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 Welcome to our Member Spotlight Page. This special feature showcases GPVSB’s most valuable assets– our members! Spotlighting members from across the GPVSB spectrum, Member Spotlight reflects the rich tapestry of our membership and profiles active Non-profit and business organizations. If you would like to be featured in this section please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Create your own member story: join GPVSB today! 

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Centre for Newcomers

Supporting our Community’s Newcomers

By Rachael Rode, Communications Specialist

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Donat Mpunga, Program Manager

The Grande Prairie Centre for Newcomers is located on the fifth floor of the Nordic Court building in downtown Grande Prairie. It’s non-profit organization whose primary goal is to assist newcomers to settle in Grande Prairie and surrounding areas and access the resources they need, explained Donat Mpunga, the Centre’s Program Manager.

New immigrants to Grande Prairie come from all over the world. The Centre also assists second migrants who come from other Canadian provinces who may be looking for employment opportunities or joining spouses in Grande Prairie.

“When newcomers [arrive] here, most of them don’t know anybody,” Mpunga said. “We help them connect to people and community resources.” The Centre provides free assistance to immigrants in areas such as information and orientation, referrals, and supportive counseling. They work with their partners to help newcomers find employment, housing, school for themselves and children, English language instruction, and more. The Centre has also created a job board with open job postings for newcomers who visit them on-site.

“Mostly we see people come in because they need to find a job, but there is much more to do,” Mpunga stated. The Centre for Newcomers also supports immigrants in other aspects of their life in the new community. From ESL to health care, obtaining a driver’s license, further into grocery shopping and local entertainment, the needs of newcomers are extensively varied, and the Centre is prepared to respond to any request. “We do a thorough need assessment to see what their current needs are,” Mpunga explained. “If they need medical attention, we will see which doctor is taking patients. If they don’t know how to get their auto or home owner’s insurance, we help them find insurance companies. We connect them to community members. We also offer interpretation and translation services,” Mpunga said in summary.

The Centre will even connect families with support and counselling if needed. It’s all to help newcomers go through what Mpunga aptly called a “transformation”. The end goal is to help newcomers establish themselves and become self-sufficient so that they have the resources needed to become a contributing member of their new community.

“You don’t learn a new language or adapt to a new culture in one week,” Mpunga said with a smile. The Centre hopes that newcomers get on their feet quickly, but are more than willing to provide continued assistance if a client requires extended support.

The Centre for Newcomers also has a preventative mindset. “We need to see newcomers not when they have problems, but when they [first arrive], so they can be educated on how to avoid mistakes,” Mpunga explained. The Centre wants to prepare clients to make informed decisions and learn how to deal with potential problems before they occur. No matter what way the Centre is assisting newcomers, their efforts are definitely appreciated. “Every service we provide has an impact on somebody’s life,” stated Mpunga.

In the coming days, the Centre is looking at setting up the Settlement Support in School program. Already, the proposal has received positive feedback from school officials. This program would connect teachers, students, and parents with each other by allowing the Centre for Newcomers to go on-campus and meet immigrant children.

As the Centre for Newcomers is a non-profit organization, they do have limited resources. “Volunteers can help bridge the gap,” Mpunga stated. People who give their time to the Centre pave the way for the services the Centre provides to help newcomers settle in their new communities. Mpunga explained that volunteers can help with any activity as long as they have the necessary skills. Opportunities include reception, event planning, and client services such as gathering information, touring Grande Prairie with newcomers, conducting home visits and filling out the copious amount of paperwork that comes with immigration. Whether you love to meet new people and form relationships, or work behind the scenes, there’s an opportunity for you.

“Come to the centre and fill out the application,” Mpunga invites those who are interested in volunteering. “We need volunteers. The more we have, the better.” Grande Prairie is known for being a transient community, but the dedication of agencies such as the Centre for Newcomers encourages immigrants to stay where they have support. Eventually, newcomers become fully functional and integrated community members who give more than they receive. By supporting the Centre’s efforts, you support the community of Grande Prairie at large: visit the Centre on the fifth floor of the Nordic Court building to get involved.

 

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Grande Prairie Friendship Centre

 

Bridging the Gap

By Rachael Rode, Communications Specialist

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Kelly Benning, Executive Director, Grande Prairie Friendship Centre

Grande Prairie Friendship Centre celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. “We’re very successful and there’s a huge wait list for all of our programs, but we’re kind of a hidden gem,” Kelly Benning, their Executive Director, said with a smile when I sat down with her to find out about how this agency contributes to our community.  Although I had never been to the facilities, located just west of downtown Grande Prairie off 100 avenue, I was already impressed by the size of the building and the volunteers and clients inside who looked like they were having a great time. I was about to be even more impressed by learning about the array of programs that the Friendship Centre offers.

