Helping Winnipeg newcomers find belonging and prosper

The challenges facing newcomers including immigrants and refugees relocating to a new country can seem daunting. A small support network combined with language barriers, cultural differences and limited funds are all part of the settlement experience.

IRCOM and newcomers in Manitoba
IRCOM tenants celebrating Canadian Multiculturalism Day. With tenants from more than 20 different countries of origin, they come with a rich variety of expertise from their respective cultures that adds to our IRCOM community. At any given time, tenants at IRCOM may speak between 20 to 30 different languages and dialects. Photo credtit: IRCOM

But for families looking to provide a better life for the people closest to them, one organization in the heart of Winnipeg has been helping to ease the transition for over three decades.

A step up for those trying to find their footing

Shereen Denetto, IRCOM

Founded in 1991, the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba (IRCOM) helps newcomer families integrate into the wider community through affordable transitional housing, programs and services. With a team of more than 60 people spread over two locations, IRCOM has established itself as a strong support centre for new Canadians.

Their multilingual staff are committed to delivering holistic, wraparound support services for their residents under the leadership of Executive Director Shereen Denetto. A familiar face to the organization since 2012, she worked in senior executive roles within IRCOM for close to a decade before taking on her newest role in 2021.

“There are massive changes that come with starting a new life in a new place,” says Shereen. “We’re building a community of belonging so newcomer families can establish themselves financially, have their credentials recognized and find meaningful employment.”

Literacy that extends beyond language

In a lot of cases, when refugees step on Canadian soil, they’re deeply in debt because of government loans to cover flights and medical tests. The support that IRCOM delivers addresses the fear and uncertainty of their looming financial burdens. This includes delivering asset and capacity building programs such as the Saving Circle and Access to Benefits, as well as working with other community partners like SEED Winnipeg, to adapt program materials for a multinational audience.

IRCOM and newcomers Asset-Building Programs
IRCOM’s Asset Building Programs (ABPs) aim to build the capacity of low-income households to manage their finances and save money for the purchase of assets that will yield long-term benefits for individuals, their families, and their communities. Photo credit: IRCOM

“Our team is adept at explaining concepts based on country of origin,” Shereen explains further. “Our 10-week financial literacy workshop for example, is now available in multiple languages and helps build capacity for low-income households to manage their finances and save for the future.”

Most recently, IRCOM launched a financial literacy month that focuses on areas not traditionally covered by their programs. Workshops on scams targeting vulnerable populations expose newcomers to challenges not found in their home countries.

Shereen adds that, “thanks to incredible support from partners such as SEED Winnipeg, ACU and United Way Winnipeg, IRCOM has become a financial empowerment hub for newcomers.”

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Related: SEED Winnipeg’s Asset Building Programs are changing lives

Building capacity and understanding

While IRCOM delivers a wealth of programs to provide financial advice for newcomers and improve financial literacy, their partnership with ACU has expanded their scope of delivery.

IRCOM and newcomers programming

The relationship was initially established as a community referral partner to help people open accounts. Over the years, however, that bond has grown and broadened pathways for Winnipeg newcomers and perspectives for ACU staff.

One recent example includes the co-development between SEED Winnipeg and ACU of an Immigration Loan Repayment program, which has provided Incredible relief to many families as they effectively tackle their debt.

IRCOM and ACU at Manitoba Moose game

In 2016, ACU nominated IRCOM for a Concentra Award — a $10,000 grant that supports community initiatives. The bid was successful and used to launch a program to mitigate these financial challenges by matching savings at a 3:1 ratio. This assists newcomers in the repayment of these loans.

Even something as simple as donating Manitoba Moose tickets can have a far-reaching impact — providing a lasting memory for new Canadians who, in some cases, may have never seen snow — let alone a hockey game! But that’s part of exposing newcomers to the Canadian experience and one of the benefits that come from this alignment.

More than just a financial partner

The bond between ACU and IRCOM is more than just financial though. Most employees have personal anecdotes about the impact the organization has on the broader community.

Mani Sheppard-Luangkhot, ACU’s Financial Access Program Manager

Mani Sheppard-Luangkhot, ACU’s Financial Access Program Manager, remembers watching the construction of IRCOM’s first building in the late 1980s on Ellen Street across from her school.

“This building was a safe space for refugees and kids to run around,” says Mani. “A lot of our friends and families moved in. With affordable housing, I could see my classmates and their families thrive. Programs like IRCOM help newcomers build hope for the future.”

In addition, the financial institution regularly brings employees to tour IRCOM facilities to learn first-hand the challenges Winnipeg newcomers face during resettlement.

“Social impact tours are a powerful source of learning, inspiration and reflection,” says Brendan Reimer, Strategic Partner, Values-Based Banking. “This relationship has shown us who refugees are and why our communities are much more resilient and rich with value through diversity.”

Here for the road ahead

The work that IRCOM is doing in the community has had an incredible impact over the past 30 years.

IRCOM and newcomers

Their contributions have helped to sew the multicultural fabric of the province and create a transitory pathway that empowers new Canadians. And while the road ahead may be uncertain for people immigrating here, the path is a lot easier to navigate with IRCOM at their side.

Learn more about IRCOM, their programs and initiatives by visiting their website.

About Matt Cohen

Matt is a Winnipeg-based marketer and investor who covers the Canadian financial services industry.

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