The Program Director for Eastman Immigrant Services (E.I.S.) says going to work every day this past year has been a real pleasure, but it’s also required extra creativity.

Gwen Reimer says the goal of E.I.S. is to always follow the health and safety regulations to make sure that their clients, staff and the community stays safe.

Eastman Immigrant Services 2021 Learn to skate program with SWIS (Settlement Workers in Schools) 

“So, we were constantly looking at ways of how we could be inclusive, how we could function, work and still stay connected to the newcomers.”

Reimer says, during the year, when their office had to close and staff needed to work from home, their clients needed to be taught how to use new E.I.S. online programs.

“In the beginning when they were more hesitant in relying on E.I.S. and they didn't know whom they could trust, plus all the scams that were out there, it's been really, really challenging to work with them and to gain their trust.”

She says everything became more familiar once Eastman Immigrant Services opened their offices again for in-person help. “It was just very comforting to them to know that they could come back in the office and see somebody face to face.”

One of the programs which showed the hesitancy of newcomers to trust was their English-language classes. Reimer says she believes it was because “learning English is something that really works best in-person. Especially when you're working with pronunciation and grammar, and correct speech and stuff, it's just best face-to-face.”

“So honestly, this year has been a challenge. We needed to be more creative, find ways to be inclusive, but at the same time we've also seen huge successes.”

In 2021, she says they discovered that out of 36 English students only 2 wanted in-person help, which Reimer says is very encouraging. Their clients have been able to say, “This is good. This works for me. I can be at home taking care of my family and still learn.”

She says attendance at their online classes has been so much better this year. Remote learning is being accepted which is helping Eastman Immigrant Services staff find ways to stay connected and be creative in serving newcomers in the area.