The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council in a nutshell:
The Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) is a charitable organization that has been assisting newcomers to Canada and St. John’s since 1983. We don’t try to integrate newcomers, but rather give them the tools they need to participate in the community to the best of their abilities. We also provide information to the general public about the challenges many newcomers face, in order to make our city a more welcoming place that is better-equipped to interact with people from diverse origins and circumstances.
It has been an eventful year for us to say the least. In late October of 2016, RIAC lost access to our space of over 20 years. We were left homeless for a while, bouncing from cars to kitchens to coffee shops. Through all of this, the support from the community was overwhelming, as friends new and old came together to not only keep RIAC going, but to continue building our organizations to be what it is today.
The crisis is behind us, so now RIAC is looking to the future. We now have access to a permanent space in the Neil Building on Harbour Drive, thanks to Common Ground Coworking. We have more and more people coming through our doors now with the recent influx of refugees to the province, along with its overall increase in diversity. There is a higher demand for services for the growing community of newcomers (from all over the world and even other parts of Canada) in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Now that we have access to space where we can operate, we need more permanent sources of revenue. Our immediate need is our monthly rent and utilities. Programs such as our Advice Program, Conversation Partner Program, and English as a Second Language classes require funding for us to continue providing them, along with our other services. We also need to be able to cover basic administrative expenses. Newcomers in St. John's, particularly those outside of the Government Refugee Program, don't have access to opportunities to learn and enhance their English reading, writing, and conversation skills, which they so badly need to ensure their own well being and that of their families. What we offer is an open, friendly, and welcoming environment that facilitates this process.
This is why we are looking towards the future, looking for funds to grow our operations, and for another opportunity for the community to come together and show its be an active part of the solution!
RIAC’s service programs include:
Advice and Guidance Program:
We provide orientation to newcomers, local individuals and organizations on a variety of subjects. These include immigration, employment, health, education, housing, entertainment, translation and other quality of life matters. You may drop by our office or book an appointment with our Executive Director.
Free English Classes:
Due to increased demand from economic migrants for opportunities to practice English, RIAC started its free English Classes in 2013. Many newcomers expressed interest in having class schedules that were compatible with their other daily activities. Many newcomers are unable to attend school full-time. Others are ineligible for existing English language programs. Additionally, tuition costs make university and college inaccessible to many there are currently no private options available in the local market. All of our classes are taught by dedicated volunteers of varying backgrounds.
Conversation Partner Program:
The current format of RIAC’s Conversation Partner Program started in 2011. It developed out of the informal referral services that RIAC has been offering since 2007. Newcomers are paired up with native English speakers and these conversation partners meet in their own time and set up their own activities. Three times a year, the coordinator responsible for the program checks in with the conversation partners and assigns new partners to any newcomers whose previous partners are no longer available, so that they can continue to participate in the program. Lifelong friendships often develop out of this program.
Strong networks are essential to thriving in Canadian life. Additionally, being able to demonstrate that one has put one’s skills to good use is a strong asset to have when applying for employment. Furthermore, newcomers continue to express interest in giving back to the community that is giving them an improved quality of life. For these reasons, RIAC’s volunteering program revolves around the volunteer’s interests. It informs volunteers about the interests of the community and they can then decide how much time they are able to commit and how they will approach their chosen projects.
With the context given by the community, volunteers are able to put their skills to use on projects that are relevant both to themselves and their community.