City council is putting an additional $10,000 toward English Second Language (ESL) courses for Ukrainian refugees. 

The Rotary Club of Grande Prairie will work with the Council for Lifelong Learning to use the funds to ensure Ukrainian refugees can access ESL courses. 

“I think it’s just the right thing to do,” said city coun. Dylan Bressey. 

“People that have lost everything and are showing up around the country; helping them understand the language is just the right thing to do, but also from an economic perspective, when I talk to employers, labour is the number one need.”

The Rotary Club has assisted around 200 refugees who have arrived in Grande Prairie, said Joel Park, Rotary Club of Grande Prairie Ukrainian relief committee chair.

He believes about 33 per cent of the refugees are children. 

The city council funded the Rotary Club $100,000 in June to aid Ukranian refugees arriving in the city. 

Additionally, another $100,000 came from the Rotary Club of Grande Prairie and corporate donations.  Ken Drysdale is selling sunflower seeds from his crop last year, which is expected to bring in another $50,000, said Park.

“The Rotary Club is doing an exceptional job of helping Ukrainian refugees settle in the community,” said Bressey.

Rotary spent $100,000 of the funds on rent and deposits for arriving refugees. 

When billets were not available, about $3,000 was spent on hotels.

“Many of them were fleeing with literally nothing but the clothes on their back and maybe a small bag,” said Park in June.

Beyond just housing the refugees, they are also helping them become settled in the area.

The club has spent approximately $67,000 on furniture, $45,000 on household goods, and $12,000 on English courses.

“That included not just English as a Second Language classes but also the classes necessary to pass the language test necessary for permanent residency,” said Park.  

The Rotary Club has also helped refugees arriving in Grande Prairie with finding jobs and helping with various paperwork. 

Vacancy rates low

Additional help is difficult moving forward, explained Park, because the vacancy rates around the city are low for one and two-bedroom apartments. 

“This is a surprising and new problem that we didn’t anticipate,” said Park.

He said all the funds from June have now been used, halting much of what the club was doing regarding housing.

He said the club could no longer encourage Ukrainian refugees to come to Grande Prairie given the current lack of housing.

Park went to the County of Grande Prairie council on March 13 looking for additional aid with a request for $100,000. 

He said the aid would help address labour shortages and expand housing availabilities. 

On March 27, county council decided not to take any action on the request.

“It was a little eye-opening to have been turned away by the (county) because apart from the common sense side of helping a labour shortage in their communities, there is a moral imperative, in my opinion, and they decided to turn away from that,” said Park. 

Still, refugees continue to arrive.

“We are finding that a lot of Ukrainians are still migrating to this community, thanks to the Ukrainians that are already here,” he said. “Somebody contacted me yesterday who is looking for help to get a job can now do so because their mother has shown up from Ukraine and they’ve now got childcare.”

He said there is less need for financial support as refugees are now arriving with some funds,  earned while waiting to come to Canada by working in Western Europe. 

The additional funding from the city came from the council’s strategic initiatives reserves. City administration said it also looked into potential grants available to fund the needed ESL, but none were currently available.

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 27, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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