Adapting to a new environment can be challenging. For newcomers to West Vancouver, British Columbia, an award-winning program is easing the transition by building welcoming and inclusive spaces that encourage friendship, wellness, and personal growth. 

In May 2024, the District of West Vancouver’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) Program was honoured by BC Recreation and Parks Association (BCRPA) with the 2024 Provincial Program Excellence Award for empowering new community members to build important social connections that promote and develop newcomers’ health and well-being.

Research shows how difficult it can be for newcomers to settle in Canada. In fact, newcomers experience higher rates of anxiety and depression compared to non-newcomers. They also have a harder time finding work in their field and can be caught off guard by how expensive it is to live in Canada.   

Young girl wearing reindeer antlers posing and smiling at the camera.
Photo from WIC’s theatre Summer Camp for newcomer children in 2023. Photo credit: District of West Vancouver

As a newcomer to Vancouver, M. Rahiminia said there were many things for them to learn from WIC. 

“During these [WIC] programs l made friends who come from different cultures. I became familiar with other cultures and also explored new places during hiking. I am really grateful for my experiences at the community centre since they have helped me settle in Vancouver,” Rahiminia added.

West Vancouver’s WIC program began in 2019 to support new community members as they integrate into their new environments. The program promotes and develops a newcomer’s physical fitness, social skills, and overall physical and mental well-being by providing opportunities, resources, and education.  

“The District of West Vancouver’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities Program is a great example of programming that empowers new community members and helps build social connections,” said Katie Fenn, BCRPA CEO. “We are thrilled to present BCRPA’s Program Excellence Award to this outstanding program.”

‘What a Gift’

Participants have an array of activities to choose from when they join WIC. The program provides English classes and learning buddies to encourage newcomers to overcome language barriers and offers a monthly Socially Active Lounge to facilitate building connections.

B. Jeong has been enjoying Socially Active Lounge events for the last four years and has also taken on a role as a mentor because it’s a chance, “to meet my new besties who have the same needs but are from different cultures. With the list of [West Vancouver’s] newcomer’s programs, I am happy to extend my knowledge on culture over the holiday season like Lunar New Year, Nowruz, and Finger Food Social.”

Woman smiling while cooking food in a pot on the stove.
New community members have the opportunity to join healthy cooking programs in West Vancouver. Photo credit: District of West Vancouver

Newcomers can also join healthy cooking sessions, a variety of workshops on post-migration anxiety, career coaching, wildlife, fishing and crabbing, free museum tours translated into several languages, and various recreational activities like hiking, snowshoeing, camping, and try-it dance classes of different cultures.

While learning about local parks and trails during a WIC hiking program, one participant found much more than a hiking group. 

“Many of us carried on snowshoeing in the winter and then the next spring. Hiking gave us a chance to connect with nature and leave our anxiety and concerns behind – even if it was for just an hour or two! What a gift,” F. Hu said.  

Developing successful, supportive programs

When it comes to designing programs, WIC staff focus on overall impact, effectiveness, and sustainability while fostering a sense of belonging, connection, and mutual respect among participants and the broader community.  

“Staff are proactive in listening to newcomers’ voices and catering to their needs, addressing their issues with care and empathy,” said Tina Yang, Welcoming & Inclusive Communities Program Coordinator. “They also advocate for them and raise awareness with other community members and groups to make programs more accessible and affordable.” 

Despite challenges like capturing the unique needs of diverse populations and working with limited funding, WIC is strengthening community ties through partnerships with local service providers and community organizations and finding new ways to meet the needs of newcomers.  

As of Spring 2024, more than 1,200 newcomers have benefitted from WIC programs and services.  

Looking forward

Ensuring newcomers feel welcome and building spaces where new community members feel valued, respected, and supported is an essential task for recreation, park and fitness programmers.

The Government of BC recently quadrupled funding for newcomer services, with the expectation that programming will support more than 40,000 people annually.

While early findings in an ongoing study show that newcomers mostly feel welcome in their new communities, they still face major challenges during their first few years in Canada.

Community programs like WIC play a crucial role in supporting newcomers by offering vital resources and creating meaningful connections. This support is essential in helping newcomers overcome initial challenges, contributing to their overall well-being and successful integration into their new communities.

WIC epitomizes equity, diversity, inclusivity and accessibility.

Explore West Vancouver’s programs and services for newcomers. 

The WIC program would not be possible without the ongoing funding and support from Enhance West Van who has funded the program since its inception. Thanks to their continued support the District of West Vancouver can continue to offer this program, support newcomers and create a more welcoming and inclusive community.

Top image: West Vancouver’s Welcoming and Inclusive Communities (WIC) Program has supported 1,200+ newcomers to date. Photo credit: District of West Vancouver.