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The Decision Makers: Settlement Services in the Neepawa Ecosystem Explained
Before starting his career in settlement services, Don Walmsley spent the majority of his working life in the Department of Family Services, working out of Neepawa since 1982 and raising a family there. Following early retirement, he took on a series of other short-term positions from gas jockey to addictions program consultant before the position at Neepawa and Area Settlement Services caught his attention. His time working in family services gave him a great grounding for the very people-centric work of settlement services.
The organisation was much smaller at the time, growing from two employees when he started to the current 17. That’s not the only thing that’s changed. Until about 2013, the Province of Manitobe ran its own settlement programs before they were repatriated to the federal government, and the focus of the organisation shifted from servicing temporary foreign workers to permanent residents.
Settlement, Walmsley stresses, is not the same as Immigration. The purpose of settlement is to provide information, orientation, referrals and resources to newcomers to help them settle and integrate into the local area. That covers a lot of territory, and issues can be anything from housing to education to licensing to healthcare to the legal system. Because of its breadth, and because of the rapid and large population growth in the Neepawa area due largely to immigration, settlement has become entwined with many of the needs of the community as a whole - schools, water treatment, recreation areas, and more.
Accommodating that growth, and in particular a kind of growth that also involves the dramatic change of the community demographic from quiet retirement to young immigrant families, has been, as Walmsley says, about making the right decisions at the right time. He praises the current and past councils for having the vision and sense to look more than a few years ahead and prepare for the changes to come.
Culture shock is also a very real part of Walmsley’s work with newcomers. Arriving in Winnipeg in February, at night, and then driving an additional two hours across what appears to be empty land is an immediate shock to the system for many people coming to Neepawa, who are often arriving from the Philippines and other areas of Southeast Asia.
He says that he needs to work both on the individual level with people’s immediate needs and also on a broader level with the Municipality on infrastructure needs and even the provincial and federal governments on immigration reform.
Because of its somewhat unique trajectory, Neepawa is observed as a microcosm and test case of how this type of rapid growth and diversification plays out. Walmsley notes, however, that it’s important to make the distinction that Neepawa’s growth is through immigrants who have made the conscious decision to come to this area of Canada, and largely to work at 'the plant'. The strategies used by settlement here can be very different from what is used in areas that are seeing an influx of refugees from other areas of the world.
Walmsley shares his personal rubric for making any decision - INMACF, to be remembered by the phrase: “In Italy, Mussolini Always Comes First.” It’s a phrase he learned from his father which originally was used to examine and formulate battle plans. The first 'I' is for Intention, or clarifying what you want to do. The second is Information, figuring out what you need to know to accomplish your goal and seeking out those information resources. M is for Method, determining how you are going to accomplish the thing that you are choosing to do. Following that is Ammunition, that in a process outside of wartime refers to what you are going to need to make it happen, or what supports you need to have in place. The C is Communication, determining who needs to be engaged and how to engage them. Finally we have F for Other Factors, which depending on the decision in question can vary widely.
When you make a decision, says Walmsley, you have to be prepared for whatever consequences occur, especially when you’re dealing with people. This method allows him to consider a lot of possible outcomes and reduce snap decisions that may have poorly-thought-out objectives or are missing another critical piece of the puzzle, such as good communication.
Our conversation with Don Walmsley continues in Part Two of this interview, coming soon.
As Neepawa and area’s local access television station, NACTV has been serving the community since 1977. The station is a community-owned not-for-profit organisation that broadcasts 24 hours a day and reaches homes throughout Manitoba and Canada on Bell ExpressVu 592, MTS Channel 30/1030, and WCG 117 as well as streaming online at nactv.tv.
NACTV’s content is primarily filmed and produced by local volunteers and focuses on issues, activities, achievements, sports, and news by, about, and of interest to our community.
Neepawa is located in western Manitoba, about two hours west of Winnipeg and 45 minutes southeast of Riding Mountain National Park.