SASKATOON -- On the latest episode of YXE Underground, host Eric Anderson takes a look at Saskatoon's Global Gathering Place. 

Imagine a busy Thursday afternoon at the Gathering Place. Coffee and Conversation, one of the non-profit organization’s most popular programs, is taking place. The space is full of newcomers and government-supported refugees talking, as a way to improve their English skills.

As the conversations range from where to find the best spices in Saskatoon to learning what curling is, Sol Barrones looks over the room and smiles. She was once in the shoes of these newcomers.

10 years ago, Barrones and her husband, along with their seven-year-old son, moved from Mexico to Saskatoon.

“We were referred to English classes, and at the time, we didn’t know the Global Gathering Place offered other classes. It quickly became a second home,” says Barrones.

Barrones is a trained lawyer in Mexico, but her lack of Canadian credentials and English language skills made it impossible to find a job in her field in Saskatoon. Instead, she focused on helping others in the Global Gathering Place, and has worked her way to become Life Skills Coordinator with the organization.

She helps newcomers and refugees learn the basics of life in Saskatoon. That means everything from navigating public transit to understanding how to properly dress during winter.

Barrones says language is the main barrier for immigrants arriving in Saskatoon.

“Imagine a government-assisted refugee coming here with no English, and maybe they are illiterate in their own language. So learning a simple task like taking the bus from downtown to their house is a challenge, because they don’t know how to read the bus numbers.”

The Global Gathering Place has seen demand grow in recent years. In 2019, 3500 clients attended one of the 92 programs and services the Global Gathering Place offers, a total 69,000 times. That averages out to 20 visits per client.

Barrones sees this growth as an opportunity for local businesses.

“The city is growing. We are receiving more and more immigrants and refugees every year. I would like businesses and companies to be aware of who we immigrants are. We were professionals in our home countries and have experience. Just give us a chance to work.”