Supporting the needs of newcomers

November 16, 2022

Q&A with N.E.E.D.S.: Manitoba Blue Cross's Colour of Caring Healthy CommUnity Challenge recipient

At Manitoba Blue Cross, improving the health and well-being of Manitobans is our core mission. And more than ever, it's clear that mental health is key to a healthy community.

That's why we launched the Colour of Caring Health CommUnity Challenge earlier this year. Individuals and organizations throughout the province were encouraged to submit their ideas to support the mental health of Manitobans. The final chosen idea, based on public votes, would receive $25,000 to help bring their idea to life.  

And now, we're proud to present that $25,000 to Newcomers Employment & Education Development Services Inc. (N.E.E.D.S.) for their idea, “Supporting Mental Wellness of Recently Arrived Refugees to Winnipeg.”  

We spoke to Margaret von Lau, CEO of N.E.E.D.S., to discuss the challenge and their vital work in the community.

Manitoba Blue Cross: What does receiving $25,000 for the Healthy CommUnity Challenge mean to you and the organization as a whole?

Margaret von Lau: It is incredible to know that the community values and supports the work that we do. With this award, our agency will be able to further our work in support of the psychosocial and emotional well-being of Afghan and Ukrainian newcomer children and youth. The award will immediately enhance our capacity to provide programs and services to support settlement needs in our community.

Manitoba Blue Cross: How will N.E.E.D.S. use the funding from the Healthy CommUnity Challenge, and how will it support mental health?

Margaret: N.E.E.D.S. Inc. has been providing settlement and psychosocial services to newcomers — both refugees and immigrants — for over two decades. We know that refugee youth and children arrive in Canada with complicated life experiences, including their own and their parents' pre-migration experiences, war and conflict-related trauma, interrupted schooling, and family separation. These experiences create several settlement-related challenges for them, such as challenges with integration into the Canadian school system and the labour market. This can lead to disengagement from school, poor school performance, conflict with parents/guardians, drug or alcohol use, risky sexual activity, and gang and criminal activity.  

Our mental health program is designed to provide trauma-informed psychosocial support to newcomer and refugee children and youth to assist them in successful integration into Canadian society. Overall, while we have a fully functional project currently in place serving newcomer children and youth, the number of participants with mental health needs continues to grow.  

We have also discovered that a higher number of older youth have demonstrated additional need for psychosocial support caused by COVID-19, job losses and difficulties entering or re-entering the labour force.

Furthermore, with the current influx of refugees from various countries such as Ukraine and Afghanistan, our staff capacity to meet the increased demand of mental health support has been stretched well past capacity. Thus, the funds from the Healthy CommUnity Challenge will be used to increase specialized psychosocial staffing and enhance our capacity to provide quality mental health support to newcomer, refugee and immigrant youth, children and their families.

Manitoba Blue Cross: Can you speak about the history of N.E.E.D.S. — how did it become the organization it is today?

Margaret: N.E.E.D.S. Inc. was established by an immigrant woman in 1999 as a non-profit, charitable organization for refugees and immigrants. Over the last 23 years, N.E.E.D.S. Inc. has been dedicated to serving the newcomer community, shifting its focus to supporting refugee and newcomer children, youth and their families as well as adapting programming needs to current trends in order to best support this population.

Manitoba Blue Cross: Can you share a little about the work N.E.E.D.S. does in the community and who you support?

Margaret: N.E.E.D.S. Inc. works with refugee and newcomer children and youth ages six to 29. We provide accessible programs, services and supports to enhance educational and employability skills for our clients.  

Our programs include an Introduction to Canadian Education Program, which is a school preparedness and orientation program for newly arrived refugee children and youth.

In addition, we partner with four school divisions in Winnipeg to provide the Settlement Worker in Schools (SWIS) program. SWIS provides services and supports for school-aged newcomer children, youth and their families for the first 18-36 months of arriving in Canada, with the goal of enhancing integration into new schools and community.

Our employment program helps newcomer and refugee youth develop the employability skills required to enter and successfully participate in the Canadian labour market.

N.E.E.D.S. Inc. also has two programs that focus on the mental health and well-being of our clients. The Enhanced Wellness program utilizes evidence-based interventions to provide enhanced wellness programming and supports to newcomer children and youth and their families. The Enhanced Settlement Worker in Schools program provides enhanced psychosocial support to newcomer children and youth who experience complex barriers to resettlement and integration. Our focus is always on supporting mental health and overall well-being through evidence-based interventions.

Manitoba Blue Cross: What is something you want everyone to know about N.E.E.D.S.?

Margaret: It is very important for us to bring awareness to the public that we exist. N.E.E.D.S. Inc. has been here for over two decades. We are the largest refugee children and youth serving agency in Manitoba. Our services are free of charge to our clients, making us completely reliant on donations, grants and funded projects. We are client oriented, we work hard and we work with and for our community.

Manitoba Blue Cross: What do you want to say to the Manitobans who voted for N.E.E.D.S. in this challenge?

Margaret: Thank you. N.E.E.D.S. Inc. is very grateful for the support and time that everyone took to help us win this challenge. We look forward to implementing the program enhancement that this grant will allow and to sharing our successes with all of our supporters.

Manitoba Blue Cross: What can Manitobans do to help support newcomers and refugee youth?

Margaret: Said simply, Manitobans can ‘care and be aware.' There are significant barriers and obstacles that face newcomer children and youth, particularly those coming with refugee experiences and possible effects of war. As a result, it takes time to learn new ways and to settle. A caring, supportive and patient community makes all the difference. Manitobans can learn more by reaching out to community organizations for information. They can volunteer — N.E.E.D.S. Inc. is always looking for volunteers to help mentor our clients. And they can donate to agencies and organizations that support newcomers.

Manitoba Blue Cross: Anything else you'd like to add about N.E.E.D.S. or the Healthy CommUnity Challenge?

Margaret: Once again, we are most grateful for having received this award. We would like to acknowledge all of the other organizations that were part of this challenge. We look forward to implementing this project and enhancing mental health supports for refugee children and youth in Manitoba.

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