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Immigrants fuelling growth in services



The number of new residents coming to live in Whistler is on the rise and the services needed to make those newcomers feel at home have also grown.

Carole Stretch, the leader of the Settlement Assistance Program in Whistler and the lone Capilano University instructor in Whistler, has seen and lived the growth since she first started working with newcomers to Whistler five years ago. As programs are linked to education Capilano University is funded to run them.

The introduction of the Provincial Nominee Program (PNP) made it easier and quicker for people with in-demand skills to enter the country and once those employees settled in, Stretch said many of those employees sponsored their family members to come to Canada.

A few years ago when the hotels were having trouble filling all their vacant position, Stretch said, the hotels brought people in from their operations from around the world.

"The Fairmont had a load of Filipinos that came in," Stretch said. "At the Four Seasons there are loads of Mexicans and also some Arab speakers. We've got Egypt, Jordan, Syria and we've got somebody from the Maldives."

The original influx of hotel workers are now starting to welcome their family members and Stretch said the schools in Whistler are starting to feel the impact.

"They are beginning to come in really quite fast," she said. "There is not a language requirement for those people right now."

When Stretch started working with newcomers to Whistler she said she was mainly meeting people from Japan. Things really started turning around last year when Stretch said she started seeing people from more places around the globe.

Stretch works with a group of 25 tutors to offer English learning to new residents. Along with helping newcomers grasp the English language the new residents learn about Canada and the way the country operates. Between June 2010 and June 2011, Stretch and her team worked with 71 residents on a regular basis. She got her start with the program as a tutor soon after she arrived in Whistler. With previous addresses in Thailand, the Philippines, Norway, France and her childhood upbringing in the U.K. Stretch said she relates with the struggles experienced by the new residents she works with.

Some new funding is allowing Stretch and a number of groups she works with to find out what is needed in Whistler and Pemberton.

"We're going to do what Squamish did, which is go through a process," said Stretch, "to see what their experiences were, how we could improve those and what they want to have happen."

The process will include discussions and focus groups. Stretch said she expects to have her first discussions soon.

"The whole point of the project is that they become empowered to advocate for themselves and to support from within," she said.

A community forum is expected in about six months. Stretch said that after the forum the program implemented may or may not look like the program in Squamish as the community will determine what will work best for Whistler and Pemberton.

Stretch works with the community services organizations in Whistler and Pemberton and the Whistler Public Library offers meeting space for the various programs offered.

The attendance at the various programs is good and Stretch said word of the programs spreads only through word of mouth.

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