The Saskatoon Open Door Society (SODS) was established in 1980 as the brainchild of several people working through the old YWCA to meet the growing needs of Vietnamese refugees who were arriving in Saskatoon. Orientation and learning programs at the time, were offered at the Knox Fellowship House on 24th Street. Its inaugural meeting was held on September 17, 1980, establishing its first Board of Directors.
Within its first year, SODS received two grants from the Federal Government making it possible to hire a Community Programs Coordinator, an Outreach Worker and an Office Coordinator. Volunteers offered English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction, provided opportunities for social interaction, care for preschool children and transportation from December to March for those who would otherwise be unable to attend.
On February 5, 1981, the Saskatoon Open Door Society was officially incorporated and took on the Immigrant and Settlement Program provided at the time by the YWCA, adding to the community programming already provided by SODS. It was decided that SODS would concentrate solely on providing services to refugees. That year SODS staff expanded to include an Administrative Coordinator and a Settlement Services Coordinator. The Society moved from its office in the Regency Centre and into space offered in Mark's Gallery located on Avenue C.
In addition to the Fellowship House Orientation and Learning Centre, other programs were provided in response to the needs of newcomers. Early programs included part-time ESL classes at Cosmo Civic Centre, ESL tutoring, translation services, Legal Awareness Programs, prenatal classes, international services to ethno-cultural groups. Saskatoon Open Door Society also began partnering with other organizations and community sponsored events.
In 1983, the organization was restructured and an Executive Director was hired to oversee its operations. By the mid-1980s, the Settlement Language Training Program (SLTP) piloted four part-time ESL classes involving 40 immigrant women and completed its first Canadian Job Strategy (CJS) program.
From 1990 - 1995 SODS experienced major growth in all areas. Employment and Immigration Canada initiated new procedures for reporting on staff and volunteer services provided for the Society's clientele.
The Settlement Language Program evolved with the creation of the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program, as part of the new federal immigrant integration strategy. During this time, SODS also established a licensed Multicultural Child Care, developed its Resource Centre, created an extensive database of materials and expanded programs.
In 1997, SODS was restructured again with two departments and five units established. The Employment Development Unit was established the same year and quickly became a core part of SODS, offering 12-week Work Initiative programs and one-to-one employment counselling.
On September 23, 1999 SODS was officially certified as a unionized workplace. In 2004, Open Door Society moved to 247 First Ave North where Language Classes and Early Childhood Education Services are still offered today. In 2007, the Saskatchewan Newcomers Assistance Program (SNAP) was piloted, revenue had increased and SODS staff numbers had reached 65 – 1 Executive Director, 4 SSWIS staff and 50 active translators. In 2008, the Settlement Employment and Administration units moved to our present location on 3rd Avenue and by 2010-2011, the Open Door had provided services to clients from more than 115 countries. At present, our 6 units continue to focus on providing Newcomers with top notch settlement and integration services.
Over the decades, the Saskatoon Open Door Society has built strong partnerships with numerous organizations. These entities include Saskatoon District Health, Public Health Service, Mental Health Services, Youth Resource Centre, Department of Social Services, Child Protection Services, Family Support Centre, Saskatoon Public Schools, Saskatoon Catholic Schools, Saskatoon Refugee Coalition, Saskatoon Adlerian Society, Saskatoon Communities for Children, Saskatchewan Parenting Education Council, Immigrant Women of Saskatchewan, SIAST, Catholic Family Services, Saskatchewan Institute on Prevention of Handicaps, Royal University Hospital, City Hospital, College of Nursing and many more.
It is through the tireless efforts of all our staff, volunteers and continued support from our partners and funders that we at SODS are able to continue to provide comprehensive services and support to newcomers.