A welcome sight for new Canadians

Renovated Edmonton day-care center provides comfort for immigrants, refugees

This winter, Syrian parents heading to English-language classes at the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers have been met with a comforting sight.

As these recent refugees check their reluctant children into the center’s child-care facility, they see a cheery, inviting space—freshly painted and well appointed with toys, facilities and play areas.

It’s a welcoming aesthetic resulting from a $50,000 Enbridge contribution, and the efforts and the resourcefulness of Enbridge employees—both of which led to a major overhaul of the kitchen and child-care center at the EMCN.

“For many refugee children, this is their first time away from their parents, so it’s important that the child-care space looks welcoming,” says Erick Ambtman, the EMCN’s executive director.

The EMCN is Edmonton’s largest organization serving immigrants and refugees from around the world. More than 15,000 individuals and families per year access the facility’s services and support network, which include English language instruction, employment and foreign credential programs, and settlement supports such as counseling for victims of torture and trauma.

The child-care center, for children whose parents attend language classes, was overdue for an upgrade. “It was in really rough shape. In the kitchen, every piece of equipment was failing or didn’t fit in its place. The outdoor playground was a patch of dirt and concrete,” explains Ambtman.

The change began in 2014, when Enbridge committed to a United Way focus project to contribute funds and volunteer hours for renovations.

“We were delighted when Enbridge came to us and said, that in addition to their campaign, they’d like to contribute to a focus project,” says Kevin Fitzgerald, director of Corporate Partnerships at the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region.

Last year, Enbridge’s employee-led United Way campaign in the Edmonton area raised about $1.8 million, including donations, special events and corporate matching.

Fitzgerald says the value of the EMCN project was about so much more than dollars. “It went a lot further than we thought it would,” he says, “because of the very strong volunteerism from Enbridge employees, and because Enbridge leveraged strong relationships with contractors and vendors to get materials at a discounted cost.”

As a result, the child-care center received a complete kitchen renovation, new paint, new outdoor play facilities, new activity center, furniture, shelving units, toys and supplies.

That $50,000 contribution “stretched into more like a $120,000 to $150,000 renovation,” says Ambtman. “Every time the Enbridge team brought something in under budget, something else became possible.”

After holding a celebration event in December with EMCN child care staff, client families, and Enbridge employees, Ambtman says the human impact of this transformation stands above everything else.

“Now when parents are dropping their kids off for the first time, they have more confidence because the day care looks inviting and fun,” he says. “It sends the message that our clients are valued.”