An outreach program for refugees and immigrants in Vernon has already supported dozens of Ukrainians fleeing their war-torn homeland.
The program, run by the Vernon Family Resource Centre and Vernon & District Immigrant & Community Services (VDICSS), includes a support group for newcomer women in the Okanagan headed by program facilitator Ziyba Ibragimova.
The Newcomer Women’s Group currently meets weekly on Thursday evenings and welcomes all newcomer women. Amelia Sirianni, VDICSS director of operations, said the women’s group is especially important during the war in Ukraine.
“A majority of (Ukrainian) people coming are women and children or seniors, because men of a very big age range are not able to leave,” she said Friday.
Dozens of Ukrainian individuals have joined the program so far, and the number of people continues to grow.
“We are seeing more and more Ukrainians every week,” Sirianni said.
The Family Resource Centre recently received a $5,000 B.C. Multiculturalism Grant to assist with running the program, and Ibragimova has plans to expand to two weekly meetings to accommodate incoming Ukrainian refugees.
When the families arrive and join the program, they are able to speak with support workers in their home language. Ibragimova speaks Russian, which is a commonly spoken language in Ukraine, and the organizations have partnered with Anna Schultz of Nexus BC, who speaks Ukrainian.
Executive director Jim Swingle says bringing mental health support to refugees and immigrants in the community has been a priority since he joined the centre.
“The year before I started at Family Resource Centre, my wife and I and some friends decided to sponsor a refugee. There were wonderful services to support refugees in Vernon, but we noticed that there didn’t seem to be any mental health outreach specifically to the refugee community. So when I started at the Family Resource Centre, this was one of the first programs I wanted to launch,” he said.
The centre, a charitable non-profit, provides free and affordable counselling, mental health services, support groups, and other programs to Okanagan residents.