ISAP program provides helping hand in new land

By Patrick Raftis in Community, People

Navigating the labyrinth of government and professional agencies and layers of forms and documents necessary to thrive in modern society can be a challenge for any Canadian. For a newcomer, it can be especially daunting. Imagine a task simple as applying for a driver’s license or health card, when not fully conversant in the language, or without a full understanding of the various levels of government structure.
Newcomers to Guelph and Wellington County can now receive help accessing a wide range of services through the county’s recently launched Immigrant Settlement and Adaptation Program (ISAP).
Wellington County is the first municipality in the country to receive funding to operate an ISAP program through Citizenship and Immigration Canada. ISAP is a federally funded program aimed at assisting newcomers in settling and integrating. It includes the delivery of direct services to newcomers such as orientation, translation, interpretation, referral to community resources, non-therapeutic counselling and the provision of general information.
“We see this as a welcoming community. In order to be welcoming, you have to be active in meeting people and helping them settle,” says Sean Farrelly, Employment Strategic Planning and Operations Leader with Wellington County. “When you come to Guelph and Wellington, you need to be able to find the resources to help you fit into the community and help you settle.”
That’s where the county’s ISAP team comes in. The county has three Settlement and Adaptation Workers and the resources to deliver services in over 30 languages. The team also relies heavily on networking with community agencies to help connect them with those in need of their services.
Settlement worker Joanne Liang has encountered a wide range of situations where ISAP was able to help, sometimes with fairly basic assistance. For example, she recalls being called in by the daughter of a woman who just had a new baby to help fill out some forms. The family was looking for help filling out a Child Benefit form, but while working with them, Liang discovered they hadn’t applied for a birth certificate for the baby, who had been born a month earlier.
In another case, ISAP was able to help an immigrant who was an engineer in his homeland obtain his qualifications to work in his field in Canada. Although he was able to pass the necessary exams, he had been unable to find the employment needed to fulfill the work experience component of the licensing process.
“A lot of newcomers are not familiar with the Canadian work culture and how to prepare for an interview,” explains Liang.
Employment-related assistance is a commonly requested service, notes Farrelly.
“Somewhere in the area of 85 per cent of jobs aren’t listed, so only about 15 per cent are ever advertised. It’s through networking that you get to those other positions. And that’s one of the challenges faced by newcomers – to get through to those networks where the opportunities are.”
Liang points out that it’s not only immigrants who are members of “visible minorities,” who sometimes need a hand. Newcomers from the United Kingdom or the USA also encounter problems adapting.
“Even someone who can speak the language and looks like they should fit into the culture right way can be in for a culture shock,” said Farrelly, pointing out that political and banking systems differ greatly, even between Canada and other western countries.
Wellington’s ISAP program has been up and running since January, 2010. The program’s free services are available to permanent residents of Canada who are Landed Immigrants, Convention Refugees, Minister’s Permit Holders and approved Refugee Claimants.  Services are open to residents of both the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington. While ISAP services are aimed mainly at newcomers, other eligible immigrants who need help in adapting to their new life in Canada may also qualify, regardless of how long they have been in Canada, as long has they have not attained Canadian citizenship.
Services can include assistance with issues related to health, education, legal services, employment, human rights, banking, budgeting, the citizenship process and many other areas.
Liang stresses that assistance is not limited to any particular types of services and that ISAP staff are very flexible in their efforts to assist their clients.
“It’s matter of finding out what their needs are and helping them find the resources to meet those needs.”
ISAP is based in the Employment Resource Centre at 138 Wyndham Street North, Guelph, with five satellite sites where people can access service locally. Satellite locations are in Fergus at the Community Resource Centre; Erin at East Wellington Community Services; Mount Forest at the Child Care and Learning Centre; Arthur at the Wellington Learning Centre and Drayton at the Community Mennonite Fellowship Hall and at the Family Health Team Clinic. Days and hours of operation at the satellite locations vary. For more information on ISAP call 226-979-0782 or 226-979-0850 or go to