passion for diversity
passion for diversity
LIP Community Champions
A former high school vice-principal and guidance counsellor, Pembroke Mayor Mike LeMay says he spent a lot of time listening and empathizing with marginalized students. That experience helped him to become an advocate for these students, and also spurred him to become a champion for inclusion.
The Mayor has set up a Diversity Advisory committee, a group that will focus on educating city council and the broader community on how to eliminate racism and discrimination. “We will ensure our communication emphasizes that Pembroke is welcoming, safe and inclusive,” says LeMay.
The Mayor understands the need for smaller municipalities to attract newcomers, adding “it is essential not only for economic growth but also cultural growth. The onus is on our city and our residents to welcome everyone who wants to move here and help us grow and prosper,” says LeMay.
Lisa Benoit is Manager of Community Employment Services, at Algonquin College Perth Campus. For more than two decades, Benoit has worked in employment services, helping people find and keep jobs. For much of her career, she says there was limited discussion about inclusion and diversity. “The notion of privilege based on race, sexual orientation and religious affiliation remained largely foreign to me in my youth, but as I started to work in career development, I began to witness firsthand the barriers and challenges faced by marginalized populations.”
Benoit says she has also had the opportunity to travel throughout Canada and other countries, which gave her a much greater awareness and appreciation for diverse cultures and traditions. “Smaller municipalities need to look at the data. Newcomer attraction and retention is necessary for rural areas to survive. The infrastructure needs to be put in place to support newcomer transitions, including a community inclusion plan,” says Benoit.
Through her work in employment services, Benoit is committed to continuing her work as a community champion for the Local Immigration Partnership in Lanark and Renfrew counties.
In her work as the Chief Executive Officer of the Pembroke Public Library, Karthi Rajamani knows that libraries take on a leadership role in community development. She has worked hard to bring cultural celebrations, ethnic cooking classes and an annual multicultural festival to the community.
But it’s her own personal experience as an immigrant from India that has made Rajamani a community champion. She says she faced struggles and discrimination as she settled in her new country.
“During those times, I always thought about how one day, when I got the opportunity, I would work to create a welcoming community in all ways possible so that any newcomer would not feel the same way that I did,” says Rajamani.
Citing economic and population growth as being vital for smaller communities, Rajamani says by creating an inclusive atmosphere that welcomes immigrants, it will result in wealthier and happier communities.
“I feel strongly that we should strive to create an inviting atmosphere for newcomers because when an immigrant is welcomed into the community, it gives the feeling of warmth and security,” adds Rajamani.
Jordan Kennie has always been drawn to help marginalized people. As a teacher she was interested in helping students who were at risk and activities that supported their success such as breakfast programs, sports and tutoring. Not surprisingly, Kennie joined the Community Association for Refugee Resettlement to help sponsor several Syrian newcomer families who settled in the Perth area.
For the past five years, Kennie has been a staunch advocate for newcomers, an experience that she calls rewarding and an educational experience like none other. Helping these refugees feel welcomed in the community has become her mission.
“Newcomers bring with them a wealth of life experience, a differing perspective and new ideas. I think that attracting newcomers to any community makes a community richer in experiences,” says Kenney.
Kenney adds that newcomers and refugees are some of the strongest and most resilient people she has ever met. “They give up so much and work so hard to create opportunities for themselves and their children, despite obstacles and hardships that most of us can not imagine, with a grace few possess.”
Kenney is an inspiration for all of us who want to create welcoming communities for immigrants.