Over 40 years ago, a number of visionary and committed immigrant women identified a need for ESL programs, complete with a preschool component for their young children that would support the settlement needs of isolated immigrant mothers. Thanks to their ground-breaking efforts, and with funding from Heritage Canada, the first PIRS ESL Program for Cantonese-speaking mothers and preschoolers met in 1975 at Strathcona Community Centre.
From those simple beginnings, PIRS expanded to include ESL classes for women from all over the world. Over the years, our ESL programs have served women from the Italian, Greek, Punjabi, Khmer, Somali, Spanish, Kurdish, Farsi, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Mandarin speaking communities, among many others. Women in PIRS ESL classes not only learn English – they also gain support and assistance from bilingual and bicultural staff who work closely with ESL instructors to facilitate access to other community resources and services.
In its second decade, PIRS realized that immigrant women who had more English language skills sometimes lacked the opportunity to learn about and become further involved in their new communities. Beginning in 1985 PIRS began offering the Learning, Education, and Development (LEAD) and Building Bridges Programs. Like our ESL classes, these programs have helped thousands of new Canadian women gain the knowledge, skills, confidence and friendships needed to feel at home in our community and to open doors to greater participation in Canadian society.
Quality care and education programs for the young children of women participating in our ESL programs are an important part of the services PIRS offers. We enable immigrant mothers (and sometimes grandmothers) to learn English while their children aged 18 months to 5 years develop the language and social skills needed for success in the Canadian school system.
Most recently, PIRS has turned its attention to developing programs for immigrant women with children younger than 18 months. With the support of the United Way Success by 6 funding our Story Time program for immigrant women with children aged 0 to 6 has been a great success in meeting the parenting and integration needs of this client group.
With its committed staff, dedicated volunteers and dynamic Board of Directors, PIRS will continue to ensure that immigrant women and their children integrate successfully into Canadian society.