The Neighbourhood Immigrant Settlement Worker (NISW) Program: A newcomer’s lifeline in the community

two ladies talking in a meeting

image  by Immigrant Centre.  © Used by permission

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It started with a call. The woman on the line needed help applying for child benefits. The question was simple enough but the NISW who received the call felt that the need went beyond the question. She asked if they could pay her a visit. When the NISW accompanied by Roselyn Advincula (NISW coordinator) arrived at the newcomer’s home, they saw that it was bare, except for a few household items. The lady was extremely apologetic that all she could offer her visitors was a box to sit on as they did not have furniture yet. As their conversation progressed, they began to learn that the family had just moved to the apartment but they have been living in Winnipeg for nearly a year. It is the first time they ever reached out to ask for help. They were totally unaware of services around the community and other government supports that could help them in their settlement.

Many newcomers to Manitoba can relate to this situation. Learning about and accessing settlement services can be hard because of several factors: it can be the language barrier, lack of resources (like a computer, internet, car), or perhaps simply because of fear or timidity.

Bringing essential services closer to where newcomers are is what the NISW program is all about. Their mission is to provide localized (and individualized) newcomer supports to help in their integration. NISWs are hosted in the area’s school, community resource centre, or health centre, to make access easier and more convenient to newcomers in the area. Moreover, NISWs strive to create a friendly and non-judgmental environment for them so that they will be encouraged to come.

The NISW Program

The NISW program started in St. Vital in 2007. It was a community-based effort, promoting support services found within the vicinity. As the newcomer population grew, the need for more NISWs became apparent. The program was replicated in six, and then 10 areas all over Winnipeg. Today, there are 28 NISWs spread in the 10 areas, each hosted by a community organization. These areas are:

  • William Whyte/Point Douglas – Norwest Co-op Community Health
  • Tuxedo/Fort Rouge/River Heights/Edgeland/Doncaster – Tuxedo Family Resource Centre
  • St. James – Assiniboine – Jameswood Community School
  • West Central – West Central Women’s Resource Centre
  • Fort Garry/Fort Richmond – Access Fort Garry
  • Seven Oaks– Seven Oaks Immigrant Services
  • St. Vital / St. Boniface – René Deleurme Centre
  • River East/Transcona – River East Transcona Immigrant Services – RETIS
  • Inkster – Norwest Co-op Community Health

(For addresses and contact numbers please go to Immigrant Serving Organizations).

The number of NISWs in an area depends on the newcomer population that can be found there. For instance, Seven Oaks has six NISWs (composed of part-time and full-time settlement workers), West Central had two but with the influx of Syrian refugees, they hired a third. There are also volunteers that help out NISWs in various programs.

Central to the success of the NISW program is the presence of the NISW coordinator. She provides initial and ongoing orientation, mentorship, and assistance to all NISWs. She supports them in developing and launching programs, keeps tab of all the activities in the areas, maintains contact for consultations on various issues, and meets with them for updates on a monthly basis. Coordinator Roselyn Advincula holds office at Immigrant Centre located downtown.

Roselyn Advincula with volunteers at an event welcoming newcomers in Winnipeg.

How can NISWs help you:

NISWs mainly:

  • Provide settlement information and orientation to newcomers.
  • Connect newcomers with programs and services.
  • Host special events for newcomers to meet their neighbours.
  • Promote public awareness about immigrant issues.

A visit to an NISW begins with a one-on-one needs assessment. This can be done on an individual or per family basis. This is followed by an orientation. Depending on your needs, the NISW will refer you to services that you can find within the community, in another NISW area, or agency.

NISWs can also develop their own programs and partnerships with immigrant serving organizations. The programs they develop depend on the needs of the newcomer population in their community. They take into account inputs from regular consultations with the neighbourhood advisory council in every area (made up representatives of the community and settlement workers) so that the programs they offer to you are always relevant and responsive. They offer anything from Family Support Circles to Zumba and other recreational activities. They also have seasonal workshops on topics such as budgeting, credit counselling, renting, and others.

An NISW’s job doesn’t end with the referral to programs. They conduct follow-ups after two-three months to see how their clients are doing. Home visits are also done, especially when newcomers are unable to go to the NISW for their needs. This results in a personalized and individualized service, often dealing with all aspects of a newcomer’s life.

How do you get in touch with an NISW?

There are several ways you can get in touch with an NISW:

  • Referral from Manitoba Start or the Entry Program – In the initial settlement or employment orientation at Manitoba Start and the Entry Program, you can receive information about NISWs and where they are located in their respective communities.
  • Through the host organization – If your child is enrolled at a school that hosts an NISW, or if you go to a community or health centre where an NISW is connected, you can be automatically referred to an NISW.
  • Walk-in – you can simply call or visit your NISW in your community to ask for assistance.
  • Social media – some NISWs have Facebook pages where you can see the programs and activities you can sign up for in the community.

Connection to the community

So what happened to the newcomer family that Roselyn and the NISW visited?

After the assessment, the newcomer family was referred to services that could help them meet their basic needs. Aside from knowing how to claim child tax benefits, they learned about Hands of Hope, where they could get free furniture. The couple also became aware of recreational programs (especially for their child) that they could avail at the community centre. They were taught how to apply for child care so they would have time to find work. Finally, they received assistance in their job search and application.

Today, the newcomer family is thriving. Both the husband and wife are gainfully employed. They are now connected and active in the community. They even share their experience with other newcomers so that they could also benefit from the information and guidance that they received from NISWs.

Roselyn and the NISW relate this success story with much awe and gratification. This experience has shown that most of the time, it is never really just a simple call. If one listens intently and makes an effort to genuinely connect, real concerns are uncovered. With this knowledge, you can start devising solutions together with them to answer their needs. NISWs practice this every day and help more and more newcomers fully adjust to their new home. This is what makes their service so personalized and so special.

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