Network helps welcome newcomers and returning residents to Cape Breton

    ST. PETER’S: For those who have moved, or who are planning relocations to Cape Breton, a network of grass roots organizations is rolling out the welcome mat.

    The Cape Breton Welcome Network, a new program launched through the Cape Breton Partnership (CBP), is ready to welcome newcomers to the island according to a press release sent out last week. According to the CBP, a newcomer is defined as someone who has moved to Cape Breton within the last two years from anywhere outside of Cape Breton.

    The Welcome Network, which describes itself as a “constellation of volunteer-led Welcome Groups,” exists to create welcoming opportunities for those who are new to the island, the partnership said. The CBP said the initiative, which started in September 2020, has since formed six independent welcome groups with more than 50 volunteers across the island, including Judique, Port Hood, and St. Peter’s.

    “We’re really excited about the outpouring of volunteers, whom we call ‘welcomers,’” said Norma Jean MacPhee, coordinator of the Cape Breton Welcome Network. “With Welcome Groups now formed across the island, in six distinct communities, we’re ready to connect with newcomers. The success of happiness and belonging comes from the true welcoming of those already living in the area.”

    St. Peter’s and Area Welcome Group member Ann Marie Yorke said their mandate is to ensure newcomers feel part of the community.

    “That’s our main goal, to make them feel at ease and adjusted to their new homes,” York said. “We’re ready to offer a helping hand and make them feel comfortable.”

    Although it is an island-wide effort, Yorke said the network maintains a local flavour.

    “It’s just not us, it is truly a partnership of the island,” she noted. “Each group has come up with their own plans, of course, to meet with their individual areas to introduce them to the highlights of their own areas.”

    After the CBP sent out a call for volunteers last fall, Yorke recounted that Richmond Warden Amanda Mombourquette contacted prospective volunteers to attend a speech in St. Peter’s by MacPhee.

    At the meeting, Yorke recalled that 10 people expressed an interest and they starting brainstorming ideas such as contacting new families in the area, distributing welcome baskets, informing of community events, and providing a list of businesses and services.

    “We agreed it was a great thing because by welcoming newcomers into the community, it gives them a sense of belonging,” Yorke noted. “They’ll stay longer, and won’t want to leave. By forming a group, we could introduce them to the things that are happening in the community, like events that are taking place that they might not have known about, or wouldn’t feel comfortable, unless they were told that they could come.”

    The CBP said volunteers can reach out via email for a meal invite, or even a walk in the park.

    “Simple supports in the form of a phone call, welcoming basket, or a virtual chat can provide a foundation that is anything but simple,” said Carla Arsenault, CBP president and CEO. “These actions quickly show newcomers that their neighbours care and that they are indeed supported as they make this transition to their new Cape Breton home.”

    After exploring those and other ideas, Yorke said the group reached out to more prospective volunteers and they contacted other community groups interested in hosting events.

    Now, the group has 16 members, with hopes to get more onboard, she said, noting that they are moving into their second phase, which involves contacting neighbouring communities to see if there is interest in forming organizations.

    “Now we’re letting newcomers know that there are groups that they can contact if they want to. We’re also putting the feelers out for any new communities,” she said. “Let’s say Arichat said they wanted to set one up there. They’d be quite welcome to get in contact with the welcoming network and they’d come out just like they did with us and show them how to go about setting it up. They are looking for more communities to get involved in this project as well.”

    Yorke said there is a need for more bodies and more groups because of the amount of people moving to the four counties.

    Right now, the St. Peter’s group has more meetings scheduled in this second phase, and are trying to identify others who have moved or are planning to relocate to the area.

    “We’re going to have little committees as a part of each group. It’ll be more split up, with what we’re going to be doing individually. We have contacted most of the businesses in the area to move forward with the welcoming baskets,” she added. “This is going to give (newcomers) the opportunity to contact the welcoming network then they will direct them to us and we can offer any assistance that we can be to them.”

    This program is funded by the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration.

    Those looking to be welcomed, start a new welcome group, or get involved in existing welcome groups, can contact: welcomenetwork@capebretonpartnership.com, or visit: https://welcometocapebreton.ca/welcomenetwork for more information.