Renowned humanitarian Stephen Lewis joins Mennonite Central Committee in Waterloo next month for their signature event focused on the Syrian refugee crisis and the partnerships being made both locally and internationally.
Lewis has spoke at MCC events in the past in Western Canada, but MCC executive director Rick Cober-Bauman says they’ve never brought him to Ontario.
The former politician and UN ambassador’s charitable efforts have been focused on HIV/AIDS through the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which was founded in 2003 and helps those in Africa affected by the disease.
“We wanted someone who was also committed to at least part of our international program commitments,” Cober-Bauman said. “We’ve had a long commitment to working with HIV/AIDS, both the people living with HIV/AIDS but especially grandparents and orphans and people that were for so many years left behind by the deaths of HIV/AIDS.”
He says MCC’s and Lewis’ similar roles in empowering women in health, education, and economics made him an ideal choice.
“He is an excellent communicator that we continue to hear people say they’re eager to get a chance to hear him. That’s an important part that he’s someone that people actually will pay attention to and want to hear,” Cober-Bauman said.
This will be the first time MCC has done an event of this scale here with such large sponsorships. Their fundraising goal is $100,000 and the funds aren’t allocated for any particular project, but rather to wherever they’re needed for MCC work.
He says the event is a way to grow their exposure in the community by bringing in people who aren’t as familiar with MCC’s work.
“I was with a gentleman yesterday who is part of a company that does business with MCC and I said we’d love for you to buy a table as a company and bring eight or nine people who don’t know MCC that well because this is a means to try to reach out to people who might know something about us but we’d really like them to come closer and become deeper engaged with MCC,” Cober-Bauman said.
For their regular events they tend to see the same people who are already fairly familiar with them, as part of their ongoing constituency. While they definitely want those people to come to this new event, there’s lots of room for new faces.
“I said this to another woman who has been a longtime supporter of MCC. I said I hope you’ll consider buying a table and bring eight people who don’t know us very well. She said it’s going to be hard to find people in this community who don’t know MCC,” Cober-Bauman said.
Despite this, he says they know they’ve still got lots to do, even though they appreciate that they do feel well known and respected in the community.
MCC has seen nearly 4,000 new people donate to their organization in the past few months because of their refugee sponsorship work. They’ll be focusing on partnership at the event and they’re going to be asking Lewis to add that element in his talk.
“Our own program that surrounds Mr. Lewis’ presentation will be focused on international partnerships, but also local partnerships and the really major focus of that will be private sponsorship of refugees because it’s been such a major focus for us for the last few months. We think that for the person who is new to MCC and maybe has given a gift for sponsorship this is an opportunity for this person to come a little closer to MCC and understand us better,” Cober-Bauman said.
As of Feb. 4, roughly 657 Syrian refugees have relocated to Waterloo Region. Of them, 22 are in Elmira, he says. That doesn’t necessarily mean that their permanent homes will be in Elmira.
There is still a need for close to 30 larger housing units. Those would be three or four bedroom units. The issue is finding those types of housing that also fit into the cost factor of their support package from the government, since they’re government sponsored refugees and not privately sponsored.
Through all the community efforts to find homes for the refugees, Cober-Bauman says the region has become better for it.
“What I’m starting to hear now is we hope that when the focus on Syria – when we’ve moved on from that – we’ll be a stronger community for all the inter-agency cooperation that has happened here. This will have some lasting effect on community service agencies,” Cober-Bauman said.
The Power of Partnership: An Evening with Stephen Lewis is hosted by Mennonite Savings and Credit Union. It will be held March 30 at the St. George Banquet Hall in Waterloo. The reception is at 6 p.m. and the dinner and program begin at 7 p.m. Tickets are $150 or $1,300 for a table of ten. Each ticket bought is eligible for a $75 charitable tax receipt. Tickets are available at www.powerofpartnership2016.ca.