A Welcoming Community
There’s No Place Like Home
What is home?
Idiomatically, it’s where you hang your hat. It’s where the heart is. It’s where they have to take you in. In reality, it’s so much more. “Home is where people are interested in you as a person,” shared Jean McRae, CEO of the Inter-Cultural Association (ICA) of Greater Victoria. “It’s a place where you can find work that’s meaningful and uses the skills you have. It’s a place where people don’t have to worry about their children being bullied or subjected to racism. It’s a place where people feel they — and their children — have a future.”
The Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria is focused on making our communities stronger by helping newcomers — from across the country and around the world — feel comfortable within the Capital Region as they learn to live in their new home.
The ICA works with immigrants to the region, helping them create cultural connections in the community. “We work with people who have left a place where they have a complexity of connections,” said Jean. “We help them build new connections here to avoid isolation due to language differences and unfamiliarity with the surroundings.”
With over 300 members, including businesses, organizations, and individuals, the ICA helps its members find ways to be more inclusive through programs such as Tools for Equity, Community Partnership Network, and Greater Victoria Local Immigration Partnership. ICA also offers Arts & Outreach programs that use art to showcase newcomers’ stories.
Is our community welcoming?
The Vital Signs annual report from the Victoria Foundation is a helpful tool to gauge quality-of-life concerns for the people in our community. It looks at 169 targets across 17 Sustainable Development Goals as part of the United Nations initiative to achieve a thriving and sustainable planet.
While the focus is global, the impact is local. “We really appreciate that the Victoria Foundation shares the annual Vital Signs report,” said Jean. “It’s very helpful to us to look at that and see the benchmarks and how things have changed in the community in terms of how people are feeling, the cost of living, and other concerns. It helps us understand some of the matters that people who use our services are facing along with everyone else in the community.” Read some of the stories of newcomers to Victoria.
“For an immigrant to Victoria, being able to get a job that pays well and uses the skills they have is a good indicator of a welcoming community.” — Jean McRae, CEO, Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria
Serving approximately 3,000 newcomers annually, the ICA has a good understanding of what is happening globally and locally. In 2015 the ICA began helping refugees to Canada by becoming a sponsorship agreement holder, enabling other groups to directly sponsor refugees as they came to our community. “We weren’t prescient,” explained Jean. “We didn’t know there was going to be a commitment to Syrians coming, but we thought it was time for us to get involved as Victoria hadn’t been very engaged in the private sponsorship of refugees.”
Sponsorship agreement holders are required to support the refugees they sponsor directly or by working with co-sponsors. The holders have financial and legal responsibilities for the people they sponsor, and there are specific requirements, including ongoing training, that must be maintained in order to be part of the program. If you know of a refugee in need of sponsorship, you can create an expression of interest with the ICA’s support. Expression of interest forms for 2023 are expected to be sent out in fall 2022.
“We have been amazed by the community’s generosity and willingness to be involved, and many people have come back to sponsor second — and third — groups of refugees,” said Jean. “People have been amazing in terms of their support and the amount of money they’ve raised. It’s not a small amount of money, and it’s not a small commitment. The people have embraced it and really helped with the Syrian situation back then and the plight of the Ukrainian people today. It’s still an emerging situation, but it’s amazing to see this kind of commitment from the community.”
The Victoria Foundation has helped the ICA improve communications throughout the pandemic. “We had a real challenge moving from what has been a very hands-on, face-to-face kind of service delivery into one that supports people without having them leave their homes,” said Jean. “The Foundation helped us increase digital literacy for some of our clients, especially for some of the older people. I give a huge thank you to the Victoria Foundation for helping us all pull together to support the community when the need is there.”
Visit the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria’s website to learn more about what they are doing to support displaced Ukrainians as well as their programs for other immigrants and newcomers to the Capital Region.