Churches waiting for refugee families
Mary Kandalaft, Joseph Sayegh and Ani Kandalaft are photographed in front of the Folk Arts Multicultural Centre in St. Catharines, which has a settlement office to help refugees. They are among the first Syrian refugees to arrive in Niagara, and are being joined daily by more. Three families being sponsored by NOTL churches are expected to arrive soon. Julie Jocsak/Postmedia Network
Three Niagara-on-the-Lake church congregations are moving forward with their plans to welcome Syrian refugee families they are sponsoring.
Although there are still plans to make, one common denominator they are all prepared for is that once they hear their families have been approved for travel, things will move very quickly.
The United Mennonite Church, Grace United and St. Mark’s Anglican Church members have all decided they want to help make refugee families feel safe and welcome in Niagara.
They are working with St. Catharines organizations, and in some cases each other, as they prepare for their year of sponsorship.
The Mennonite church has a family of six still waiting to be processed, and are looking for accommodation in St. Catharines. The other two NOTL churches are in the process of choosing families, and all three have committees set up to look at fulfilling the various needs of the refugees as they arrive.
They are also working with the Niagara Folk Arts Mutlicultural Centre in St. Catharines, which has a settlement office that is already helping Syrian refugees as they arrive.
Jeff Burch, executive director of the centre, says about 120 to 150 refugees have already arrived, and the number is growing every day, faster than expected as the government speeds up the application process.
He expects many more in the coming weeks and months, and he too says things are now moving very quickly.
The settlement office already has committees set up to do needs assessments and settlement plans for families, including job placements, and helping enroll children in school and adults in English classes, he says.
Private sponsors such as church organizations provide funding - about $30,000 - and are also their responsible for finding housing, but that can be a challenge, and if families arrive before accommodations have been found, there is a settlement committee that can help, he said.
He encourages sponsoring groups to connect with the settlement office to make use of the information that is already available.
“We try to educate sponsors about the programs that are available,” says Burch.
“In a lot of communities, there is a gap between settlement services and private sponsors. We’re trying to make sure private sponsors know about our services. Private sponsors provide daily support, but a lot of the refugees arriving have fairly high needs. We can help.”
Bob Goodwin of Grace United says he expects they will be choosing a family “at any moment,” at which point the sponsorship committees will spring into action.
“We know from that point it could be a very quick process, once the family has been identified and is available.”
To help out, call Goodwin of Grace United Church at 905-468-8981.
Don MacLeod of St. Mark’s, says they are also playing a waiting game, expecting to move very quickly once they have a family, and they have an “organized structure” in place.
He said the church has already been working with the settlement office, and is grateful for its support.
St. Mark’s has had a very generous response from the community, MacLeod said - one visitor recently wrote a cheque for $2,500, and members of the church and the community have been quick to offer help. It’s not about providing the “bare minimum” amount of help, he added - they hope to have a reserve fund for contingencies.
To donate to the St. Mark’s refugee sponsorship program, call MacLeod at 905-468-0656.
The United Mennonite Church office in NOTL can be reached at 905-468-3313.
Donations can also be made at http://www.folk-arts.ca/folkarts.