Immigrating: York Region’s Inclusivity Action Plan

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A new plan of action has been started in York Region, just north of Toronto. Its goal: to welcome newcomers and help them feel that they belong to a caring and inclusive community.

Susan Taylor, Director of the Human Services Planning Branch, says, “We are excited that so many people are working together for a common goal. By being pro-active and learning from other regions, we can avoid problems some other districts have.”

95 different organizations in York Region took part in forming the plan. Among them are the United Way, York Region District School Board, YMCA, Regional Police and dozens more agencies and citizens of all ethnic backgrounds.

York Region covers a large area – 1,756 square kilometers of towns, forests and farmland, from Steeles Avenue north to Lake Simcoe, and has a population of over 875,000. Of these, 40% are immigrants – well over Ontario’s average of 26.8% immigrants. The population is rising fast – around 40,000 people move into the area yearly, and a large number of those are Newcomers to Canada.

The Inclusivity Action Plan (IAP) is sponsored by the Human Services Planning Coalition (HSPC) to respond to the needs of all these new Canadians.
The IAP has set up six actions around three themes: Improving Communication, Creating Awareness and Promoting Representation.

  • Develop a Welcome Centre for immigrants to help people become settled into jobs and homes, and to find education, health care and social services
  • Language development programs (ESL)
  • Education to raise awareness of inclusivity in the whole region
  • Teaching children be respectful and accepting of others at an early age
  • Volunteer opportunities for immigrants, development of their leadership skills
  • Finding ways to help organizations become more inclusive

Jerry Zhang, Policy & Project Development Specialist (who arrived from China in 1996) points out that the plan is in response to the demand for human services. The area’s demographics are changing. (Demographics: statistics relating to the balance and numbers of people in an area, counted by such things as age, education, country of origin, etc.)

Immigrants often have difficulty finding jobs, learning their way around, locating services and schools, and so on. Lack of skill in the English language is a real barrier, both in simply getting along from day to day, and also to gain employment in professions that use a specific jargon. (Jargon: specialized language used among a certain group, often impossible to understand by “outsiders”.)

“We’re going to focus on creating opportunities,” says York Regional Police Chief Armand La Barge.

The Inclusivity Action Plan is already a success. $75,000 in funding has already been received by one group. All are moving ahead fast to reach their goals.

Frank Scarpitti, Regional Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Markham, chairs the steering committee. “He’s a real champion of the plan,” says Susan Taylor. The committee oversees the work of all those groups and individuals – to help newcomers share the rich experiences, skills and abilities they bring to their new country.

Being a Newcomer to Canada’ York Region is starting to get a lot easier.

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