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Groups moving quickly to welcome Syrian refugees to Waterloo Region

Groups moving quickly to welcome Syrian refugees to Waterloo Region
Mercedes Corp. president Marcus Shantz says DH Lodging in St. Jacobs will fill its nine rooms with Syrian refugees after the inn closes later this month. He says it will be temporary housing for some 16-22 refugees and that St. Jacobs will be a great, central location for them to get their bearings in a new country.[Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Mercedes Corp. president Marcus Shantz says DH Lodging in St. Jacobs will fill its nine rooms with Syrian refugees after the inn closes later this month. He says it will be temporary housing for some 16-22 refugees and that St. Jacobs will be a great, central location for them to get their bearings in a new country. [Whitney Neilson / The Observer]
Locally and across Waterloo Region, support for Syrian refugees continues to grow.

A Refugee Resettlement Steering Committee was created in the region this month, alongside a new website with information for people looking to learn about how they can help.

Churches in Wellesley also met last week along with the Mennonite Central Committee to see how they could band together to do the most good.

Maple View Mennonite Church pastor Brent Kipfer says about 150 people came from four churches and various community groups.

“The four sponsoring churches, we’re hoping to be able to bring at least four or five families to the area. At this point based on the information we’ve received at our meeting last Tuesday, each of the churches as well as some other community groups are going back to their own group and will be deciding what level of support they’re able to give, in terms of finances, in terms of volunteers to be part of local refugee hosting teams. Based on those responses we’ll be able to decide how many families we can sponsor,” Kipfer said.

The meeting came about after Kipfer and other pastors in Wellesley got to talking about how many people in the community wanted to help resettle Syrian refugees. They thought by coming together it would allow for the whole community to join in, instead of each individual congregation tackling it on their own.

He said one of the early next steps they need to take is to put together a local steering committee who will oversee this effort. They’ll create as many family hosting teams as needed and handle the paperwork while working with MCC and the Canadian government.

“Each church will be deciding how much money it can contribute to the effort. At the meeting we provided response sheets to participants and this coming weekend at the Wellesley parade we’re planning to hand out invitation cards  for members of the community, so if they would like to make donations toward the effort there will be an email address they can contact. Based on the level of response we receive that will let us know how many refugees we can sponsor,” Kipfer said.

While refugees are expected to arrive in Waterloo Region before the end of the year, Kipfer says it will likely take the folks in Wellesley until sometime in January to get the funds and volunteers together.

He says to h is knowledge, this is the first time the churches have worked together to sponsor refugees, but individual churches in Wellesley have sponsored refugees before. They joined forces along with community groups earlier this year to open the Wellesley Food Cupboard.

Working with a group of churches means they’re able to draw from a larger pool of resources and manpower, while also building relationships in the community, he adds.

“I think we have been very richly blessed. It seems like a natural expression of our faith to do this. And I think among many in the community, whether or not they’re active in church, I think the plight of Syrian refugees has really touched peoples’ hearts and I think people are motivated by compassion. They want to respond with hospitality, generosity, and love,” Kipfer said.

Tara Bedard, immigration partnership manager, says the website came together quickly following a meeting in November when the cities and the regional government got involved in bringing refugees to the region. It’s expected more than 1,000 Syrian refugees will be relocating to the region.

“We started earlier in the fall realizing that sponsorship efforts were increasing, so there would be more privately sponsored folks coming into the community and how to connect them to services,” Bedard said.

She says they decided what to put on the website after conversations they had in the community with agencies and sponsorship groups throughout October and November around the information they were seeking, and the kinds of questions they were starting to get from folks in the community.

“There’s a lot of support for the efforts to support refugees in general, and seeing this community, there are so many groups getting involved in private sponsorship of refugees. Not just wanting to help people once they get to the community but also taking on their sponsorship and actually facilitating that they come here,” Bedard said.

Since launching the site, she says feedback has been largely positive. People looking to help out like that they can go to one place to find the information they’re looking for, like how to donate, where to volunteer, and general information about the Syrian conflict.

“We really want the portal to be a space where everybody knows they can turn for information, whether that’s private individuals who they want to support somehow but they don’t know ways they can do so, that’s a place where they can go and find out,” Bedard said.

For more information on the Syrian refugee resettlement process, visit www.WRwelcomesrefugees.ca.

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