YMCA-YWCA Winnipeg’s Newcomer Services: Offering holistic and free supports for newcomers of all ages

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Interview with Marko Gjuric, Director of Newcomer Services

There’s a lot happening at the Y! If you think that your local YMCA is only about bodybuilding and exercise, you are missing out on a lot of great programs, especially for newcomers. We spoke recently to Marko Gjuric, Director of Newcomer Services at the YMCA-YWCA of Winnipeg to tell us all about their wonderful (and free) programs designed especially for newcomers to Winnipeg:

English Online (EO): I’ve heard about English as a Second Language (ESL) program at the YMCA for newcomers and it’s great that it has child care for those who have young children. Please tell us more about it and all the other programs you have for newcomers.
Marko Gjuric (MG):
We have five classes for our ESL program. Two ESL classes are in the morning and are specifically for mothers since they come with child care. The other three classes are held in the afternoon and evening (without child care). Our classes are from pre-literacy until CLB 5. Interested newcomers can come to our downtown location. We accept Permanent Residents and they need to have an assessment from WELARC so that we’ll know which class to put them in. The ESL program is offered through the school year from September to June, although we are hoping to add Summer classes soon.

We also have our Youth Wellness Program (youth from 14-24 years old). It has two formats, one is held during the school day and this is in partnership with schools, and the other one is an after-school program. The Youth Wellness Program focuses on connecting newcomer youth to other newcomer youth. It allows them to share their experiences about coming to Canada and being new to Canada. They also participate in all kinds of group activities where they build their skills and their connections. They actually end up creating a support group within the program. The facilitators guide them by focusing on different aspects of health and wellness. They address mental health, psychosocial supports, social health and, of course, physical health and nutrition. We do this program in partnership with two different schools here in Winnipeg and we’re hoping to add a third one in September. The after-school program works the same way; only it’s done after school. An added benefit is that when the participants to the program attend regularly, they’ll earn a regular membership to the YMCA so that that they can come use our fitness facilities just like any member would. The Youth Wellness Program runs year-round with the school partnership running throughout the school year. We offer activities for them during the summer as well. We hold this program at our downtown and Elmwood-Kildonan locations. Starting next September, we’ll also have it at our South Y location.

For the youth programs, participants can be referred by other settlement service providers, other youth-serving agencies, or schools and teachers. The youth can also hear it from word-of-mouth and come self-referred to our program.

EO: Are all the newcomer programs you’ve mentioned for free?
Yes, all our newcomer programs are free. They don’t have to be members of the Y.

EO: Are there other programs that you’d like to recommend?
We have other programs that are not newcomer-specific but newcomers can join. One is called the YMCA Community Action Network or YCan Program which is an initiative that supports grassroots community projects that are designed and led by the youth. For this program, the coordinator works with different youth groups to help them identify different challenges in their community. The groups can then apply for funding to start a service project or an initiative to address specific issues in their community. Those who are 14 to 29 years old can join.

They can also apply to the Youth Entrepreneurship Program, Self-Employment Program, or the learning and leisure program which is part of our mental health services. The learning and leisure program is a classroom learning program for those with diagnosed or self-diagnosed mental health challenges. There’s also a program for people who may be suffering from isolation or social anxiety. It’s about getting support groups together, going out in the city and doing things together to socialize. There is a version of this for seniors who may be suffering from isolation available at our south branch on Fermor Avenue. They also do outings (but at a cost to the participants) to get the seniors out and socializing, and doing things in the community.

EO: Of course, newcomers can also choose to join the Y’s regular programming as members, right?
Our regular Y programming is open to the community completely. There’s even assisted membership for people who can’t afford memberships. All they do is bring their previous year’s tax information and they can get a pretty significant discount on their Y membership. Once they get a membership to the fitness facilities, a lot of programming will be open to them for free. They can take advantage of different kinds of sports and wellness programming. And if they don’t want to become members, they can just pay a drop-in fee to access specific programs that they like.

EO: Can newcomers call or just drop by at the Y to ask about your newcomer programs?
The best location to go to would be the downtown Y because that’s where all the coordinators have their offices. The coordinators can give them direct information or meet with them if they’re available and tell them all about programs that would fit their needs.

Do you more questions? You can contact the Y: Contact Us
Downtown Y
301 Vaughan Street
Winnipeg, MB

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