Lending a Helping Hand – Yu Jier Kou

From the moment they arrive, newcomers to Kingston benefit from Yu Jier Kou’s advocacy initiatives. As Kingston Immigration Partnership’s Program Coordinator, a part of Kingston Community Health Centres, Yu Jier is instrumental to the successful growth and development of the city’s newcomer social infrastructure.


Immigration is pivotal to Canada’s growth and success. Decades of immigration-friendly initiatives have led to a deserved international reputation as a welcoming and open nation for newcomers. It is a reputation dependent on results, leading to a constant and growing need to provide thoughtful, practical social and economic support. This is doubly true at the local level, where growth-focused cities like Kingston position themselves as destinations for newcomers hailing from a wide variety of backgrounds. Welcoming newcomers and helping them become established is rewarding yet complicated work, requiring dedicated and empathetic professionals like Yu Jier to make the transition to Canadian life as smooth as possible.


Yu Jier’s dedication to fostering community and promoting inclusion is genuinely remarkable. She’s an organizer of the Newcomer Entrepreneurship Awards, a Kingston Literacy & Skills Board member, and active member of the Chinese Canadian Association of Kingston and District. Rather than offer advice to newcomers she says, “I would rather spend that time hearing about their experiences. Everyone’s coming from such a diverse background and experiencing such diverse challenges and successes that I would be curious to learn more.” 


“Integration really is a 2-way street. When newcomers come to Canada they naturally have to adapt, they naturally have to change. They might have to learn a new language, learn a new culture; join a new community,” says Yu Jier. “We also need to become more welcoming for folks, recognizing, on the part of the community, our need for change.” Language is a prime example, given steady growth in Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish speakers. “Language challenges are big, and really impact newcomers’ access to different community services: going for a medical appointment, registering your child for school, or accessing any sort of municipal services.” Service providers offering expanded language support can reduce newcomers’ sense of dislocation and disconnection, while fostering a sense of community and welcome.


Yu Jier’s work also addresses a practical need: accessing services is simpler when the level of inter-service coordination is higher. Simplifying newcomers’ acclimatization experience involves strategic coordination and networking among government bodies, community leaders, and other organizations. She mentions the Welcome To Kingston mobile app as an example, which supports newcomers across sixteen languages. The app and other initiatives, like October’s forthcoming Welcome Day, are well worth the effort: expanding and strengthening socioeconomic support for newcomers builds Kingston’s reputation as welcoming and well-prepared. Kingston Community Health Centres, KEYS Employment and Newcomer Services, and Kingston Economic Development Corporation are among the organizations playing a leading role.


Kingston is smartly positioning itself for long term economic growth, while constructing a warm and welcoming social layer thanks to the efforts of people like Yu Jier Kou, “It’s the opportunity to make a lot of change for a lot of people. Whenever you’re able to change the system a little bit for the better, that ripples onto different clients and different folks, different newcomers, and really, all people in Kingston.”