Centre for Immigrant and Community Services executive director Alfred Lam talked about his experiences as an immigrant to Canada.
Celebrating the grand opening of the organization’s new facility in Newmarket, Lam reflected on learning English from television, particularly the famed show, Cheers.
“Sometimes, you want to go where everybody knows your name,” he said, quoting the theme song. “You hear as you listen to other stories, you hear that same common thread that runs through them … The need for connection, the frustration of isolation and the loneliness. The desire to go to a place they can belong."
The centre hopes to provide that in Newmarket as it opened June 28 at 130 Mulock Dr. Dignitaries and community organization representatives attended to celebrate the occasion and recognize the importance of inclusivity. The event also featured performances, with a lion dance going through the facility.
The centre offers settlement and community services for newcomers. It operates throughout the GTA, with Newmarket being its eighth location. It is primarily funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and has been running on-location activities since April.
“We have clients who recently moved from Toronto to Newmarket, and they would call us and ask if we have a location north of Toronto they can visit,” Lam said. “We envision our Newmarket centre will benefit the community by becoming a space and a platform for people from different backgrounds to come together and put the concepts of inclusion and diversity into action.”
The Newmarket centre is a 2300-square-foot space, with services geared toward newcomer women, youth and seniors from diverse backgrounds. Programs and classes include computer skills, active living, language training, provincial orientation and more.
Newmarket Mayor John Taylor said the town’s goal is to be one of the most inclusive communities in the country.
“One of our greatest assets today and into the future is our diverse population,” he said. “The work this organization is doing and will do, and to have this presence here in our community, sends a strong message of inclusivity … Newmarket as an entire community benefits from this.”
York Regional Police Chief Jim MacSween also attended and said the police force would work to support that inclusive goal.
“That is really the work that has to get done in our profession right now,” he said. “We're committed to community safety and security, and we’re here to protect them.”
The organization said there is an increase in immigrants settling in the Newmarket-Aurora area, with census data indicating they went up 28.44 per cent from 2006 to 2016.
Racism is fuelled by bad stories, Lam said, adding that countering racism takes positive storytelling.
“The way you combat a bad story is you tell a better story for people to experience. Better and truer stories,” he said. “That is what we hope will take place in this centre.”