Preparing to welcome the stranger: FACES

By Marilyn Hamilton

st giles

Photo: From Glebe Report archives

St. Giles Presbyterian Church, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and Glebe-St. James United Church joined by members of the wider community are responding enthusiastically to the current international refugee crisis. We call ourselves FACES (First Avenue Churches and Community Embracing Sponsorship). Together, we plan to sponsor at least three families or individuals over the next three years. We have agreed that we will be inclusive and open in refugee sponsorship regardless of faith, ethnicity, health condition or sexual orientation.

How would refugees be identified and assigned to us? We are being informed of available sponsorship cases through the Ottawa Anglican Diocese for our first sponsorship. However, so many people from across Canada have responded to the refugee crisis that the requests for private sponsorship cases have exceeded the number of cases processed. For this reason, we have not yet been matched with individuals or a family to sponsor. The situation is changing quickly.

Why do we want to sponsor refugees? We believe we have a Christian duty to “seek justice” by assisting refugees to come to Canada and supporting their transition to a new life here. This belief is shared by other faith traditions. Diverse community members have joined us because we are perceived as accepting.

For example, Marjorie George described her community group’s journey as follows: “A group of women I know were sitting around before Thanksgiving and comparing our lives with those before us on the news, risking the seas and then trudging across Europe in search of the peaceful life that we are so fortunate to enjoy and that should be the right of all humanity. Like many other Canadians we said we had to do something, so at Thanksgiving we wrote an appeal, which went out to our friend networks. As a result, over $22,000 has already been raised and we are not done! We then searched for a seasoned SAH (Sponsorship Agreement Holder) with whom we would be welcomed to associate and the Anglican Diocese came to mind.”

How did the community group combine with FACES? The three neighbouring Glebe churches had already come together with their own sources of inspiration. A St. Giles member, Bob Fourney, wondered about a partnership with Glebe-St. James, and several joint meetings followed. Bob attended a refugee sponsorship information session at St. Matthew’s that was called after that parish was motivated to action by the Rev. Canon Pat Johnston’s inspiring sermon. Meetings of the three churches and the formation of a steering committee followed. Marjorie knew Tom Martin, FACES Chair, so merging the community group with the FACES group was a natural fit.

The FACES churches have shared worship and music in the past and been amiable and supportive neighbours. Each church has undertaken independent sponsorships or other sponsoring partnerships previously, but this is the first time we have worked together and have included the community in this way.

17 Hamilton, Marilyn Jan 2016 FACES FACES logo high resolution

Please see www.rstp.ca/en/sponsorship-responsibilities/settlement-services/ to understand the basics of sponsorship responsibilities. If you wish to volunteer with FACES, we can use help with volunteer co-ordination, communication within the group, and networking for professional contacts.

Everyone should have a home where they can feel safe and reach their potential. If you would like more information about FACES and how you can help make this happen, contact a church representative or community member on the FACES Steering Committee, one of the church offices, or visit www.facebook.com/FACESOttawa/.

Tom Martin, chair, St. Matthew’s, refugeehelpstmatts@gmail.com
Bob Fourney, St. Giles, bob4ney@rogers.com
Karen Walker, Glebe-St. James, karen-walker@rogers.com
Marjorie George, community, marjoriegeorge@hotmail.com
St. Matthew’s: 613-234-4024, stmatthewanglicanchurch@bellnet.ca
St. Giles: 613-235-2551, office@stgilesottawa.org
Glebe-St. James: 613-236-0617, glebestjames.church@bellnet.ca

Marilyn Hamilton is chair of Christian Outreach at Glebe-St. James United Church and a member of the FACES Steering Committee.

Fitting community resources to refugee needs, family by family

By Karen Hill

26 Hill, Karen OCRA Jan 2016 comp fsg6 welcome cttee IMG_9216_1

An OCRA family support group welcomes refugees.
Photo: Tom Schatzky

Many people in Ottawa have been touched by and are very aware of the massive refugee crisis. Some of those people – young and old, rich and not-so-rich – want to help. The question is, “How can we combine the strengths and talents of our own families and businesses to help in the most meaningful ways?”

According to Angela Keller-Herzog, volunteer coordinator of Ottawa Centre Refugee Action (OCRA), “OCRA is working to piece together that puzzle. We’re combining our resources into functional packages of financial, expert and direct support for individual refugee families. Everybody has something to contribute!” Paul Dewar has agreed to be the group’s honorary chair.

OCRA is an all-volunteer sponsorship group that came together in response to the ongoing crisis that has decimated Syria over the past four years and forced more than one million people to abandon their homes, extended families, belongings and homeland to seek safety and security.

First Refugee Family Arrives

“We’ve now welcomed our first newcomer family, and are expecting at least eight more individual refugees or families over the next few months,” said Keller-Herzog. As long as the community continues to pledge financially and commit personal welcomes and support, OCRA will keep on arranging sponsorships.

Refugee Ayda and her daughters Luna and Isis had only three days’ notice to get ready, say their goodbyes, and start on the long journey to Ottawa after being in Lebanon for three years. They arrived to a warm welcome in both English and Arabic from one of OCRA’s family support groups led by Glebe residents Laura Rostas and Tom Schatzky. The family is staying at a “soft-landing” home provided by OCRA volunteers and will remain there for a month or two as OCRA volunteers help them adapt to Ottawa.

As the family rests and adjusts to new surroundings, there is much work to do. OCRA provides community support and has raised a formidable amount of sponsorship money. This helps newcomer families get a foothold in supportive communities and become long-term contributors to Canadian society.

OCRA’s designated family support group, all of whom are volunteers, will help the family to explore suitable permanent housing. The team will also help the family register for government programs, open a bank account, register kids for school, shop, connect to doctors, sign up for second language classes, participate socially in their new community and find work.

Research reported by columnist Doug Saunders in the November 21, 2015 edition of the Globe and Mail shows that newcomers who become economic contributors are the most successful. “If new arrivals are included quickly in the employment, education and system of the established immigrant community, they will be more likely to stabilize their lives, give up their temporary mindset and become valuable members of their communities,” Saunders wrote.

Saunders identifies four ingredients to successful integration: physical infrastructure, institutional practice, economic regulations and meaningful citizenship opportunities. For example, he says that communities may have to adapt zoning and property use bylaws to allow immigrant neighbourhoods to flourish and become magnets for outsiders. Safety for women is particularly important, as they are often community leaders. Good transit is essential to connect communities and commerce.

Support for OCRA’s mission is building

More than 400 people participate in OCRA as of late December, and around $170,000 has been pledged. Nine family support groups are lined up for sponsorships. A recent community meeting brought together more than 200 participants eager to learn and contribute to a family-based solution for new arrivals.

Janet Lai was a Vietnamese refugee in the late 1970s, and spoke at the meeting of the difficulty in going from a well-educated, well-off, respected member of the community to being at the mercy of a system, without literacy and with few prospects. Chelby Daigle, editor-in-chief of the online publication MuslimLink.ca, spoke of the disconnection among Muslims in Ottawa, across sect and geography. Daigle encouraged the audience to build relationships and bridges across the general population and with Muslim communities. MPP Yasir Naqvi told the meeting of his own touching experience as an immigrant at age 15.

OCRA’s most recent community meeting was held Wednesday, January 13, at Centretown United Church. All welcome. For more information, contact OCRA at www.refugeeaction.ca.

Karen Hill is an all-round volunteer who helped start the Laundry Co-op, volunteered in the early days of the Funeral Co-operative of Ottawa and worked in the recent federal election. She is a member of the OCRA refugee group.

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