Rolling out the welcome mat to refugees, immigrants

Groups offering English language, literacy support to Coquitlam newcomers and you can help

Helping refugees and new immigrants improve their English conversation and literacy skills is the goal of three local initiatives rolling out in the Tri-Cities this fall.

The timing comes as the media shines a spotlight on refugees and ways people can support them, including those who are already here in the Tri-Cities, one of the top settlement areas in the Lower Mainland for government-assisted refugees.

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From volunteer tutoring programs to conversational get-togethers, Tri-City residents are looking for ways to welcome their neighbours, regardless of their country of origin and circumstances.

“There is a real interest in people [to help] and helping with education is a big one for sure,” said Janice Williams, adult services librarian with the Coquitlam Public Library.

CPL is looking for people, such as retired teachers and librarians, to help people struggling with English learn to read through its Adult Literacy Tutor Program, which is starting up again this fall with a new training session for volunteers.

Ellen Heaney, a retired children’s librarian who has tutored women from Afghanistan and Iraq through the library and is now helping a Bhutanese man learn to read English, said it’s rewarding work and the common theme among all her students is a willingness to learn.

“Their children are speaking perfect, unaccented English. They just soak it up and they are bringing home all these things from school. It gives [the parents] impetus to be able to read and speak English,” Heaney said.

“We try to help people who have more work to do on their literacy path,” added Williams, who said immigrant women, especially refugees, become isolated when they don’t have the skills to conduct daily life.

Another group wishing to help is Soroptimist International of the Tri-Cities. Jan Meyer, who is organizing conversational groups involving its members and immigrant women, said local Soroptimists want to break down barriers with this initiative.

“How do you even meet people?” asked Meyer, who said her group was inspired to start the program after seeing a survey that stated language help was one of the biggest needs of new immigrants. She acknowledged that isolation can be a problem and her group of professional women wants to reach out to women for some friendly conversation.

“This is a chance to get out of the house and meet someone,” she said.

Another group offering help is looking to match local seniors with seniors who are immigrants to Canada. The My Community Program run by Mosaic BC with United Way funding is seeking seniors with intermediate to high level of English and/or computer skills who can offer one-on-one tutoring for vulnerable newcomer seniors.

Ways you can help
• Mosaic My Community Program is seeking seniors with intermediate to high level of English and/or computer skills who can offer one-on-one tutoring for vulnerable newcomer seniors. The commitment is one to two hours per week for up to three months (with opportunity to extend). Contact is Jackie Hong, or 604-438-8214.

• Coquitlam Public Library is looking for 15 volunteer tutors to help people with low or intermediate English skills improve their literacy. A minimum commitment of one to two sessions a week for a minimum of four months is expected, and training is provided. Visit to get more information or to sign up.

Do you need help?
• Soroptimist International of the Tri-Cities branch is offering to help women who would like to improve their English conversation skills through meet-ups with its members in the Port Moody city hall galleries, or another public place, at conveniently arranged times. Email for more information.

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