‘I've seen a lot of friendships built through this program’: Moose Jaw Newcomer Welcome Centre helping unify a community

This year on International Women's Day, we want to celebrate an organization that is improving the lives of women and girls who are newcomers to Saskatchewan.

Written by Matt Johnson for the Saskatchewan Parks and Recreation Association.

A young woman leaning back and smiling while posing in a kayak.

(Photo Credit: DiscoverMooseJaw.com)

It’s clear the Healthy Living Project has been successful.

The project, which is organized through the Moose Jaw Newcomer Welcome Centre, is providing newcomer women with an opportunity to meet others in the community and introduce themselves to sport and recreation.

Through funding made possible by the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity — now known as Canadian Women & Sport — the initiative took off. Since the program was launched in 2019, it has seen roughly 75 women be a part of the program, a number the Welcome Centre hopes will continue to grow as the pandemic winds down.

Melissa Mitchell is the program manager for the initiative and she’s witnessed the success first-hand.

“Basically, it was to get newcomer women involved with and participate in different things that they may not have wanted to or even knew about before. Just trying to get them engaged in something new and out of the house, while doing things with other women to kind of help with the integration while building friendships,” said Mitchell.

“The program throughout the years has been quite successful and there's been a lot of relationships and friendships built through it.”

Mitchell also alluded to the strong support within the Moose Jaw community who have volunteered their time to come out to events and activities, helping create even more additional relationships through the program.

Activities such as swimming, dancing, yoga, kayaking, canoeing and fitness classes, are only a handful of events that Mitchell has organized, giving many participants the opportunity to explore new ventures and ones they previously wouldn’t have even considered.

But when COVID-19 struck, the initiative was forced to adapt. Once revolving around in-person physical activities, Mitchell and company re-aligned the program in order to continue filling a need in the community. They shifted towards take-home arts and crafts activities, as well as different challenges related to a healthy lifestyle and diet, while attempting to improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Despite a small downtick in participation due to the pandemic, the plan for the program is a gradual return to in-person activities that were once the focus with the initiative. In the spring of 2021, they planted a garden — a project that went over well according to Mitchell — and is an activity the Welcome Centre plans on organizing once again this summer.

One change Mitchell notes is that the program plans to incorporate all children — not only girls — in an effort to be more inclusive and increase participation.

“Parents want to be with their kids. If they don’t have someone to take care of their kids to come to programming and we can include the children, then we may have more coming to the programming as well,” said Mitchell.

When looking back on all the different activities the program has offered, organized swimming lessons is one that stands out to Mitchell. The opportunity to see a multitude of participants swim for the first time, with many of them never having that opportunity before, is something that stands out to her.

Mitchell also told the story of a night where they organized a dance party and one woman was provided the opportunity to dance to a song from her home country for the first time since coming to Canada.

“She had tears of joy. Being able to do that with us and share that music and that type of dance and teach us,” said Mitchell. “That was really good.”

It’s experiences such as those which make Mitchell state her job is “definitely” rewarding. She is a part of a project unifying a community and creating friendships in Moose Jaw.

For more information on the Moose Jaw Newcomer Welcome Centre and the Healthy Living Project, visit www.mjnwc.ca

-Matt Johnson