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Stepping stone

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Hats off to the local Valley Adult Learning Association (VALA) for staging a “Newcomers Meet-and-Greet” back on Nov. 30 at the Super 8 Motel.

With the aim of welcoming those who recently immigrated here from foreign countries, as well as to help them better connect with fellow immigrants, the event saw 16 families (totalling 45 attendees in all) come out to socialize and network while enjoying dishes from their native lands.

It was quite the multicultural event, with the newcomers hailing from a wide variety of countries, including India, Iraq, Mexico, China, Brazil, Serbia, Egypt, England, and Germany, as well as parts of Africa.

The importance of VALA's effort to welcome and assist immigrants cannot be understated. The fact both Iraqi refugee families who arrived in Fort Frances through the local “Families for Families” initiative left after being here for less than a year—in order to be closer to extended family or members of their own ethnic community—underscores the difficulty immigrants face in adjusting to life in a new land on everything from the language barrier to cultural differences.

It's also important given a report from the Northern Policy Institute earlier this year that revealed trends indicating Northern Ontario needs 50,000 newcomers by 2041 just to sustain its current level of population. That is of particular significance for Rainy River District, which saw its population drop by more than 13 percent since 1996—with the NPI projecting that decline to continue in the years ahead.

With the need to attract newcomers to reverse our falling population, it's imperative that communities look at ways to help immigrants make the transition to life in our district. That's why VALA deserves kudos for recognizing the need and taking action with its “Newcomers Meet-and Greet,” as well as by creating a Facebook page specific to local immigrants.

The initial “meet-and-greet” was such a success, in fact, that VALA is planning to host a similar event in February, with the aim being to hold something three times a year.

It's a great stepping stone towards making sure we lay out the welcome mat to both attract and keep newcomers to our town and district.

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