At our staff professional development day on June 8, we celebrated the careers of Thuy Truong and Anna Gregus, who are both retiring this year.
Claudette Legault, Director of Programs and Services, has been a friend and coworker of Anna’s for 20 years, and shared these words:
“Anna joined MISA in December of 1992, and with her presence the settlement team doubled in size. I have always said that the settlement work is the heart of what Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia is all about, the rose or the core of the onion or whatever example you want to use. It is hard to imagine those first few weeks in a new country, when you arrive in a foreign and strange environment, are still in shock, perhaps traumatized by your previous experiences, separated from loved ones left behind, excited, nervous, scared, perhaps sick. Now put yourself in the shoes of the workers who are and will be their life lines for those first days and weeks. All of the other supports, services and programs that Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia offers are the outer petals of the rose, the other layers of the onion, but it all begins with that refugee family getting off the plane. And Anna has been at the center of our rose since pretty much the beginning.
The first settlement workers, of which Anna was one of the two, were people of conscience, compassion and had to pretty much do it all. They needed to be practical, resourceful, strong, determined, unflappable, capable, competent, reliable, able to solve any problem and just plain able to get it done. Does that describe anyone you know?
Before moving to Nova Scotia with her family, Anna arrived in Canada via Newfoundland where she lived in both St. Johns and the small out port of Woody Point. She even did volunteer work with the Association for New Canadians and came with a reference from Bridget Foster, the Director of the ANC, who as anyone knows does not give out references easily but is probably one of the best judges of character you will find.
It is not surprising that during Anna’s first visit/interview for a position at MISA, that she was snapped up for her energy, passion, humour and common sense approach to the work and tasks involved in settlement work. As the work grew, refugee settlement programs changed and we all became more experienced under Anna’s intuitive leadership about how to get the job done and we added services, programs and staff. We better understood the needs of refugees and then better understood the settlement needs of other immigrants and how we could meet some of those needs. The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia that exists today and the settlement programs we have currently we owe to the vision Anna brought to the work. Examples include the work and role of on-call workers, the development of a crisis worker position. MISA had the first health settlement worker funded by CIC in the country, and one of the first dedicated Family Support Workers. The creation of the intake position grew out of the work of the settlement team as did the Life Skills Program. And well before a case management approach to delivering settlement services was piloted by CIC in Ontario we were already doing it – using the resources we had and just doing it because it was the best way to go. When Canada was about to accept 5,000 Kosovar refugees, and we were asked if we could be part of the welcome team and do orientation for them before they were sent off to other parts of Canada, who do you think we sent off to Camp Aldershot to develop the program and process, hire and orient new staff and still keep the regular settlement program going? The person you most want on your side during an emergency is Anna.
Anna has helped build a settlement practice at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia that is professional, compassionate, respectful and always focuses on the strengths and resilience of the clients. She has been the role model and mentor for many social work students over the years and the staff she has worked with – bringing that clarity of what has to be done to the tasks and problems at hand. There has been very little turn over in staff in the Settlement Team and I think that is a tribute to Anna’s leadership and support. It is stressful, demanding work but is also rewarding and meaningful. I think that in the 19 years that Anna has worked in settlement that over 5,000 refugees will have been touched by the staff and programs of the settlement team. I never worried when Anna was around and no matter how serious the situation was – when I asked Anna – how is it going? Is everything all right?, the answer was always – don’t worry everything will be fine. Anna did what was necessary. When the settlement team needed a manager, she took that on and I appreciate everything Anna did for MISA and Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia as a Manager. She always brought the settlement and refugee optic to the discussion and decisions, because it needed to be done although I know her heart was always with the refugee program and always will be. Your contribution has been invaluable Anna and you leave Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia a stronger, better organization for having been here. While I accept that you are ready to leave the work after a long and dedicated period of time I hope you know you are leaving Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia a stronger and better organization for having worked here and I have a feeling that if something interesting and more hands on comes up that we may be able to temp you back. A sincere thank you.”