By Heather Cameron
Westwind Weekly News
Starting on February 8, FCSS in partnership with Alberta Health Services, HealthierTogether.ca, and the Town of Taber, is offering a free Newcomer Support Group on Thursdays from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Taber FCSS.
Organized and facilitated by Gabriela Rodriguez, Counsellor and Healthier Together Coordinator, and Margarita Penner, LGM Family Liaison Worker, this pilot group is for individuals new to Canada within the last 10 years who live within the FCSS service area. This includes the towns and villages within the MD of Taber, Lethbridge County (excluding Lethbridge), and the County of Warner.
Rodriguez and Penner state that they both have experience as newcomers to southern Alberta within the last 10 years and are able to empathize with the struggles and joys of coming to Canada.
Within FCSS, Penner says she helps Low German families access resources and supports in the area, including those available at FCSS. Rodriguez, on the other hand, says she provides counselling for Spanish-speaking individuals in the FCSS service area.
Together, Penner and Rodriguez say they are able to create a support group that helps newcomers deal with the stressors of settling in a new community and learn more about the pragmatic tips and tricks of exploring Alberta systems and culture.
“Throughout the support group, newcomers will connect with one another about the challenges and joys of moving to a new community,” said Rodriguez and Penner. “Each week the activities in the group will vary, but they will all encourage and promote connection among newcomers, provide support and information about available resources in their community, and provide an approachable and safe space to talk through and explore a newcomer experience. Newcomers will learn coping strategies for dealing with stress, navigating difficult feelings that may come with the settlement process, and how to create a community and find support from one another. Participants will also learn about the other supports available to them from FCSS. This includes free counselling services in Spanish, English, and Low German; free parent education in English and Low German; and free supports for seniors and youth.
Supper is provided each week and childcare is available.”
Penner and Rodriguez say that newcomers can register for the support group by calling or texting Gabriela at (403) 915-8803 (Whats App) or Margarita at 403-394-8983 (Whats App). Newcomers, they say, can also register online by visiting the website: https://fcss.ca/event/free-newcomer-support-group-taber-2/.
“Moving to a new community – let alone a new country – can be very stressful,” said Penner and Rodriguez. “The immigration journey is not always easy, and some newcomers may need to process that experience with others who understand what they’ve been through. Further, some newcomers and refugees may have had difficult experiences in their home countries that have impacted their mental health (war, poverty, etc.). Furthermore, newcomers can sometimes experience social isolation and loneliness. Moving to a new country and leaving family members back home can increase these feelings of loneliness and can sometimes lead to emotional distress. This group will help newcomers find a community that understands what they’re going through, while also learning how to navigate community systems.”
Penner and Rodriguez say they are hoping to take this pilot program to other FCSS communities that they serve in the future, and those interested in having the group in their community can contact Gabriela at (403) 915-8803.
“We have heard from newcomers and organizations that support or employ newcomers, that this group would be very beneficial,” said Penner and Rodriguez. “This program is so important because it can be difficult for newcomers to move to a new country and to feel comfortable in this new place that they now call home. We are here to make the process a bit easier and provide newcomers with some coping strategies along the way. The stress of feeling lonely, not knowing how to navigate health care or legal systems, for example, and not having familiar friends, cultural symbols, or religious spaces in their new community, can significantly impact newcomers’ mental health and well-being. We are here to listen and to help. This program is also important because the health and wellbeing of the newcomers who work in our region directly relate to the success of our local businesses. Since many newcomers and their families move to this area to work, it’s very important to help newcomers navigate the emotions that go with the settlement journey. This group will be an excellent opportunity to navigate the stress that comes with moving to a new country with others who understand, including the facilitators of the program. Thanks to the many jobs available in the area, there are many newcomers to the MD of Taber. In fact, in 2021, the MD of Taber was made up of 24.6 per cent immigrants. That’s 10 per cent higher than the provincial average. This program is very much needed to be able to keep up with the many families who have moved to this area and their unique needs.”