A program that collaborates with local businesses, schools, churches and community organizations to help integrate newcomers to the southeast, has been in Steinbach for three years, now has a new coordinator at the helm.

Working under the umbrella of Eastman Immigrant Services, which helps newcomers to the area settle in, the Eastern Region Immigration Partnership works alongside people who have lived in Steinbach for a number of years.

Kris Ontong, sole staff person says, they focus more on integration and retention than immigration.

Ontong says E.R.I.P (pronounced ee-rip) first started in 2008 in Toronto, Ontario. “The pilot program worked out fine, and so they decided to expand it to all parts of Canada. So, then the program was brought to Steinbach in 2019.”

Ontong says he stepped into the role of Program Coordinator in November 2023. He explains his job. “I work with two groups, one would be the Partnership Council (PC), and then the other one is the Immigrant Advisory Table (IAT).”

“So basically, I find out what the concerns are of the different ethnic communities who reside here in the region, as I talk with their representatives who are sitting on the Immigrant Advisory Table.”

Ontong says, there is a representative from the Filipino community, the German community, the Ukrainian community and among others on the Partnership Council.

“We get together quarterly, and then we try and find out what the pressing priorities are for each of the communities. Then I bring all of that information to the Partnership Council, and they're the ones who create a strategy to address all of those concerns, because they're the ones who are in the position to work on it, or to alleviate some of the issues that are there.”

Ontong explains that the Partnership Council of southeastern Manitoba is made up of different entities.  

“So, you’ve got government agencies, you’ve got business organizations, you have schools, and faith-based groups, which represents the Eastern Manitoba region. The Partnership Council has members from the provincial government, somebody from two school divisions. The Seine River School Division and Hanover School Division. There's a seat for Eastman Immigrant Services as well, and the Chamber of Commerce will also be there, and some employers, like Loewen. And then there's also an economic development agency, although in the Stuartburn area, called Sunrise Corner.”

Ontong says, with all the ethnic groups in the southeast, they have a lot of conversations about how to narrow down their priorities, how they can best help the newcomers settle in the region and choose to make Manitoba their home.

“E.R.I.P.’s main priority would be housing. The other is employment, but their number one concern is education for the kids, followed by social services.”

Ontong notes the process, he says, there may be a group of individuals from an ethnic group working with different housing issues, that person would then meet with the Partnership Council and someone from the Immigrant Advisory Table and work out the details to solve the housing issues, or education or transportation.

“We all know there's no public transportation system in Steinbach. We do have a reliable taxi service over here, but when newcomers compare Steinbach with the other cities like Winnipeg, of course, and Brandon, they see something that's missing. So even from my experience, I know that lack of transportation is a major stumbling block when it comes to looking for a job in Steinbach.”

Ontong notes that he does not deal directly with individuals from the community, but through community partners who work through local ethnic associations.

To simplify his job description, Ontong says, “So basically what I do is, I help facilitate solving a problem. I don't have the resources to do that, but I connect those who can help with those in leadership. So, if there's like an issue or a concern that needs to be addressed by that community, then I bring it forward to the people who can do something about it, which are the members of the Partnership Council.”

He gives an example using the issue of transportation in Steinbach. "So that is something that E.R.I.P. can help the association with by partnering with, for example, the city of Steinbach, and with companies who are interested in establishing a transportation company here.”

Ontong says, he could also help associations where learning the English language is difficult. "For example, kids from the Ukrainian community who were displaced by what's going on in their home country. They weren’t prepared to come over here and English is not their second language at all. So, they might be having problems catching up with language classes. So, I work with the school division, whether it's the Seine River School Division or the Hanover School Division. Once it's determined that there are needs to be addressed, I can work with E.I.S. and maybe they can develop, like, a language training program for those kids.”

Ontong notes that being a part of E.R.I.P. has been a good fit for him and will be interesting moving forward. “This next year definitely because of what I personally experienced. You know, being able to settle here, like being happy here in the Steinbach area for 13 years. I also want to pay that forward for other newcomers. So yeah, it's just something that I just wanted to share. And, you know, I guess I see myself in the newcomers. I see that as an advantage, and it's a blessing that I have a lived an experience that's similar to what they're experiencing right now. And I just want them to have the best experience here and be able to integrate and enjoy their new home in Canada.”

Ontong says the Eastern Region Immigration Partnership catchment area goes as far east as the Ontario border, southeast as far as Buffalo Point and north to Victoria Beach and Powerview Pine Falls. He adds that E.R.I.P. gets its funding from the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada Fund.