Immigrant Services Calgary is an organization that focuses on giving newcomers support through introductory courses, job support, legal advice and goal planning. Alka Merlin, Director of Communications and External Relations at Immigrant Services Calgary spoke about how their organization faces issues that new Canadians experience.


What do you feel are the types of things your organization is doing that are the most innovative in creating equitable communities?

In 2019, Immigrant Services Calgary started working on a strategy, which is a pilot project called Gateway. It’s a column community of collaboration with over 75 partners that are working together to make sure that newcomers when they arrive in Calgary are given or develop what’s called a Gateway Personalized Plan. So they work with a gateway planner, a settlement worker that sits down and talks to them about what are their priorities, their needs, their dreams and their goals. Then based on that they build a plan, that refers them to specific services in the community, to help them settle in Canada faster and better.

Who or what do you feel hinders the progress towards achieving equitable communities? 

I find things like racism and ableism (discrimination of individuals in favor of able-bodied people). You’re afraid of what you don’t know, that’s been my experience, based on what I’ve read, what I’ve witnessed and what I’ve seen out in the community. So if there’s something staring you in the face that you don’t know, and you don’t recognize that is and is unfamiliar to you, you’re a lot more likely to be hesitant and cautious, and maybe even a little defensive.

What parts of the city do you see as being the most vulnerable?

I guess the more obvious answer is the northeast where a lot of newcomers and racialized people live. There’s a number of different factors that play into that, but I think that that would be number one. There’s more and more folks living downtown, but I think probably the northeast, Forest Lawn, in that area.

Alka Merlin, Director of Communications and External Relations at Immigrant Services Calgary

Who else do you feel is doing innovative work improving the well-being of communities? 

We’re the operator of Gateway, but we’re only one of 75 plus partners in it. So we refer to them different partners and they’re not just nonprofits or social service agencies (e.g., organizations that support newcomers that are part of the LGBTQ community, and support groups that teach newcomers about Indigenous history and culture.) 

Merlin states that through Gateway, Immigrant Services acts as a bridge to other resources and agencies throughout the city, referring people to the places that can help them the most in adjusting to their new lives. By decreasing the service duplication across agencies, each organization can focus on using their expertise. 

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