Suaad Sharif was a social worker in her native country, Iraq.

But she and her husband knew they could no longer stay in the area due to political and social issues including war, injustice, corruption.

One of the first things they did when they and their children moved to Langley in 2016 was computer research.

“Okay, let’s google any community service to help newcomers and refugees,” Sharif said. “We found Langley Community Services on the front page.”

Her husband received job search and resume help, and then she launched programs through the organization, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“I started taking a small conversational English course and one of the job centers [workers] advise me that because i can speak arabic and kurdish, say “oh i have clients who struggle with english”.

She started volunteering, but had to back off temporarily while taking classes at New Directions English Language School to learn English.

Then LCSS sent Sharif a job offer which turned out to be perfect, a casual worker who could speak Arabic to help newcomers. She knew the services as a client. Now she is a staff member.

“My heart is here to help immigrants, because I have been in their shoes,” she said.

She explained that trying to build a new life in a new culture, with a new language that is not spoken, is difficult and that the programs at LCSS make a huge difference.

“When I came to Canada…they just accept you,” she said. “I felt like I belonged here, with LCSS. I want to give it back to this community. Even if they don’t pay me, I will pay them, just give me a job.

Today, Sharif is a social worker in Canada, although her technical title is Family and Youth Counsellor.

“LCSS just saved my life,” Sharif said.

The organization has been offering people a lifeline for five decades.

In the 1960s, Langley’s growth brought about the need for more social services. The Reverend Gordon Holtby of Sharon United Church in Murrayville was on the provincial family court committee dealing with families. The committee envisioned an organization that could help families before they became embroiled in the justice system and before minors got into trouble.

He and 25 other volunteers formed the Langley Family Services Society which would become LCSS. The first office was above the Rexall Drugs at 20459 Fraser Hwy. In that first year, the group received 903 calls from people in distress, another 331 calls for legal and community resources, and 294 inquiries about Christmas baskets. The group also carried out 118 counseling interviews this first year.

In 1977 the name was changed to Langley Family Services. It offered volunteer-led parent groups and drug and alcohol counseling.

In 1981, the group moved. A 1916-era barn on the former Beaulieu Farm at 204th Street and 53rd Avenue was moved to 207th Street and 53rd Avenue, formerly the Blacklock Farm. In addition to the relocated barn, the group used the Blacklock Farm, which is still on the site.

With more space came more programs, ranging from transactional analysis (a type of therapy) to weight loss workshops.

Christmas hampers had begun in 1971, and the agency launched the Lower Mainland’s first food bank in 1983, a crisis line in 1992, and a volunteer office in 1998.

Accreditation came in 2003. In 2005 the barn was destroyed by fire. Later, a teenage boy and a teenage girl started the fire which caused more than $1 million in damage. Council President Rebecca Darnell convinced the judge to allow alternative justice. The teenagers would end up being helped by the very people affected by the fire. The girl was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, which she did at the LCSS.

Supporters rallied and with a new building came the new name – Langley Community Services Society.

LCSS Programs and Services:

– Early learning for refugee and newcomer children and their caregivers

– Settlement and integration services, including women’s programs, referrals and orientation, conversation circles and seniors’ programs

– Community counseling for all residents aged 16 and over

– Family therapy

– Family connections to teach parenting, and more

– Parent Outreach and Education offers confidential in-home education and counseling

– Skills to Success is the employment program for young people

– Accelerated Education Assistant training helps people earn an EA degree in 27 weeks

– Child Care Resource and Referral offers support for parents and child care providers

– Family Place is a walk-in program for caregivers and children up to 4 years old

– Substance abuse services help those with substance use problems and those affected by the use of others

– Intensive Case Management is a team of experts to help people 19 and older with medical, psychiatric, housing and other issues

– Poverty law advocacy for those who cannot afford legal aid

– Langley Local Immigration Partnership is a program to develop community partnerships for newcomers

And all programs and services are offered free of charge to Langley residents.

To mark the 50th anniversary, the LCSS held a rally on Monday, June 6 with community stakeholders, politicians and guests.

Kwantlen First Nations Chief Marilyn Gabriel led a group who offered songs of prayer, and she addressed the crowd, thanking those who have worked over the years to make the community a better place. and those who continue to do so.

She said people should participate in their community and also encouraged people to learn from each other.

“Don’t be stingy with your knowledge,” said Gabriel.

Executive Director Sanjeev Nand said Langley is an emerging community, compared to other Lower Mainland municipalities that have already gone through growing pains, so the LCSS can look to them to see some of what’s to come. For example, there will be more local high-density housing, which will create a need for more schools and more services.

“We have seen a dramatic shift in services and the number of services,” Nand said. “More recently, with the large population coming in, there are a lot more support systems in terms of mental health, education systems, child care, low-cost child care. We are also seeing a higher number of homelessness.

LCSS offers so many services, but Nand said more programs will be needed as LCSS moves into the future. He noted that the company has cross-generational customers.

“We have so many great stories like this because we’ve been around for so long,” Nand said. “We have mothers who accessed our child care services as children and come to access our services.

Bev Dornan has served on the LCSS board for about three years, but as a longtime resident she has seen the work of the organization for many years, a major reason she wanted to get involved.

The organization has changed as society has changed over these 50 years, but it is confident that the LCSS will continue to evolve in the future to remain relevant to the community it serves.

“Whatever the community needs, we try to find the programs that will help,” she said.

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• READ MORE: LCSS faced big repair bill after November floods

• READ MORE: Prime Minister takes virtual tour of Langley Social Services Agency

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The Langley Community Services Society first worked in a barn built around 1916. (LCSS Photo/Special for the Langley Advance Times)

Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag brought a message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the 50th anniversary of the Langley Community Services Society and presented it to Board Chair Bev Dornan at a celebration on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag brought a message from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the 50th anniversary of the Langley Community Services Society and presented it to Board Chair Bev Dornan at a celebration on Monday, June 6, 2022. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Kwantlen First Nations Chief Marilyn Gabriel spoke at a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Langley Community Services Society on Monday, June 6, 2022. KFN members also donated a song to honor the people gathered.  (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Kwantlen First Nations Chief Marilyn Gabriel spoke at a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Langley Community Services Society on Monday, June 6, 2022. KFN members also donated a song to honor the people gathered. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

The programs and services offered by the organization have evolved and expanded over the years.  The LCSS was introduced for its 20th anniversary in 1991. (LCSS/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

The programs and services offered by the organization have evolved and expanded over the years. The LCSS was introduced for its 20th anniversary in 1991. (LCSS/Special to the Langley Advance Times)

Suaad Sharif is a family and youth counselor at the Langley Community Services Society.  She started as a client after arriving in Canada from Iraq in 2016. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)

Suaad Sharif is a family and youth counselor at the Langley Community Services Society. She started as a client after arriving in Canada from Iraq in 2016. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)