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Gift of learning

Gardiner Centre offering free professional training to newcomers to N.L.

By Susan White

Lesya Danchyshyn gestures to the vibrant blue harbour and colourful cityscape visible through floor-to-ceiling windows at Gardiner Centre.

Lesya Danchyshyn, a white woman in her late 40s, sits on a teal couch in a spacious room with windows in the background. The city of St. John's is visible through the windows.
Lesya Danchyshyn in the lounge at Gardiner Centre.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

She’s standing in the centre’s lounge at Memorial University’s Signal Hill Campus.

Sunlight streams through the windows, creating a cozy atmosphere among teal couches and throw pillows emblazoned with words like “Empower” and “Achieve.”

“It was like a gift,” Ms. Danchyshyn said of her time in the centre.

She added, “I feel like home.”

Ms. Danchyshyn was a psychologist in Ukraine before moving to Newfoundland and Labrador a little over a year ago.

Here in St. John’s, she’s been working in retail at NONIA, a not-for-profit that sells hand-knit garments crafted by people in rural communities.

Although far from her previous career in Ukraine, her work at NONIA offers a sense of community and resourcefulness created by her colleagues and NONIA’s clients and customers.

But the atmosphere at Gardiner Centre, where she took four courses over the past few months, is a welcome return to the type of professional environment in which she has spent most of her career.

“I am also used in Ukraine to studying in very nice place,” Ms. Danchyshyn said, so it felt like a return to normality to be at Gardiner Centre. “It’s very nice centre. It’s organized good.”

New pilot project

Ms. Danchyshyn took courses in workplace harassment and violence, resilience, mental health and employee exits, thanks to a pilot project between Gardiner Centre and the Association for New Canadians (ANC).

The agreement allows participants in ANC’s Newcomer Entrepreneurship Training Program to attend professional development courses and programs at Gardiner Centre for free.

“Gardiner Centre programs offer a clear vision into the kinds of skills newcomers require if they are to adapt their skills to a Canadian context.” — Jim Murphy

To date, 16 people from Ukraine, Mexico, Iran and Afghanistan have earned 32 certificates from 18 different courses and programs.

“As part of Memorial University, Gardiner Centre has a special obligation to the people of this province,” said Valerie Howe, director at the centre. “That obligation, from our perspective, is to deliver teaching and learning that fills skills gaps, solves organizational challenges, builds a stronger business community and supports career progression for everyone. The opportunity to support the Association for New Canadians in building entrepreneurial skills for their clients aligns with our mandate and helps us reach a new audience as well.”

Connecting the partners

Gardiner Centre and ANC were connected by Dr. Jim Barnes, professor emeritus and former dean of the Faculty of Business Administration.

Dr. Barnes has taught in ANC’s entrepreneurship program, focusing on the role of customers in business and organizational success.

He says the experience helped him better understand the need for newcomers to improve their understanding of Canadian work cultures and business practices.

“I met many people in the program who have a great deal to offer our community, but who just aren’t aware of how business is done in Canada,” he said.

Ms. Danchyshyn agrees this was one of the benefits of completing Gardiner Centre training.

Lesya Danchyshyn, a white woman in her late 40s, stands in the foyer of Gardiner Centre at Memorial University's Signal Hill Campus. She wears a black shirt and has curly, chin-length blond hair.
Lesya Danchyshyn says she would like to open a psychology practice in St. John’s one day.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

She added to her English vocabulary with words like “resignation,” “retirement” and “termination”, while also learning about local work cultures.

Topics like resilience and mental health are available in Ukraine, she noted, “but here are more.”

She also learned that building networks is important in Canada.

‘The impacts are many’

Jim Murphy, ANC’s director of employment services, says Gardiner Centre’s reputation for quality programs stimulated its interest in the pilot project.

“This partnership provides another layer of support by offering access to programs that can impact the transition of newcomers to a new economic and business landscape,” he said. “The Gardiner Centre programs offer a clear vision into the kinds of skills newcomers require if they are to adapt their skills to a Canadian context.”

Mr. Murphy also said the impacts of the programs are “many.”

“Participants are given the opportunity to network and to improve their knowledge around leadership, business practices, interpersonal skills, communications and recruitment practices in a Canadian context, which will lead to positive outcomes for them in terms of labour market retention and building a future enterprise.”

Ms. Danchyshyn is currently focusing on becoming a permanent resident.

One day, she says she would like to open a psychology practice here in St. John’s.

“Why not, yes?” she said. “I am not afraid.”

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