St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News, October 22, 2015

There was much interest and many questions on Oct. 14 as about two-dozen people met to discuss DSC_3972 copyhow they could sponsor a refugee family into Elgin/St. Thomas.

Hosted by the YWCA’s Settlement Services program, the meeting provided information on the different pathways through which refugees from abroad can be sponsored to come to Canada.

“We had been receiving calls from churches and individuals,” said Shelley Harris, director of education and immigration with the YWCA. “We had done a presentation to our board of directors and we know we should be sponsoring a family at this point, and our board is committed to do that. I knew a lot of people were thinking about it, and it was on their radar, but they weren’t sure how to move forward with the process because it can be overwhelming.”

With more than 20 people in attendance, people from various churches shared their experiences in sponsoring families.

Bernie Pennings from the Free Reformed Church of St. Thomas spoke about sponsoring a Syrian refugee for the past 11 months.

“These are individuals with no other option than to flee their homelands due to unimaginable atrocities, but who are eager and determined to move forward with their lives and to make a meaningful and positive contribution to their new home country if only they are given a chance,” he said.

In September, the world was shocked by graphic images of a dead boy on a Turkish beach that was shown around the world.

Since then, many communities, churches and service groups have been looking for ways to speed up the process of bringing those in the most need to Canada.

“It is really onerous to move your way through that. We have the information, we have the experts in the community and we have been working very closely with refugee committees from this collaboration,” said Harris.

In addition to hearing firsthand from a number of people who are presently sponsoring families in the area, the meeting also served to answer lingering questions.

“Sponsorship is a transformative experience, for the sponsoring group and for the refugees settling in Canada. It’s important to recognize, however, that it’s much more than a financial commitment. Sponsors are also responsible for providing individuals with material, emotional and settlement support . . . However, the rewards are well worth it and we will continue to do it,” said Casey Willemse, who was reflecting on the past four sponsorship experiences of the refugee committee.

The YWCA board of directors committed to moving forward with a sponsorship and is looking for other interested community members to join them. Individuals or groups interested in supporting a sponsorship in any capacity can contact YWCA Settlement Services at 519-631-9800.