Refugees and immigrants… needs remain the same

Twenty-seven years ago, Barrie wasn’t exactly a hotbed for refugee resettlement. The Ministry of Immigration had developed regional quotas and was looking to bring immigrants in to the Barrie area. They wanted to provide financial assistance to help sponsored individuals settle in Canada.

It was the responsibility of a government bureaucratic office and it wasn’t working.

A partnership between government and a charitable organization was suggested and the Barrie Y became the location for a new Welcome Centre.

That’s basically the background.

Now, to Susan Krieger Green, whose parents and grandparents were all immigrants. Susan had moved to Barrie with her husband to start their family and his law practice. The kids were well on their way. Susan was a lifelong user of the Y. Leaving exercise class one day, she paused at the notice board and saw an ad for a Director, Immigrant Services for the new Welcome Centre.

Y Executive Director Ed Giles knew Susan well. She brought him up to speed on her university studies in sociology and immigration. She had never, however, had any personal dealings with ethnic groups. But Ed knew Susan and Ed chose well.

For over a quarter-century Susan has headed up a centre that started at the Y, grew to the Bayfield Mall across from the employment-oriented Career Centre. Initially Susan and Ruth Millar were the only employees. They were helping people who arrived in Barrie with literally nothing. They’d buy kitchen supplies, bedding, toileries etc to help people get set up and in the early days Susan’s work was very hands-on. Volunteers came in to give language training.

As the program has changed over the years, it’s been language and culture training that has mattered the most, though clients seek help with housing, health care, lawyers, and employment.

“Most of our clients are between 25 and 45, a lot with families. They come here to make a better life for their children,” says Susan. “Many come to reunite with families. Many are refugees.”

Susan’s initial role was Director, Immigrant Services. Twenty-seven years, and 2,500 settled new Canadians later, Susan’s title was Director, Newcomer Services. Though the title remained the same, the job grew enormously!

Susan says the places people came from over the years really indicated what was happening in the world. Columbia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Pakistan, India… and there are Barrie businesses thriving today whose owners were early clients at the Barrie Welcome Centre.

“There were always issues around who we would get each year. We tried some employment programs but language and cultural differences really are the first concern. We always had the challenge of meeting criteria and numbers. Many of our clients needed to work at night and on weekends and would come to us for training during the day.

“In the past few years, my work has become heavily administrative. Funding proposals were larger and more complicated. The process was highly regulated as was reporting and it consumed my days. I had no hands-on work any more,” says Susan.

“But I’ll miss all the clients I worked with. They’re here for a reason. They’re here because they’ve come to Canada and they want to make a success of their lives.”

“When I started, Ruth Millar and I were the only employees. Today there are 12 or 13 employees, more English clases, some support staff, an extra settlement counsellor, extended boundaries. I’ll miss those people.”

Susan is ready for retirement. “In the winter I would go to work in the dark and leave in the dark.”

“It’s time to have time.”

Thanks, Susan!