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Entrepreneurial Community of the Year: North Bay & District Multi-Cultural Centre

"We wanted to make sure they became part of the community as soon as possible."

New immigrants arriving in North Bay often found their stay in the city to be short-lived.

"They were staying, three months, or six months, and then off to Toronto they would go," said Don Curry, executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre. "The spouse who didn't have a job was not getting connected to the city nor developing networks. It was a revolving door and an issue that had to be addressed."

The centre, which opened in 2008, helps newcomers and immigrants feel at home, and possibly stay longer in the city, by offering a variety of services such as the community integration programs. More than 100 people a year have come to the centre to take advantage of its services and programs. In addition to settlement services, it is home to the North Bay Newcomer Network, the city's Local Immigration Partnership project funded by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

"I think what separated us from other settlement agencies in the North is that we tied in with the city's economic development (department) right from the get-go so that has been our thrust," he said.

In 2005, the city wanted to create a network that looked at attracting and retaining immigrants. But before the attraction piece was put together, the retention part had to be in place.

"We developed programs like mentorships and we made sure we were connected with school boards and English as a second language classes," Curry said.

Immigrants and newcomers were matched with residents to show them the city and English conversation circles at the library were organized.

"We wanted to make sure they became part of the community as soon as possible," he said. "It's important to make them feel welcome and engaged. We also wanted one-stop shopping. In the summer, we offer English as a second language and the rest of the year, the school board offers it but the registration is done here."

The centre can help families get their children enrolled in school, find a doctor and dentist, obtain a driver's licence and health card. It currently has an active volunteer base of about 35 who help the immigrants experience Canadian culture.

"They go skating or sliding or enjoy a barbecue at a cottage," Curry said.

An international cooking club involves seniors in the city learning new recipes from different immigrants leading the class once a month.

When the centre first opened, a few employers were on board as partners, but once an employers' council was created, it snowballed.

"We are getting calls from employers now who want to get involved," he said. "They are leading the agenda on the employers' council."

A workplace communication program helps newcomers get immersed in Canadian culture in the workplace.

"They learn the subtle things, like how to get feedback from a Canadian manager, what some slang means and what they are looking for in an interview," Curry said. "It's an intensive course and a lot of Canadians would benefit from this as well. It was developed by Ryerson and Laurentian (Universities) and we are the first ones operating it in the North."

The centre is involved with a welcoming communities initiative based at the University of Western Ontario and partners with every university in Ontario except in the GTA. It involves research and creating programs that will help smaller cities attract and retain immigrants.

New programs are on the horizon such as HR North which will create expertise in-house for small- and medium-sized enterprises that don't have human resources staff. It will help the businesses attract and retain immigrants, sift through resumes and create mentorship programs from North Bay to Timmins.

The centre is partnering with a similar multicultural centre in Timmins that recently opened.

Other partnerships include Professions North (based at Laurentian University) which helps internationally trained professionals create a portfolio or gain upgrading in order to obtain employment in their field.

The centre has a current staff of 11, four of which are immigrants.