Working at Global Gathering Place: An Interview with Founder and Executive Director Belma Podrug


GGP staff and Executive Director Belma Podrug

GGP recently celebrated its 22nd year of providing settlement support to refugees and immigrants in Saskatoon! As clients past and present shared their favourite memories, many mentioned the special environment GGP offers to those in need of assistance and a sense of community.  
 
In a special interview, GGP’s founder and Executive Director Belma Podrug shares her thoughts on how the organization has maintained a feeling of “home away from home” for over two decades. 

A collage from GGP’s early days
When you and others started Global Gathering Place, what was important to you? 

When the idea of GGP was born, those of us involved felt it was important to create a welcoming place where refugees and immigrants could feel safe and comfortable sharing their struggles, hurts, hopes and dreams. It was important that the space be free from politics and religion because refugees came to this country due to conflicts in these areas.  

From the beginning, our goal was to have genuine connections with clients, rather than simply collect information from them. It has always been important that staff allow clients to share about their lives and find out what they need in terms of support. 

We have embedded this participatory and empowering approach in our contact with everyone—newcomers, volunteers, staff and others. It’s amazing what you can gain when you take the time to get to know people. Genuine conversations with staff and clients often result in many ideas for enhancing our programs and services.   

In addition to clients, many staff describe GGP as a family or “home away from home”. Is there a “secret sauce” to creating that kind of work environment? 

As we developed what we wanted Global Gathering Place to become, our group of founders built close relationships with each other. Many of those initial relationships evolved into lasting friendships built on understanding and trust and this is the foundation upon which GGP was built.  As we’ve grown, we’ve honoured these values and it is something I am most proud of.   

Over the years, new staff who shared in our passion to help people joined our team, bringing energy, ideas and diversity to our common goal of assisting refugees and immigrants succeed. We stay connected in so many ways, one of which is by celebrating milestones together.

Elfrieda has been part of GGP since the beginning, as a volunteer and teacher. Belma and GGP celebrated Elfrieda’s retirement with a party.

We’ve watched toddlers grow and students graduate, we’ve cheered at soccer games, rejoiced over marriages and first employments, attended citizenship ceremonies, and witnessed many other accomplishments. We’re part of each other’s daily lives, like a big extended family.  

There is no “secret sauce”. Our welcoming atmosphere is made up of the relationships we have built and a culture that proudly says, everyone is welcome!  

GGP staff after professional development training
How would you describe GGP’s work environment? 

GGP has a notably collaborative approach; none of us do our jobs in isolation. High levels of dedication and commitment are required to deal with the pace, unpredictability, and uncertainties of our funding—working in settlement is not for everyone. Working at GGP is more than a job. It’s a passion, a way of life; it’s living with purpose. While technical skills matter, it’s the honest and caring relationships that keep people coming back.

Today, after more than two decades of serving refugees and immigrants, GGP continues to be a community of belonging.

It’s a place where our staff, volunteers, and clients learn together, share, support one another, put roots down, grow and thrive. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked alongside incredibly dedicated and inspiring colleagues over the years. They are my family.