Red Deer is home to the Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE), which provides to clients a welcoming centre and resource bank.
What is unique about CARE is that the clientele consists primarily of immigrants and non-English speaking residents.
“One of the main challenges that immigrants and refugees face when they come here is just being able to understand and communicate in English, but that’s what we’re here for,” said Executive Director Victor Doerksen.
Doerksen said almost 60% of CARE’s budget is spent on English language classes. They also run conversation circles which focus on a relaxed learning environment for clients.
“The conversation circles are an attempt to bring people together to talk and practice English.”
Volunteer leaders guide the conversation and cover different topics including things like common foods, Canadian culture and other issues that clients may encounter on a daily basis.
CARE also provides computer access to their clients so that they can use the Internet, print documents and take part in computer based learning programs.
The facility where CARE is located also boasts a day care, six classrooms, numerous offices and rooms for group gatherings including one where a group of women get together and sew.
Elzbieta Sawicka, who works with CARE, said the conversation circles are fairly new but that they are very important because they give the clients an opportunity to speak English in a relaxed setting.
“In the summer we would even like to incorporate some field trips including going to the park or grocery store,” she said.
Sawicka said the goal is to introduce portions of Canadian culture to the clients so that they know what kinds of activities they can take part in with their own families.
Volunteers are always needed for the conversation circles and Sawicka said a background in teaching would be preferable but not necessary.
“We are just trying to help people who are learning the language and who are new to the community have the benefit of making friends and learning English.”
The hope is that the conversation circles will eventually be expanded to a weekend class for those who work during the week and are unable to attend the current circles.
“One of the goals of the conversation circles is to help people know what is happening in Central Alberta. We might talk about the library or nature centre or anything to help them learn about it community,” said Doerksen.
Digna Vavela, a client of CARE, has only lived in Red Deer for seven months and takes part in the conversation circles and English language classes.
Vavela said the thing she loves the most about the conversation circles is the opportunity to talk with different people with different lives in English.
“The teacher listens when you talk and maybe corrects pronunciation and good order in sentences,” said Vavela.
She is an example of the difference that the English language classes and conversation circles can make in a person’s life.
“When I arrived my English was very poor and every day now my ears are open and I understand more.”
Vavela said CARE has become important to her and that they gave her the opportunity to learn and improve her English.
She now volunteers with CARE and speaks to schoolchildren about her home in Venezuela.
“I prepared my presentation myself. The first time I read from a paper and now I just talk.”
Vavela said the experience has been excellent and she is committed to learning the English language and any opportunity to share her experience is a good one.
“The teachers are wonderful. They stimulate conversation and she’s funny like an actress. The classes are different every time.”
Vavela said the classes are memorable and things are easier to learn because the teachers introduce relevant items including bringing in food so that clients can learn the proper terms for the things they use each day.
“I always try to tell other people to come. To learn English you need to listen and speak the language.”
For more information on CARE visit www.intentr.com/immigrantctr.