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Skating helps newcomers integrate into community

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It's a long way from Nicaragua to Winnipeg, but it didn't take long for one of the Central American country's newest imports to slip into a pair of skates.

 "I feel fine, fine. Learning," said Nestor Membreno as he teetered on the blades last Friday afternoon surrounded by ice and snow. "In my country it's hot, tropical."

 Membreno arrived in Winnipeg just two weeks before he decided to lace up for the first time as part of a learn to skate program for new immigrants.

 Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network organizes the lessons with help from the City of Winnipeg and other local charities and organizations. They have about a dozen pairs of skates for people to use.

 "I was so afraid but it was ok," said Violetta Matia. "I don't think I'll be able to go on my own though, I was holding someone."

 Matia came to Canada from the Democratic Republic of Congo six years ago and has lived in Winnipeg for a month. While she's mostly adjusted to the cold, this is her first time on a pair of skates.

 "I never did it before, no," said Matia. Her reason for joining the lesson is simple enough. "Let's try. We live where it's cold so let's try."

 Friday marked the first session of the second year the program is running. The lessons are every Friday afternoon on Central Park's skating rink. The group meets at Knox United Church where they lace up and fit on a helmet.

 "It helps people integrate into a new community when they can participate in something that other people do," said Val Cavers as she stood on the rink's edge. "It's a way of introducing people to something that's pretty low cost and it's fun and family friendly and it keeps people active in the winter."

 Cavers is the executive director at Mosaic. Friday afternoon she wasted no time rolling up her sleeves and helping to lace up the participants' skates. As a key organizer of the lessons, she's watched people learn and adapt to a new way of life in Canada.

 "One woman told me she dreamed of skating on ice when she was in Sierra Leone as a little girl," said Cavers. "So it's pretty special if people can actually come out here and try it."

 The lessons will continue on Friday afternoons as long as the rink is usable.

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