Welcoming community

The next time you visit City Hall you will be greeted by “welcome” in 16 different languages. Part of our renovations to City Hall last year focused on improving the customer experience by ensuring all relevant departments were grouped together and on one floor.

On Monday we unveiled the new welcome signage. Signage might seem like a small thing, but in many ways it is symbolic to the Cities commitment to being inclusive, engaging, celebrating our diversity, and being welcoming.

The South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services partnered to help create our welcome wall. SOICS also co-ordinated with the federal government to bring a Canadian citizenship ceremony back to Penticton recently. This important event featured 56 newcomers – people who live, work and contribute to life in the South Okanagan – making the official transition to be Canadian citizens. It has been a long while since the ceremonies were hosted here, and I was honoured to witness the proud celebration amongst family and friends.

I have often said we don't celebrate our cultural diversity enough. We have a few festivals such as the Aboriginal Cultural Village at Peach Fest, Scottish Festival, One World and Oktoberfest, but many more exist that we've never immersed into being a community event. We can have many different cultures in our City, and our goal should be embracing diversity as part of our community. SOICS does a great job helping newcomers with job opportunities, English lessons, and offering a support network to ensure they feel welcome and can succeed.

Being a welcoming community is not merely focused on the immigrant population. One of our attributes as a community is that we are recognized by visitors on how friendly we are. Penticton is small enough that everyone can say, “hello” to each other, and we always are willing to offer directions, or insight to the best place for food, drink or other.

Of course it is not all roses and sunshine. Being welcoming is something we collectively have to work on. It only takes one comment or action that negates our forward movement. There will be more immigrants coming to Canada as there will more jobs coming available than we have people to fill them. Living in the Okanagan is a destination of choice because of our weather, beauty, four seasons, opportunities, and people. Vibrancy doesn't magically happen with a given population level. We can be a small city and celebrate a multitude of cultures, thus creating an energetic and exciting community.

The South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services have been raising their profile, and helping to integrate cultural diversity into our region. Let's continue to be a very welcoming community.