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Planning a little Summertime Fun for new Canadians

In this Helpers feature we escape the frigid temperatures with organizers of the Summertime Fun concert and fundraiser for Syrian refugees at Dublin Street United Church Feb. 22
2020 02 16 GT – Helpers Syrian Refugee Fundraiser – TB 01
Brenda Doner, Kyle Anderson, Sya Van Geest and Jan Craig from Dublin Street United Church are organizing a Summertime Fun Concert fundraiser for Syrian Refugees. Troy Bridgeman/GuelphToday

Moving to a new city comes with many challenges and the experience is even more complicated for Syrian refugees who have been forced from their homes and are trying to adapt to an entirely new country and culture.  

“When you get families that have no English, to try to help them navigate the healthcare system, schools, the banking system, it’s awful,” said Jan Craig. “Income tax and business stuff add yet another layer of adjustment.Then you have things like telephone marketers.”

Craig is a member of the Refugee Welcoming Committee from Dublin Street United Church and one of the volunteers organizing a fundraiser for Syrian refugees settling in Guelph.

The show is Feb. 22.

“The Guelph United Ministries, which is the four United Churches in Guelph have been supporting Syrian refugees, both families and individuals,” said volunteer Kyle Anderson. “Unfortunately, we have run a little low on funds so, we are doing a big Summertime Fun fundraiser.”  

The goal is to forget about winter for a while and bring a little community warmth to everyone involved. 

“It is going to be some Summertime Fun in the middle of winter,” said Anderson. “Quite frankly, February is dreary and this promises to be a fun time.”

The show will take place in the sanctuary at Dublin Street United Church and features performances by the Rainbow Chorus Waterloo-Wellington, barbershop quartet, Perfectly Frank, The Easy Listening Combo and storytelling by Sya Van Geest.   

“We have some bakers who will be doing a bake sale at the event,” said Anderson. “One of the Syrian refugees we support, Majd Kabbanni is going to have a chat about what his experience has been like.”

It’s a long and complicated process even when registered sponsorship agreement agents such as the United Church are willing to sponsor an individual or family. 

“My biggest learning has been how Byzantine the system is,” said organizer Brenda Doner. “No one can figure it out and it is ever changing. It takes two or three years even if we have the money and we agree to sponsor. Our hardest part, I think, is explaining to people that, even if we are willing we can’t help.” 

Successful applicants face ongoing expenses even after they get here. 

“There is money needed to bring a family over and there is the commitment of financial backing that first year but it takes more than a year for families to get integrated into the community,” said Craig. “Then there is the government sponsorship and those families come over with bare-bones finances and no community support. Immigrant Services does their best but they are strapped.”

Some medical costs are covered for the first year but dental is not and many families struggle to meet their basic needs. 

“Here in Guelph there is the suggested budget, which is essentially based on social assistance rates and nobody can rent an apartment in Guelph for the amount in the budget,” said Doner.

“The Canadian government says you can get a place for $500 a month,” said Anderson.  “If you can find that let me know.” 

The Guelph United Ministries are presently sponsoring seven families and part of the goal of the Summertime Fun concert is to keep the Syrian refugee crisis in the news and raise awareness of how much work is yet to be done. 

“They are young families and growing families and our needs continue,” said Craig. “We are talking about families the church has committed financial support to.  However, we all provide a lot of non-financial support. So, we are continually looking for ways and means and things to support families we know within the Syrian community.”