Opened in June 2016, ISSofBC Welcome Centre lives up to its reputation as a successful model of integrated housing and support services for newcomers.
Inside the Centre
Over 600 people walk through the centre’s doors each day to access a wide variety of services:
- temporary housing in 18 flexible living units for refugees
- settlement support in over 40 languages
- language training, ranging from literacy to workplace-focused English
- employment services for newcomers of varying skills and needs
- newcomer youth hub
- a licensed preschool and a childcare centre, including an outdoor playground and family area
- medical clinic providing primary health care
- Vancity Credit Union providing bank account starts, financial literacy training and ATM service
- refugee and asylum seeker services
- multiple, flexible meeting spaces
- ISSofBC corporate offices
ISSofBC Welcome Centre also houses important services provided by its co-tenants:
- VanCity Credit Union
- Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture (VAST)
- Settlement Orientation Services (SOS)
- Mount Pleasant Family Centre Society
- Medical Clinic
ISSofBC Welcome Centre has provided a unique venue for connecting newcomers with the local and broader communities:
- Vancouver Public Library sets up a monthly information table to connect newcomers with library resources;
- Vancouver Police Department deploys staff once a week as part of their immigrant outreach program;
- TransLink conducted a community workshop on fare review (November 2017);
- Vancouver Police Board held a community meeting (November 2017);
- Citizenship ceremony for new Canadians was administered with Ministers Ahmed Hussen and Harjit Sajjan in attendance (March 2017);
- World Refugee Day Reception was held in conjunction with VanCity (June 2017)
- Hiring fairs;
- Press conferences; and,
- ISSofBC annual general meetings.
ISSofBC Welcome Centre has shown itself to be an important part of the local community. Around 600 people from a variety of local organizations have toured the facility including:
- Mount Pleasant Neighbourhood House
- Frog Hollow Neighbourhood House – Drive Youth Employment Services
- Surrey School Board – Settlement Workers in Schools
- Educational institutions (Capilano University, St. John’s, St. George’s, Stratford Hall)
The centre has also provided tours and presentations to close to 30 students and student groups from universities in Korea and Japan on research and study trips.
ISSofBC Welcome Centre is a favoured site for visits by individuals and groups interested in learning how this unique model of integrated housing and wrap-around support services is easing the settlement journey for newcomer immigrants and refugees. Prominent people from here and abroad who have toured the facility include:
- Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
- Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge
- Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister
- Sophie Gregoire Trudeau
- Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
- Harjit Saijjan, Minister of Defence
- Gregor Robertson, Mayor of Vancouver
- Adam Palmer, Chief Constable of Vancouver Police Department
- Marc-André Blanchard, Canada’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations
- UN ambassadors from Colombia, Ghana, Guatemala, Jordan, Mali, Mauritania, Peru, Tanzania and Vietnam
- International representatives of Global Alliance for Banking Group
- Local government officials from Gothenburg, Sweden
- Geoff Meggs, former Vancouver City Councillor
- Christy Clarke, former Premier of BC
- Shirley Bond, former BC Minister of Social Development
- Legislators and local government officials from Gyeonggido, South Korea
During their visit to the ISSofBC Welcome Centre as part of their week-long tour of BC in the Fall of 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – accompanied by the Trudeaus and provincial politicians – met with a young, newly-arrived Syrian refugee family in one of the centre’s housing units, as well as six clients from ISSofBC’s Multicultural Youth, MAPLE 2.0 mentorship, and TechStart training programs.
“We are very honoured to have Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit,” said ISSofBC CEO Patricia Woroch. “We appreciate the opportunity to showcase not only our purpose-built building – ISSofBC Welcome Centre – but also our services and the role ISSofBC plays in helping to settle newcomers to Canada.”
To mark the royal tour, Prime Minister Trudeau announced an official gift to ISSofBC of $50,000 from the Government of Canada to be applied to services closely aligned with the royal couple’s interests and charitable undertakings.
Gold LEED = green building
ISSofBC Welcome Centre was developed by Henriquez Partners Architects and Terra Housing Consultants. The 58,000-square foot facility is built to Gold LEED certification which signifies that the centre was designed and built using strategies aimed at reducing energy and water usage, promoting better indoor air quality, and improving quality of life.
Veronica Gillies, architect and director of innovation for Henriquez Partners Architects, remarked on the form and design of Welcome Centre, “The form of the project responds to the site, neighbourhood and pedestrian context. The use of extensive exterior wood grain panelling and glulam beams set in abundant greenery creates a warm welcome for both tenants and immigrants. The interiors are warm, inviting and filled with light, as well as being easy to maintain.”
Terra Housing Consultants’ Simon Davie said, “Each floor is unique as the building is multi-use….the building is for people.”
What strikes visitors is the entry plaza where the word “Welcome” is written in 12 different languages and set in the concrete paving. “It’s as if the Welcome Centre directly speaks to the new arrivals and (allows) residents to be reminded every time they walk in or out that they are welcomed to this country,” said Alain Lamontagne of landscaping firm Durante Kreuk Ltd.
The construction of this $27-million facility was made possible with funding support from the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia, on land provided by the City of Vancouver, and contributions from individuals and supporters, primarily Vancity and the Edith Lando Family Foundation.
(Quotes excerpted from Jerry Eberts‘s article in Award Magazine, October, 2016)
Opening Celebration – June 2016
On June 25, 2016, ISSofBC Welcome Centre officially opened its doors to the world. At the opening celebration, ISSofBC CEO Patricia Woroch said, “The new ISSofBC Welcome Centre will be a safe haven where immigrants and refugees can come for assistance to get a solid start on their new lives in Canada.” In addition to the ribbon cutting, the open house celebration included live performances, tours of the centre, cultural exhibits and children’s theatre.
From Vision to 2610 Victoria Drive
ISSofBC Welcome Centre is an incredible achievement, and one that took a number of years to bring about. While there were only two years between ground-breaking on World Refugee Day, June 20, 2014 and the opening celebration on June 25, 2016, ISSofBC’s past boards of directors and management had been developing and executing a viable financial and development plan to build the facility for close to 30 years!
The first step was put in motion in the late 1980s with the purchase of the Drake Street property to accommodate temporary refugee housing and a variety of settlement services. In the 1990s and early 2000s, successive boards put their vision of a multi-service centre providing a wide range of programming for immigrants and refugees into successive strategic plans, and a Board Facilities Committee was formed. Working closely with the CEO and key management and staff, this committee laid the groundwork for the feasibility of ISSofBC Welcome Centre and all of its required components.
From 2012 to 2016, the focus was in working with the community, all levels of government, and the internationally-renowned architectural firm, Henriquez and Partners Architects. A myriad of details – both large and small – were looked after, consuming vast amounts of organizational energy and attention even as ISSofBC management and staff continued the important work of providing excellent service.
The achievement of ISSofBC Welcome Centre is a testament to the unwavering commitment and dedication of ISSofBC’s Board of Directors over past decades, the inspiring leadership of Patricia Woroch, Chief Executive Officer, and the tireless efforts of Chris Friesen, Director of Settlement Services.