Centre helping to give immigrant families hope

United Way-supported Immigrant Centre helps 16,000 per year

By Jessica Botelho-Urbanski for the Winnipeg Free Press. 

For a Jamaican family that spent nearly 10 years shuffling paperwork between the provincial and federal governments, trying to gain permanent resident status in Canada was worth the wait.

In April, Noel and Judith Parkinson-Davis got a large yellow envelope in the mail that foretold theirs and their four kids’ future in the country they already called home.

Judith Parkinson-Davis with her husband, Noel, and their 16 month-old son Caleb at the Immigration Centre. RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Judith Parkinson-Davis with her husband, Noel, and their 16 month-old son Caleb at the Immigrant Centre. RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Parkinson-Davis family has lived in Winnipeg since 2006, venturing back to Jamaica for occasional visits.

Their 16-month-old son, Caleb, was born in Winnipeg and despite its cold winters, the city feels like home, Judith said.

When Noel opened the seal on the yellow envelope and took a peek inside, he did a little victory dance.

The family members had been granted permanent resident status, after years spent fretting over official documents and fine print.

“I did it because I had help through the Immigrant Centre, and I didn’t make any mistakes. I was always doubting myself that I can’t do it, that I’m going to fill it out, but it’s going to be wrong,” Judith said.

“When I saw all the paperwork came back approved, I felt proud that I actually took the time not only to get help, but to get it done.”

The family credited one very special person who worked with them at the Immigrant Centre on Adelaide Street.

Jorge Fernandez was their go-to caseworker, guiding them through an often confusing maze of immigration laws.

After 23 years in a variety of roles, Fernandez is now the executive director at the Immigrant Centre, overseeing all the centre’s programming and client work.

He called Judith a fighter, having watched her sort through hundreds of immigration forms for her family and never giving up.

“Now, finally, she’s a permanent resident and like her, there are so many successful clients that we see every year. Sometimes a client will come to us and say, ‘I’m not going to be able to do it.’ They start crying and say, ‘I’m going to go back home,’ ” Fernandez said. “We tell them, ‘You know what? We are going to help you.’ ”

The Immigrant Centre also provides dozens of other programs, from English conversation classes to nutrition lessons, computer coursework and citizenship training.

Thanks to funding from the United Way and other government sponsors, the centre is able to help 16,000 immigrants per year get access to their wide range of services.

About 1,000 people per year come to the Immigrant Centre to deal with residency status, work permits and immigration paperwork specifically, like the Parkinson-Davis family.

If you would like to help by the Immigrant Centre with a donation to United Way Winnipeg, visit www.unitedwaywinnipeg.ca/help or call 204-477-UWAY (8929).

REPUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE WINNIPEG FREE PRESS PRINT EDITION OCTOBER 3, 2015.