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Multicultural group wins bid for South Okanagan immigrant services

A local group has won their bid to continue as the provider of settlement services for new immigrants to the South Okanagan.
Sharon Kaewmanee demonstrates the art of Thai fruit carving at a recent multicultural festival

A local group has won their bid to continue as the provider of settlement services for new immigrants to the South Okanagan.

South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services, the operational arm of the Penticton and District Multicultural Society, has a long history of providing settlement services to newcomers to the area. Now, thanks to new funding of $461,469.33, they will continue in that role.

“This funding will allow for a broad range of services focused on helping new immigrants establish a life in British Columbia,” said Penticton MLA Bill Barisoff.

This funding is part of the $20.3 million annual budget for the Settlement and Integration Program under WelcomeBC. Hilma Labelle, executive director for SOICS, said they have to go through the bidding process about every three years.

“This is where we are very unlike most other not for profits who receive grants or awards. We actually have to bid on all of our core services through that B.C. bidding process,” said Labelle. “It is an open bidding competition throughout the province and we were the successful proponents for the South Okanagan Similkameen.”

Labelle said the high standards SOICS has maintained were a big influence on the group retaining the service contract, with part of the bid process including a point system based on the past and current experience.

“There is an element there where we can really show what we’ve been doing for the last three-year period,” said Labelle. “In 2011, we won the provincial diversity award and that keeps us on the cutting edge. We have amazing technology and we are considered leaders in the area of rural service delivery models.”

With B.C. being one of Canada’s most popular destinations for new immigrants — more than 40,00 each year — settlement services are an important factor in helping them integrate into their new home. For the portion choosing to come to the South Okanagan, this funding supports orientation classes and workshops on a wide variety of topics such as how to find a job, find a place to live, navigate the local transit system and learn banking basics.

All of the service provided by SOICS through their offices in Penticton and Oliver are in full use, according to Labelle, with the exception of the language classes.

“With our language classes we still struggle, because it is a voluntary program, to encourage people to come and learn or improve their English,” said Labelle. “When people arrive in the country, the first thing they need to do is find work, so language acquisition is the top thing on their list, unless it’s leading to better employment. Once they’ve established themselves somewhat, then there may be an opportunity to start improving their English.”