Encompass Support Services Society (Langley): “Spanish Family Power” Program
Langley, once a farming community, has seen great changes over the past 30 years. Since the 1980s, Langley City and surrounding lands administered by the Municipality have been subject to extensive strip mall development. Many core businesses, including the civil courts and several banks, have moved to the malls, fostering an automobile-dominated community.
In addition, the community allowed extensive strip development along the Langley Bypass, which has become the new business area of the city. In February 2006, the Township of Langley moved its Municipal Hall from the "core area" of the Township to the growing Willoughby area. Construction of the Golden Ears Bridge was completed in 2009, connecting the Township of Langley with the communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows. The town has experienced rapid development since the relocation of the town centre in the Willoughby area, with a lot of new businesses moving into the community.
Langley is a very family-oriented area, with a large amount of affordable housing built in recent years that has attracted young families to the community. Many Spanish-speaking people have settled in Langley over the past decade. Amongst its diverse community services programming, Encompass Support Services Society (ESSS) offers a range of programs for Spanish-speaking families in the Langley area.
We spoke with Liliana Ornelas, coordinator of the “Spanish Family Power” CAPC-funded drop-in program at ESSS.
The story began ten years ago when Langley Community Services was looking for a facilitator for a group for Spanish-speaking families in Langley. Liliana started as a volunteer, along with another co-worker, running a pilot project for a year, with the aim of developing a long-term program for Spanish-speaking Langley families. The pilot was successful and after the first year the agency hired Liliana to run the program on an ongoing basis. Three years later, when Aldergrove Neighbourhood Services Society (ANSS) became the lead agency for the CAPC program in Langley, they took over administration of the program. Following a merger with another social service agency, ANSS now operates as Encompass Support Services Society (ESSS).
Liliana is a Spanish-speaking immigrant to Canada, which has been helpful to her in developing and running the Spanish Family Power program. She began by trying to conceptualize a program that would meet the needs of Spanish-speaking families in the community, who come from a range of different national and cultural backgrounds, with language and immigrant experience as their commonalities. The structure that evolved for the weekly drop-in works on a monthly rotation of three different patterns.
On the first Wednesday of the month, the group serves as a mutual support group sharing individual news and challenges, with participants bringing resources and offering peer support for each other.
Once a month they have a speaker; they have had over 40 so far. Many of the speakers talk on topics around parenting issues including toilet training, child development, and how to raise children in a different culture. Other popular presentations have included topics such as women’s issues around adaptation to a new culture, and how to relate to your Canadian in-laws (many of the women who attend have married Canadian-born husbands). Finding speakers that speak Spanish is challenging. Most parents have a functional understanding of English, but prefer, if possible, to have Spanish-speaking presenters. Because the program is well known, it is often approached by services within the community who want to provide educational pieces. A lot of the speakers are from partner agencies such as immigrant services (ISSBC), community services, district health services, literacy programs, etc.
On two weeks each month the group has a discussion format, either discussing a parenting topic or a topic related to women’s development and interests. The women in the group originate from all over South America and Central America. Although they all speak the same language, they represent different cultures, backgrounds and cuisine. In the discussion group, they each share their distinctive culture and knowledge and offer peer support to each other.
The group also offers an ongoing opportunity for gradual acclimatization to Canadian culture. There are families new to Canada, some for less than two months, and some that have been here for over ten years, but all with children aged 0-6 years. Those who have been here for longer offer a welcome and are a resource for those just getting used to life in a new country.
The program has been consistently popular and has very good child minders. Now operating year round, families are grateful to have these services available during the school holidays. Outdoor programming incorporates lots of fun activities for parents and children to engage in together. ESSS organizes two big field trips every summer, with subsidies for low-income families. The families from the Spanish-speaking programs are invited to join in these field trips.
The popularity of the drop-in program means that sometimes there are too many children for the available child minders. Meeting program demand requires being creative to work within the limits of the budget. Parents are very understanding about these constraints, as in their home countries they did not have access to free, quality parenting programs.
Participants consistently comment that the program is a place where they feel safe and at home. They don’t like to miss Wednesdays, because it is a place where they feel connected with their culture. The program celebrated its 10 year anniversary on November 4th.
Participants in the program have commented:
“I am from Colombia and lived in the US before moving to Canada. I have never found a group like Family Power where I had felt so welcome, and where there was a genuine interest for the wellbeing of the mothers and their children, making them feel part of a community. Thanks to Family Power my transition and adjustment to a Canada was easier. I also got very sick and this group offered me a lot of support."
“Through Family Power I've connected with many women, formed strong friendships, and through the years they've become my family."
“Family Power has changed my life. I've grown and learned many things, but the most important is that I've become more confident about raising my children in our new country.