New language centre for newcomers to open

Local organization to open a centralized facility and English language centre

The Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers (EMCN) has been a support for new Canadians for almost 40 years, and now the office and programming are moving into a bigger, more centralized facility.

“The centre has grown exponentially over the past five years,” explains Marla Welk, EMCN’s communications director. “We’re currently spread out in five locations in the city. We do have waiting times, and we need the proper space to help our clients and operate efficiently.”

Five years ago, the intake was 12,000, but it’s now ballooned to 17,000 per year. Two strategies to deal with the growth have taken shape.

One is to take programs from their three locations and put them under one roof downtown. Programs at Nova Place on 118 Avenue and at their main 82 Street location will go to the downtown building. This move will free up their main building, dedicated to English language learning. English classes at Eastwood School will also go there. 

An English language student at one of the English classes at EMCN’s 82 Street location. | Supplied

“We got a lot of support from funders and the community and now we can purchase the 82 Street location,” says Welk. “It gives us the opportunity to consolidate our language services.”

The language barrier is often a huge challenge. Learning English gives newcomers employability and more community involvement. The new centre will have 22 classrooms for morning, afternoon, and evening classes, along with part-time classes, allowing newcomers to work.

An instructor teaches an English language class at EMCN’s 82 Street location. | Supplied

During construction, English language classes will continue in six classrooms. 

“There will be no interruptions to services.” 

EMCN’s new downtown lease at 10160 112 Street will bring the settlement, therapy, community, and employment programs as well as administration and volunteering into one space.  

A newcomer’s first year is critical, and having a centre close by for helping with the transition can make all the difference. 

“[For] the large majority of new immigrants to Edmonton, their first point of entry is downtown and the first place they live is adjacent to downtown.” 

Traveling by transit from communities like Oliver and Queen Mary Park can take up to an hour to reach the 82 Street office. 

“Having the centre downtown will cut that significantly,” says Welk. “The downtown location adds presence to the communities and people will be able to find us easier.”

The EMCN website states 7.3 per cent of the 47,000 residents who settled in Alberta in 2015 arrived as refugees.

“Refugees’ needs are a lot higher, and we’ll be able to respond more quickly.”  

EMCN’s new space downtown. | Kate Wilson

The bill for leasing space at 112 Street and opening the language centre is $10 million. While EMCN has a loan to help buy the 82 Street building and funding from three levels of government, they still need resources and dollars.

Under their Embrace Campaign, EMCN is inviting businesses, community groups, or individuals to offer financial assistance. In-kind help won’t be turned away. Donations of things like fridges, furniture, whiteboards, classroom supplies, and even foot washing stations are welcome.

Other ways to help include attending campaign events or hosting a fundraiser. 

The move downtown is expected in October 2019. EMCN’s goal is to start gutting and renovating the 82 Street location by January 2020, with doors to open by May 2020. 

Email mwelk@emcn.ab.ca or call 780.423.9684.


Featured Image: Standing in the lobby of the 82 Street main office of EMCN are, from the left, Ada, EMCN staff; Marla Welk, EMCN communications director; and Alpesh, a staff member. Ada and Alpesh both started as clients with EMCN about seven years ago. | Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson

Kate took up the reporter's pad and pen while living in northern Alberta. The writing bug stuck, and the next 20 years were spent covering everything from local politics to community happenings. She lives in Alberta Avenue with her daughter.

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