MAS seeking new building amid continued growth

The Multicultural Association of Sussex is hoping to lock in a new building this fall as it looks for more room to house its programming for newcomers.

Bridget Ryan, executive director for MAS, said after her appointment in January, the group took a while to reassess where it's at before committing to new growth. Now, she said the nonprofit is in negotiations for a new, larger, location as its current Main Street building is "a little crowded."

"It's certainly been a time of learning here," Ryan said. "We've been really focusing on that, making sure that ... we're doing all the things that are required before we expand out again."

She said the group is in discussion with a property owner, as well as potential alternate options. She says a new location with a kitchen would be an opportunity to offer some more "on-site" programming.

The group offers four levels of English classes and conversation mentoring as part of the Rural Employment & Language Initiative, with volunteer French and Portuguese classes and other skill workshops. After the nonprofit's learning centre across the street closed, the educational program moved into the main building's basement, she said.

"That just kind of means we don't have the space for information or orientation sessions, because we have classes four nights a week there," she said. "We'd like to have a little more room to spread out and not interrupt the classes."

Ryan previously served on town council, and had been working with the provincial education department and on the nonprofit's board when the executive director opened. She said after an adjustment period, the centre now has a full complement of staff, with a position posted this week for a community connections coordinator.

"We have ideas for growth, like with the youth club and expanding our learning abilities here," she said. "Now it's kind of ramping up again, we see our numbers increasing."

Participation in MAS programming has increased since school came back, according to Ryan, with about 497 clients, around half of which come to events regularly. Newcomers are set up with a settlement plan to determine which programs work best, she said.

"For the newcomers that struggle for language or don't know people in the community, we become that first community hub," she said, saying the group also now has a school resource person.

She said that growth comes in part from employers bringing employees in, including through the provincial critical workers program, and that there are still newcomers arriving from Ukraine, including spouses of people who have already moved to Sussex.

"The need is still there because people want to move to Canada," she said.

The group recently received $1,000 in funding from Sussex town council, with Ryan saying it's "fabulous" that they provided support, noting that they are asking for more funding in next year's budget. She said the group is hoping for funding sources outside of government funding, but it's tricky to approach employers because the group does not want to become beholden to a third party.

"The majority of what we do is government funded and ... it's never good to have all your eggs in one basket," she said. "We're trying to look at other sources to make sure that we remain viable and can continue to do what we do."

She said while they do provide services for new employees, they also provide services for the whole family, not just the person who's come to work. She said those "first family connections" are among the most important thing coming in.

She said a strength of the RELI program, which has been in effect in Sussex for about a year, has been in offering services to family members with differing levels of English. She said there will be some changes after the program's first year, and hopes to see more cohorts to allow for extra

When asked where she sees things in a year, Ryan said she hopes that MAS is established in its new location, that they have more opportunities for their clients, that more newcomers become integrated in society and that the town continues to be welcoming.

"I'm not blind to the challenges of Sussex, but one thing I'm incredibly proud of is that this town has opened its arms to newcomers," she said. "We have so many people that want to be involved and volunteer and learn more about the different cultures, and I think that's fabulous."

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal