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560 CFOS

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Local Service For Newcomers To Canada Wins International Award

Grey Bruce | by Claire McCormack  

United Way's 'Making Grey Bruce Home' online hub was the only Canadian winner.

L-R: Sarah Owens, May Ip, Francesca Dobbyn  

A local project to help newcomers settle in Canada has been recognized with an award and has generated some international interest.

Earlier this year, the United Way of Bruce Grey launched a website that allows newcomers to find information about local services in over 20 different languages.

On Wednesday, (June 10th) The United Way announced its 'Making Grey Bruce Home' online hub has been honoured by the The Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS) with an International Award for Innovation.

The project was put together by a local United Way task force and the Collingwood based Community Connection which is the local 211 provider.

It was the only Canadian winner, while the rest were from the United States.

Community Connection's Sarah Owens says the service hasn't really been done before, and organizations as far afield as Louisiana are interested in duplicating it.

May Ip worked on 'Making Grey Bruce Home' as a 14 month project that not only designed how the search page works, but also trained organizations to better help newcomers find the services they need.

Ip says newcomers are looking for things like childcare services, education information, job openings, housing information and a host of other things that are sometimes as specific as specialized groceries.

She says she drew upon her experience moving to Canada from Hong Kong nearly 25 years ago, where she initially lived in Sauble Beach.

Grey Bruce may seem like an unlikely place for such a service to develop, when there are far more newcomers in large urban centres in Canada.

But Ip says in larger cities, there are enough people of the same backgrounds that they can help eachother find services, which is not as easy in Grey Bruce, "There are not enough people to develop a critical mass where people can support each other," says Ip.  

She notes it's a very spread out, rural area, "In order to be able to connect and to support newcomers all throughout Grey Bruce we have to think of something that overcomes that physical barrier," says Ip.

United Way Executive Director Francesca Dobbyn agrees, saying, "Innovation comes out of scarcity quite often."

Ip says the immediate trigger for the project was in 2015 and 2016 when area churches and groups sponsored some 11 families, many of which were refugees of the Syrian War.

She says the website is still in development. Right now it uses Google Translate, which she says can be awkward and while users can read information in their own language, it works best for people who have a little bit of English too.

The project was made possible through a grant from the province.

Dobbyn says they'll continue to assess its functionality as technology and budget allows.

You can see the website at www.newcomersbrucegrey.ca

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