Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers
In the 1980s North America was welcoming a whole new culture of people – the Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian refugees of a long protracted war in their homelands. The Canadian and Edmonton community was doing their part to welcome these new arrivals, but some realized there was little in place to help them settle. Mennonites – with a persecuted past, as well as international relief experience through MCC - understood the problem as well as the potential for response. Several Mennonite church members met, adding the wisdom of Ann Falk, who understood the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese culture as well as the language through her time as an MCC volunteer in Vietnam. That was the beginning of the Edmonton Mennonite churches' response. The Centre started with one and a half staff in 1980 under the direction of a board consisting of appointees from First Mennonite Church, Holyrood Mennonite Church and Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church.
And so the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) was born – to walk with newcomers in their integration process – to fill out forms they couldn't understand – to advocate for newcomers when the system did not serve them adequately – to build relationships through language classes taught by volunteers – to pile newcomers into cars in the search of employment – to reflect the new cultural landscape by hiring first, Vietnamese, and later other nationalities who were now established and who could mentor newcomers – and to support the community as they established their own organizations.
And these remain the main pillars of today's EMCN: language, employment, settlement, community engagement, and an ethnically diverse staff that reflects the groups coming to Canada. At first, EMCN operated through 1.5 paid staff and many volunteers. Soon after, by shifting to a community agency model, government funding grants allowed EMCN to grow its paid staff as needs and opportunities allowed.
In the mid-1990s, as more and more skilled immigrants were moving to Canada, the need for bridging programs emerged as a solution to immigrants unable to find work in their professional field because of barriers in the area of language and understanding Canadian workplace culture, credential recognition and Canadian experience. This need developed into a very innovative collaboration between EMCN, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), and the professional bodies.
In 2001, the Federal government made changes to refugee sponsorship, which resulted in an influx of more vulnerable refugees. With this change came the need to support in a much more comprehensive and holistic manner. We have embraced principles that include community-based, team-based, client-centered and client-driven approaches to sustainable support for successful settlement outcomes.
EMCN works with up to 17,000 newcomers each year, from all parts of the world, out of five locations and various community locations. We currently have a staff of 230 that together, speak over 50 languages.