From: Dakai Maritimes, December 2013, page 3, 5:


Keshen Goodman: community centre for newcomers



Feature • Heather MacKenzie beams, reading a letter highlighting the great work being served by the Immigrant Services Project at Halifax Public Libraries. The letter is an emotional thank you to MacKenzie, Manager for Diversity and Accessibility at Halifax Public Libraries and is personally signed by 12 Arabic women who enrolled in the library’s first computer course conducted entirely in Arabic.

The women were grateful, not only for the introduction to much needed computer skills, but grateful for what the course symbolized:

Independence, improved English, connection to local community and families abroad, birth of new friendships and financial savings on keeping in touch with overseas relatives.

“Reaching out and listening has enabled us to do some pretty amazing things,” says MacKenzie, a 30 year veteran with the libraries. She’s began working closely with immigrant communities in 2012, in her role as branch manager at the Keshen Goodman Library. However, the libraries first began reaching out to newcomers in 1998 when the English Language and Learning (ELL) program first launched. Since then, it’s evolved from basic language classes to an array of programs designed to help immigrants integrate and flourish.

“Immigrant Services is the newest and fastest growing program at the library,” MacKenzie explains. Census 2006 found there were 6,500 immigrants living in the library’s catchment area and MacKenzie is confident the number has grown steadily.

MacKenzie says, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funding, she was able to hire three full time staff representing thearea’s largest populations of non-English speaking newcomers: Arabic, Chinese and Persian (Farsi). She says the bilingual staff “brought respect and trust into the library, which helped welcome immigrants to work with us.”

Immigrant Services Library Assistant, Youmei Chen says there are more and more newcomers registering every day. “The library is not just a place to study and a place for books. It’s a place to meet Canadians, a place to integrate into the community,” says Chen. “The library is like a community centre.”

Immigrant Services Project launched in November 2012 and addresses the top priorities of the community:

Free Multilingual Computer Classes: The library offers computer classes in Arabic, Persian, Nepali and ChineseMandarin. Classes include computer basics to internet job searching and resume writing.

“It’s easier to learn the computer in your own language and then translate it,” says Chen. “We want to help increase their employability and their business skills,” says Chen.

Women’s Conversation Group: “Women are often isolated…because they’re at home or they haven’t had the same educational opportunities…as other people in their families, so they often have lower language skills,” says MacKenzie.

The Women in Conversation group connects Canadian women with immigrant women, inspiring conversations around topics of interest. Chen says there are more than 30 newcomers enrolled, representing a wide variety of ages and ethnicity.

Fireside Knitters: An international mix of Canadian and immigrant women, this crafty group has provided baby hats and blankets for the IWK, dish cloths to newcomers and “generated conversation and friendships around the common interest of knitting,” says MacKenzie.

Chinese Income Tax Clinic: Another popular program the library plans to continue in 2014 is the multilingual income tax clinics for the Chinese community and other immigrant families. This clinic aims to simplify the process, helping newcomers file their taxes with ease.

Mackenzie says she hopes to expand these programs to other branches and has already formed partnerships with local university students to provide language tutorials to refugees who aren’t eligible for government funded programs.

She’s energized by how far they’ve come in a year, but says they always need to be looking forward. “Our challenges are really the problems of success…because we’ve been so well received; it’s being able to manage future demands and being able to serve.” “It’s very rewarding…connecting with all the diverse communities we’re serving through the library,” says MacKenzie.

See for more newcomer information


[see link for a picture of Heather MacKenzie]

Heather MacKenzie highlights some of the current Chinese magazines available in the foreign language section at Alderney Gate Public Library in Dartmouth. Cyndi Sweeney


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