A Red Deer organization that has spent three decades making newcomers from other countries feel welcome was given a big thank-you on Saturday.
Central Alberta Refugee Effort (CARE) celebrated its 30th anniversary in front of more than 150 people, including the families it was designed to help.
Leonor Pineda attended the special evening to show her appreciation for the staff and volunteers of CARE.
She moved from Columbia in April 2007 with her daughters, Angie, now 14, and Danna, six.
The Spanish-speaking woman knew no English and that’s when CARE stepped in.
She took English as a Second Language classes at the downtown office.
When she needed an interpreter following her eldest daughter’s surgery in Edmonton, CARE supplied her with one.
Pineda also had a volunteer friend, a program offering newcomers to connect with Canadians for friendship and support.
“When people ask me about it, it’s hard for me because I start to cry,” said Pineda. “CARE offers the best help to the immigrants.”
Aline Rurangirwa, 23, formerly of Rwanda, took a test at CARE to prove that she had the English skills to handle college. And for that, she is grateful.
She hails these kinds of organizations, including one in Winnipeg where her family lives, for offering much-needed support for newcomers.
CARE was created in 1980 to provide co-ordinated services and encourage a welcoming environment for immigrants and refugees.
Dorothy Towns, 85, one of the founding members, said the need first arose by various church ministers who wondered what could be done to help Vietnamese refugees following the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s.
“I understood that people needed help and I was an old nurse,” Downs said. “Life isn’t any value unless somebody needs you and you are available.”
Towns remains involved with CARE, finding families it can help. She attends their regular meetings.
CARE executive director Veena Chandra said the office has grown to more than 30 staff from four when it first opened its doors.
Programs now number 11, up from two.
With immigration growth in Central Alberta, these programs are vital.
CARE serves about 400 to 500 people annually.
“It’s a very satisfying job, seeing people who come here with no English, no support, no jobs and they don’t know the culture,” Chandra said.
“And then they slowly learn the language and the culture, and they get jobs. They fulfill their hopes, their dreams.”
City councillor Lynne Mulder hailed CARE for the important work it’s done in the community, including helping international students at Red Deer College.
She applauded the organization for helping Albertans understand foreign cultures.
“We can’t provide all the social services,” Mulder added.
“As a council and as a city, it’s important we partner with other agencies like CARE.”