“All of our programs have a strong educational component,” Benning started. For the youngest ones, the Babies’ Best Start program provides nutritional information to young mothers. Next, their Headstart program is for preschool children aged three to five.  “Headstart is culturally based. The kids learn to sing, dance, drum, make regalia and jig,” Benning said. “We also have our Pintone program, a youth program,” Benning continued. “We have 48 kids in it right now.” There are different groups for kids ages 6 to 17. I had the privilege of touring the facilities after, and got to see one of the Pintone groups. Six- to ten-year-olds were having snacks and getting ready to make a traditional Aboriginal craft. As well, at GPRC, the Friendship Centre has an on-campus location, which is the only on-campus Friendship Centre in Canada.

The services Friendship Centre provides don’t stop at children and youth, though. Next, Benning explained the Mamewpitaw program, where Friendship Centre works with people who have intergenerationally been a part of the Children and Family Services system. They seek to help the healing process and to reunite families. In the large, open space at their facility, they coordinate outreach programs. “We work with at-risk people, homeless people, and street people,” Benning stated. They also host supper three times a week, where they serve anywhere from 50 – 90 people.  Similarly, they offer luncheons once a month for elders in the community. As well, I learned about a unique and entrepreneurial initiative for women. “Our Mikis program is the Cree word for ‘bead’. It’s a women’s crafting group that runs twice a month. We’re currently looking at opening up a gift shop,” Benning said.

I was already surprised that the programs Friendship Centre offers are tailored to every age, but I was most surprised to learn that the majority of their programming is open to non-aboriginals as well as aboriginals. Except for the Headstart and Mamewpitaw programs, which have been reserved for people of Aboriginal descent as per request of funding parties, all programs and events are open to the entire community. “Our mandate is to bridge the gap between the aboriginal and non-aboriginal community,” Benning explained. The Friendship Centre has certainly provided a diverse selection of programming so that it is well-equipped to reach individuals with equally diverse interests.

In the future, Friendship Centre is looking to set up healing and sharing circles for elders to assist them in dealing with loss due to the rapidly changing family discourse in modern culture. They also want to focus on women’s issues with initiatives such as Hug-a-Sister, Sisters in Spirit, and Walking with our Sisters, which promises to be an engaging community art show coming to Grande Prairie’s Art Gallery in June 2018. The goal is to grow the conversation about the issue of missing and murdered women. Involved in the project currently are 26 professionals from all walks of life and diverse racial backgrounds.

 Furthermore, the Friendship Centre also wants to work with families to discuss the importance of Aboriginal Education Bonds for their children’s futures.

“We’re part of the provincial organization,” explained Benning.  “There are 20 Alberta Native Friendship Centres across Alberta. And [nationally] there are 119 Friendship Centres from coast to coast.” Our local Friendship Centre’s efforts in programming to reach all members of the community has made it stand out on a national level. In 2013, they were ranked #2 Canada-wide.

As for the role that volunteers play in the organization, Benning acknowledged, “We work with volunteers every day. People volunteer in every program.” In the Babies’ Best Start, Headstart and Pintone programs, volunteers can work with the children. Volunteers can also cook and serve meals for outreach initiatives. Spirit Seekers is the largest youth conference north of Edmonton, which requires 50-60 volunteers to run. The Friendship Center organizes National Aboriginal Day in our local community of Grande Prairie, which is also volunteer-based.

Because the programming offered by the Friendship Centre is so diverse, there are volunteer opportunities for everyone. Training is provided, such as Traditional Parenting certification for those working in the children’s programs.

Benning welcomes volunteers as well as participants. “It’s for everyone. Everyone is welcome. Come and see what we’re all about,” she encouraged the community of Grande Prairie. If you’d like to get involved or just want more information, you can phone them at 780-532-5722. Tell the staff what your interests are and they can certainly recommend an activity that suits your strengths. “The biggest thing that GP Friendship Centre does is bridging the cultural gap and ensuring that Aboriginal people are educated, valued, and championed,” Benning stated. That’s a worthy goal that you can be part of today.

For more information on the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre please go to their website @ https://gpfriendshipcenter.wordpress.com/

 

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Disclaimer of Liability: This page contains links to third-party service provider websites. Grande Prairie Volunteer Services Bureau is not responsible and assumes no liability for the content or materials available on any linked third-party sites.

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