By Surbhi Gogia
In an interview with Desi Today, PICS new CEO Satbir Singh Cheema talks about the changing role of the organization and his vision
Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) is a household name for new and old immigrants living in Metro Vancouver. The non-profit organization has been serving the community, especially the South Asian community, under its founder Charan Gill since 1987. Since its inception PICS provides a broad spectrum of programs and services which includes employment programs, settlement services, language services, social programs and housing services to new immigrants, seniors, farm workers, women and youth. Gill recently decided to step down as the CEO. He is been succeeded by another veteran from PICS Satbir Singh Cheema.
Though Cheema has served PICS for more than 18 years, the CEO post did not come naturally to him. He had to go through a long gruelling process of interviews to take command as CEO. A recruiting firm was hired from outside for the selection process. “I feel extremely blessed to be selected for this post. God has been very kind to let me serve the community with a great team of people,” he said while visiting Desi Today office.
Cheema was born in Gurdaspur, Punjab. He did his schooling from Punjab Public School, Nabha and engineering from Punjab Engineering College. He first came to Canada in 1988 as an engineering student at the University of Manitoba. “But Canada was going through a period of great depression and I decided to go back.” He returned again in 1994, this time as an immigrant. After working with Khalsa Credit Union for 4 years, he joined PICS in 1998 and has been with the organization ever since.
“I started as a facilitator, helping new immigrants filling the forms, writing job letters and helping them prepare for the job interviews,” he said. He worked his way up with his hard work. His most recent position was Director of Employment Programs and Planning at PICS. Under his leadership, PICS Employment Programs added number of new programs including Mega Job Fair.
Cheema has witnessed gradual increase of the organization’s role in the community. “Initially when I joined it was a small society with 40 staff mainly focusing on services like settlement and employment programs, English Language teaching for the new immigrants. It still remains the focus of PICS, however, our involvement in the community has increased tremendously especially when it comes to serving our seniors.”
There was a growing need for a seniors housing and care facility within the South Asian community. PICS was chosen by the BC Housing Commission and the South Fraser Health Region to develop these types of facilities adjacent to each other. “Our 77 Unit Independent Living Facility and 49 Unit Assisted Living Facility are now occupied with seniors of all ethnic and South Asian cultural backgrounds. In addition to these two buildings, we also operate a day program for seniors who want the opportunity to come out of their homes and socialize with others, while allowing for the opportunity to return to their families and homes in the evening,” he said. Cheema said, though the work was all done by the senior management, he was part of the entire process. And now his top most priority as a CEO is to see the completion of another project for seniors which has already started taking shape.
This new project is called Diversity Village. One of its kind, it will provide long term care facility to the seniors. Explaining the concept behind it he said, “When seniors are totally at last stage of their lives they need full time care. Sometimes they are totally bed ridden. The hospitals cannot take full care of them and families too are not equipped to do the job. They need a place like this. There are a lot of long term care facilities here however, nothing that serves our South Asian seniors. The Diversity Village, which is coming up on 65 and 175 in Cloverdale, would serve the needs of our Punjabi seniors. They will be served the food they have been eating their entire life and will be taken care of by the staff that speaks their language.”
A 60 million dollar project, PICS is actively fundraising to ensure that our seniors battling aging issues have a cultural sensitive home where they can spend the last phase of their lives in a warm, comfortable environment, a home where they once again start to believe that age is simply a number.
Cheema is also keen on increasing PICS involvement in youth programs. He said a lot of South Asian youth is going in wrong direction and he wants to work with different organizations to spread awareness and save youth from getting into gangs and drug related violence.
As someone who has been at the forefront to provide support to new immigrants, Cheema has some very useful tips for those who have recently come to Canada. he said that immigration has gone through a lot of changes and now PICS receives very professional and educated immigrants. “Most of the immigrants are now computer savvy. But still when you come to new country you may feel lost,” he said.
His most important advice to new immigrants is to get their driver’s licence and build credit rating. His another advice is that professional immigrants should get back to their own field as soon as possible. “When professionals like engineers, teachers or doctors come to Canada, their credits don’t match and they find it hard to get the job in their own field. Since they have to earn, they start working in another field and get comfortable. But they should search online before coming here and see the kind of courses and certificates that are required to complete their professional training. It is important for them to integrate into the mainstream as soon as possible. They should seek help of settlement services and find a mentor who would guide them towards the right path,” he says.
In his role as Director of employment programs and planning at PICS, Cheema has managed multiple employment and community programs and has led a team that enhances the employability of new immigrants and facilitates their integration into the labour market. Over the years, these programs have helped thousands of clients in getting jobs and hundreds of clients in launching their own businesses.