Folklorama offers new residents community-expanding experience

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As Folklorama reopens its pavilions for the first time since 2019, a local non-profit seeks to make it easier to get new residents through those doors.

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As Folklorama reopens its pavilions for the first time since 2019, a local non-profit seeks to make it easier to get new residents through those doors.

Newcomers Employment & Education Development Services (NEEDS) Inc. has partnered with the annual cultural festival, which takes place over two upcoming weeks (July 31 to Aug. 13).

“Folklorama is so much fun. Our families have a blast and love the event,” said Lisa Jansz, NEEDS program director.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Portuguese dancers perform during the kick-off for Folklorama at Assiniboine Park Saturday evening. Folklorama is back after a two year pandemic hiatus.

“More than that, Folklorama provides them with an additional community to reunite with folks who speak the same language as them or people who have the same traditional or cultural values, that they might not have in the neighbourhood as them.”

The non-profit organization helps newcomer children, youth and their families settle into the Manitoba capital by assisting with educational and integration needs.

Folklorama and NEEDS first partnered for the 2019 festival, but as the following years were cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic public health restrictions, many residents who moved to the city recently have yet to experience the long-running festival.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

“We were really excited to be able to put together something creative that would allow them to get a taste of the festival. It’s not always easy to participate in activities within the city,” said Teresa Cotroneo, executive director of Folklorama.

“For a lot of the families we work with, upon settling here in Winnipeg, their first experience of their new city was spent in isolation. The first taste that they got was the four walls they were settled in. That really didn’t offer them any opportunity to experience all the great things Winnipeg has to offer,” Jansz said.

“This is really the first experience for a lot of families to see a full post-COVID event full of smiles, a crowd and live music.”

The festival officially returned Saturday with its kickoff event at Assiniboine Park. Folklorama, with a partnership with Manitoba Hydro, helped NEEDS families bus to the park and some were given complimentary passes to this year’s pavilions.

“We were really excited to be able to put together something creative that would allow them to get a taste of the festival. It’s not always easy to participate in activities within the city,” said Teresa Cotroneo, executive director of Folklorama.

“The people who are involved with NEEDS have heard of Folklorama. It’s one of the first things newcomers are told to experience, so there was a lot of engagement from not only the participants, but also our volunteers, who were eager to support bringing them out to the festival.”

NEEDS is supporting families by helping them navigate how to get to and from the pavilions.

“There can be a lot of barriers to accessing wonderful events like Folklorama for many families. The over-arching theme of Folklorama is inclusion and community. They have provided so much support to eliminate those barriers for our clients,” Jansz said.

Cotroneo said being able to host the festival again for the first time since 2019 is a surreal feeling.

“After the last couple of years, nothing is being taken for granted. Everything now is a welcoming back, it’s a celebration — and we’re not taking any of this for granted for how special and unique it is to the city and all of us.”

There will be 24 cultural pavilions in this year’s festival, at differing venues and dates across the city, beginning Sunday.

bryce.hunt@freepress.mb.ca

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