely capable staff, very well trained, all very good at what they do and dedicated to do the best they can for the folks they get involved with. We also offer transportation to our clients so that they can attend during inclement weather. This service is very well used.

EO: What is the profile of newcomers in Neepawa? Do you serve permanent residents and refugees?

DW: The majority of our newcomers are here in the Neepawa area because of the employer HyLife. We have around 1100 newcomers now. Actually, we’d estimate around 25-30 per cent of our population now are newcomers. We’ve had a substantial increase in the population and this has had an extremely positive impact on the community. So when we look at service, we’re looking at any aspect. We work within the eligibility criteria set by the Department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada who funds our organization. IRCC is truly committed to helping agencies such as ours provide support and programming to newcomers to Canada.

We don’t work directly with temporary foreign workers. But when temporary workers come to Neepawa, there’s a pattern. After six months of continuous work, they’re eligible to apply for the provincial nominee program. When they get their approval, they then typically apply for their permanent residence. And when the new Permanent Resident family members arrive, we work with any who need our services. We are experiencing another really nice trend currently. The folk who have been here since 2012 and a little bit earlier are starting to become Canadian citizens.

There is a continuous entry into our program. People can come in at any time. We offer different levels of instruction in our EAL classes, from literacy to level 6. However, the majority of our newcomers now come from a country where English is one of the languages they receive instruction in at school. Now many of the newcomers already have their CLB level 4 when they come. Currently, I would estimate that 85 to 90 per cent of our newcomers come from one particular ethnic group.

We need to provide a place where people feel safe to come and be comfortable. A place where it’s okay to ask questions without being perceived as being silly or whatever. We all need places like that. We also need a place where we are helping people understand Canada, the new country they’ve moved to. And understand what the quirks are. It’s all about people. It’s all about working with them and helping them integrate.

EO: What services do you provide to newcomers?

DW: We provide English as an Additional Language training and a host of settlement services. These services work hand in glove. Because life is how you live, how you speak, how you communicate. So when we think settlement services we think language, when we think language we think settlement services. We try to do different things with English training within the community, through events (like cooking and community orientations). I encourage our staff to think outside the box.

We see eligible newcomers usually within a few days, or even hours, upon landing here. They come here for assistance in registering for Manitoba Health and other generic programs. We see to it that they know where to obtain their social insurance numbers and other documents. We talk about Child Care Tax benefits and other generic services available to all families. From there we discuss attending English language training, settlement services available, and often setting employment goals. People keep coming back. We connect them with other generic services and agencies within the community such as the school division so that the kids can get registered. We try to respond to any and all questions related to Canada, and how to integrate into life in Canada.

We also offer many different kinds of workshops such as workplace integration, workplace readiness, as well as information sessions on other topics related to living and life in Canada. Because we are a rural community and my background is in case management, we network. We’re always networking. Our sister organization in Brandon has been wonderfully supportive and extremely helpful. We know that we can just pick up the phone if we need their advice or feedback. They’re excellent, great to work with, and so are the crew in Portage. We also partner strategically with the community at large using existing, generic services where possible. We tend to form our partnerships based on what clients are telling us they need. We have partnered with the local community college for our Food Safe programs for example. We are hoping to set up a child care course in the fall and we’re discussing this with partners. We collaborate with the local regional health authority for health and wellness programming. We have partnered with the local school division in the past in offering some pre-school programming. Newcomers ask questions, lots of questions and that is how it should be. We mainly provide guidance, assistance, referral services and information. Our responsibility is to make sure that newcomers have all the information and all the assistance they can (have) to make an informed decision.

EO: What would you say are newcomers’ major concerns when they come here?

DW: Consistently it is employment and housing. It’s not so much about being welcomed because most rural communities are welcoming, I believe. Underlying these concerns is assisting the newcomers in understanding Canadian society. Especially when we look at the workplace, there are distinct differences among cultures. Often people (not just newcomers) may lose their jobs not because of technical skill, but essentially, because of their ability to fit into the workplace. We are speaking about soft skills, such as understanding team work, communication, or how to get along. Like saying “hi” in the morning, chatting at coffee time, and overcoming cultural shyness. Even understanding the concept of professionalism, because professionalism in one country may not be considered the same as it is here and vice versa.

Some people come here from positions of status, and for some there may be changes in their role within the context of the family. I applaud them for their courage to come and accept these changes. We talk about these issues and incorporate them into our English classes or discuss them with newcomers in this office.

Some of what we do is debunking urban legends. Tackling questions like, “if we don’t renew our permanent resident cards, do we lose our permanent residency?” We explain that if you don’t have your card you’re still a PR, don’t worry. You know, little things like that.

Our rule here is to help people new to the country integrate into life in Canada. To help them figure out what it’s all about without losing contact with their home life. They’re just adding on new habits, new understanding. We very much stress “don’t lose your language; don’t lose your culture.” Consider that you’re just adding on, not letting go.

EO: It’s wonderful to see that your services are personalized and responsive. The office is very welcoming.

DW: We hope so. If we end with smiles and laughter, and people are feeling good about the service they got, then we did our job right. We need to provide a place where people feel safe to come and be comfortable. A place where it’s okay to ask questions without being perceived as being silly or whatever. We all need places like that. We also need a place where we are helping people understand Canada, the new country they’ve moved to. And understand what the quirks are. It’s all about people. It’s all about working with them and helping them integrate.

We only go by appointment when we get swamped, but most of the time we are smooth and steady so we are readily accessible. And then there are times when we have paper work and obligations. You can’t help it, these take up time and that takes away from one-on-one face time. But you need to try and find a good balance because face-to-face time is important. That’s why I applaud our staff because they work so well as a team. We’re brainstorming all the time. We’re always talking about the issues, planning new things and just involving people in the process.

Also, it’s amazing what we find through networks. We work with other agencies like daycares, Health Authorities, justice, and school divisions, collaborating with them. It’s perhaps easier for us to do that here because we only deal with three school divisions and I know a number of people working in them. And if I don’t, I’ll know somebody who does know. For example, Manitoba Public Insurance has a bike safety rodeo summer program they offer to communities around Manitoba. So our office talked to the local elementary school here and we collaborated on bringing it to Neepawa. All the kids (and the staff) had a great time. Again, it’s all about thinking outside the box, talking to your network and brainstorming. We’re all about making it work. You also need to have an end result. Did they go away happy? Did they go away understanding? Did we answer their questions? And do they come back? A lot of people come back to our office which is great. A number of those that have been coming back recently are ready to become citizens. They ask us what they need to do to begin the process.

EO: Thank you, Don, for taking time out of your busy schedule to tell us about the fantastic work you and your team are doing for newcomers. I’m sure many of our readers who are in Neepawa or are getting ready to come here will be happy to know that they have a wonderful place to go to for their settlement needs.

DW: You’re always welcome to pop in. Please feel free to come back. We have an open door policy, so if you happen to be passing by, please drop by. It’s our chance for a conversation or a cup of coffee.

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