On October 13th, OMAFRA partnered with the Rural Ontario Municipal Association to present the first of a series of 3 Teeny Tiny Summits. This session featured fantastic speakers telling their experiences as newcomers in rural communities, and about tactics communities were using to welcome newcomers to their community. The speaker line up included:
- Don DeGenova, a very active community volunteer who was twice a newcomer to rural towns
- Karen Oldroyd, the Settlement Services Manager with Oxford Community Employment Services
- Jeff Kinsella, an OMAFRA Advisor sharing 5 ideas to welcome newcomers from SW Ontario
- Trevor Crowe, an OMAFRA Advisor sharing Haliburton’s experience welcoming a Syrian Refugee family, and
- Tareq Hadhad, our keynote speaker and founder of Peace by Chocolate, who shared his experiences coming to Canada as a refugee from war-torn Syria to the small community of Antigonish, NS. Antigonish’s welcoming attitude enabled him to re-establish the family business and become an engaged and entrepreneurial force in the community and beyond.
This topic was a particularly salient one as many of our rural clients are noting an influx of new residents moving from urban to rural areas, as well as a significant scarcity in labour availability, which in many cases, immigration could play a role in addressing. Two key takeaways emerged across the speakers:
- the importance of creating a comprehensive, welcoming community that is ready to support new residents to the area;
- the critical impact that newcomers can make once they are engaged in their new community.
Whether someone is a well-established Canadian or a new refugee to Canada, moving to a new community can be a daunting experience. It is critical to ensure that your community is ready to roll out the welcome mat. With a welcoming attitude, newcomers can realize the many benefits to living in a rural community such as the high quality of place and the high potential for opportunity to be involved. Speakers gave examples of different ways communities have welcomed their new residents to rural areas, including putting up an actual welcome sign when attracting an LGBTQ+ couple which assured them they could feel at home in their new rural community, to complete wraparound supports for immigrants and refugees, to raising money to provide a loan for a newcomer business and then people coming out to support and ensure the success of that business.
Speakers provided several tips to help make your community a more welcoming place including:
- Engage passionate community volunteers. A welcoming community cannot solely be led by the municipality, engaging community volunteers in the supports you offer to newcomers will help them integrate and feel part of the community quicker.
- Fly the Pride flag + other symbols of diversity and/or offer welcoming community lawn signage to signify to residents, visitors, and newcomers that all people are welcome in your community.
- Support newcomers with transportation, housing, employment for multiple parties, language supports, schooling, and access to recreational activities in the first year and beyond.
- Focus on food because its relatable. Celebrate different food cultures by creating community potlucks or cookbooks.
- Tell individual stories of newcomers. People are just individuals and by sharing their individual story it will help the community understand that these newcomers are just like them – facing their own individual challenges and opportunities.
- Make a concerted effort to reach out and engage newcomers and people from diverse backgrounds onto community boards and committees.
When someone feels accepted into a community, they have a desire to give back because they are thankful for that engagement and acceptance. We heard wonderful stories of newcomers giving back, from volunteering their time to support other newcomers, to spearheading major fundraising efforts, to becoming a major community employer.
To view the recorded Welcoming Newcomers to Teeny Tiny Places webinar or sign up for the next event, visit https://teenytinysummits.omafrabdb-events.ca/. The second Teeny Tiny Summit webinar on December 1st on a “Teeny Tiny Resurgence” featuring Peter Kenyon from the Bank of Ideas.