SAINT JOHN – Denisa Prdova decided to move from Slovakia to Saint John based on the Twitter feed of pictures and posts from here.
After two years of working through the immigration process, she got the go-ahead to come to Canada. She decided to settle in New Brunswick because she wanted to live in a smaller place than Bratislava, the Slovakian capital of half million where she had lived for more than 15 years. She then chose Saint John because of the Tweets.
“I started to see those beautiful pictures and Tweets about how Saint John is beautiful and how people are moving back here or new people are staying here,” said Prdova. “This is the reason why I have chosen Saint John.”
Now that she’s been here for two and half months, she’s learning the value of building networks to get to know the community and find a job. The certified project manager described her work experiences and love for her new home in front of a packed room uptown for the first Stay and Grow event organized by a local group that wants to support people who want to build a life here.
There is a growing recognition in Saint John, and communities across the province, that there are natural networks here that immigrants need to navigate to get to know the community better and find jobs. And they need people already settled here to help and support them.
Property developer Roo Chang, her daughter and business partner Siobhan Riley, Heather White Brittain of Imperial Theatre, Li Song from PRUDE and Jiaojiao Meng of the YMCA created “Stay and Grow” to help provide that kind of nurturing, supportive environment.
To that end, they gathered together a group of Saint Johners for the uptown networking event Wednesday. Two immigrants, Prdova and XiaoduGe (Shadow Ge) from China, spoke to the group about their skills and experience and asked them to share tips about finding jobs and settling into the community.
Jordan Michael Tracy, a University of New Brunswick graduate who was born and raised here, also spoke at the event because the “Stay and Grow” organizers believe young native Saint Johners need support too.
Chang recently moved here from Vancouver and purchased the old Woolworths building at 91 King Street and the old Royal Bank building at 22 King Street, where the “Stay and Grow” event took place, and she has plans to develop both for residential and commercial use.
“I’m a newbie in town,” she said. “I’ve only been here for eight months and I see a lot of opportunities. I see that this city has so much to offer.”
While Chang is optimistic about the city’s economic prospects, she says many people aren’t because the opportunities aren’t being presented to them. She says there are “hidden” jobs that aren’t being advertised properly or marketed to newcomers or people already living here.
She says people that know these job markets need to help connect newcomers and young people with the available opportunities.
“I’d like to see people staying here,” said Chang. “I’m tired of people telling me the only way to have a future is to go to Halifax or Toronto…I beg to differ. That’s the reason I’m here.
“I want to believe all of you here today want to see this city grow, that you want to see this city flourish. So I invite you to use this platform, lock arms with us and … create this encouraging environment that will make them feel like they don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Prdova has a background in economics and business management and worked for IBM for 17 years in a project management capacity. She knows her skills and experience will be an important part of how she’ll find a job and build a new life here. But she’s learned that Saint John is a small community where people know and support each other on a personal level.
“I strongly believe [finding the right job] is about people,” she told the group. “I encourage you to approach me. Anything you share about [the city’s] culture, its history, its economy or just places to eat… it will all help me in the process of settling down.”
From afar she recognized the city’s beauty and its community spirit. Now she just needs to make the right connections to find work and “stay and grow” here.
“I have always wanted to live by the ocean and I saw that Saint John was a port city,” she said. “I’m just mesmerized by those cruise ships. I’m going down every time there is a cruise ship coming in, so I’m following the schedule on Port Saint John web page. This city really suits me. I really like it here.”
The next ‘Stay and Grow’ networking event will take place in late July.