It is difficult for most of us to imagine relocating our entire family to a new country where we don’t know anyone, have any job prospects, or even understand the language. Unfortunately, that is exactly the case for the thousands of refugees being forced to flee their homes in war-torn Syria.

It is within St. Joseph’s mandate to be a “welcoming community”, so when newly appointed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed to welcoming 25,000 Syrian refugees, we were on board immediately. With as many as 2,000 headed to our city alone, there is much work ahead.

Taking the lead on this initiative for St. Joseph’s is the Refugee Outreach Committee, co-chaired by the dynamic duo of Louise Lalonde and Robyne Warren. The two, along with the help of St. Joe’s staff, have been busy preparing for the transition for months. The group has been fundraising, investigating possible sponsorship opportunities, and pretty much doing all they can to help ease newcomers into Canada.

The end of November saw a flurry of activity, with the ROC working in partnership with the Coalition in Ottawa Refugees, the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program, and Refugee 613 to help conduct a series of neighbourhood workshops called Refugee Sponsorship 101 and Refugee Sponsorship 201. These training sessions took place between November 23rd and December 6th.

Refugee Sponsorship 101 was focused on teaching the basics of private refugee sponsorship.  It was designed to help people connect with others in their area interested in forming groups to sponsor refugees from Syria and elsewhere.  Participants received an overview of the different pathways to sponsorship, had a chance to talk to experienced sponsors about the process, and were able to network with like-minded people in their ward. The Refugee Sponsorship 201 was intended for groups that were already formed.  These sessions explained the routes to private sponsorship, key responsibilities, and ethics and group dynamics.

 St. Joseph’s Parish was actually able to host the first 201 session on December 3rd. Participants reported that it was an informative and practical session. For example, they learned how to connect to resources available in the community and received cultural sensitivity training. If you were unable to attend previous workshops, additional training sessions are being scheduled for January, 2016. For more information, please email training@refugee613.ca.

If you’d like to make a monetary donation (tax receipts available) to the ROC or learn more about how to sponsor an individual or family, please contact Louise (lesle@rogers.com), Robyne (warrenrobyne@gmail.com), or any of the organizations listed above.

I’ve been touched by the number of phone calls and emails I’ve fielded from not only members of the parish, but members of the community who feel an urge to help those in need. They’ve all been very interested in our initiatives and how they can lend a hand in this time of crisis. Remember that donations don’t always have to be physical, donating your time to the ROC or other worthy causes is just as welcome and appreciated. Stay tuned to the bulletin for updates about what St. Joseph’s is doing to remain a “welcoming community” to Canadians and refugees alike.