Guelph CEO Jim Estill sponsoring 50 Syrian refugee families

If you're going to sponsor one family of Syrian refugees, why not sponsor 50? That's the logic behind Jim Estill's decision. The Guelph businessman plans to help 50 families come to the area, and he's personally footing the bill.

Estill pledging over $1 million. 'If you ask, people will give. You just have to ask'

Jim Estill, CEO of Danby appliance company, is sponsoring 50 families of Syrian refugees, and is footing the $1 million-plus price tag personally. (Submitted by Jim Estill)

If you're going to sponsor one family of Syrian refugees, why not sponsor 50? That's the logic behind Jim Estill's decision. The Guelph, Ont. businessman, and CEO of appliance company Danby, plans to help bring 50 families to the Guelph area and he's personally footing the bill of over $1 million. 

Craig Norris talked with Estill on CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition, to find out what inspired him to make his pledge. 

Q and A with Jim Estill

​Why are you going to do this?

In short, it's the right thing to do. You see what's going on, it's a crisis and we're Canadian. We should do the right thing.

Where did the idea come from?

It really was just seeing what was happening and seeing that things were so slow and that nothing was happening. It needed to be done so that's why I'm doing it. 

Was it always your plan? Did you think 'I'm going to sponsor multiple families' or is this the sort of thing that snowballed?

Over a one- or two-week period you look at it and see this is world crisis that needs to be dealt with. I guess I didn't even think 50 families was that big of a deal. I mean statistically if you take the population of Guelph and take the population of Canada and figure out how many families you should take, I just figured we needed to do it. I didn't think it was as big a deal as everyone else thought it was.

Why did you want to sponsor so many families?

You look at the number of people who need help in this crisis, 50 is a drop in the bucket, it is almost none. It's completely absorbable in a city the size of Guelph. In a sense some things are actually easier to do with a group of 50 families than with one because if you go and arrange housing, well, one house might be appropriate for one family and not for another.

You tap my business friends for jobs, and one person is more suited for blue collar and another person is more suited for white collar work. And English as a second language, it's much easier to say there's going to be a course after work and a course during the day and a course on Saturday when you have 50 families than when you have one or two families.

I also tend not to do things small. It's just not who I am, it's not what I do. 

What steps do you take to do this? 

All I did was called local clergy, including Salvation Army, Lakeside Church, the Catholic church, Sister Christine's drop-in centre, the Muslim society and basically convened a meeting. We had one meeting and I said this is not about a bunch of meetings, this is, 'Will you be on board and back it?' 

And I got a 'yes' from everybody and now when we have specific asks, then we ask specific people can they do it? For instance the Salvation Army has agreed to do all of the clothing. But that's perfect because they've got the system for people to drop it off, and for them to sort it and wash it and size it. Then when a family shows up they can go to the Salvation Army Thrift Store and get their clothes.

Basically it's just a matter of making some calls and pinging and prodding people to get things done. I've had support from everybody from the mayor to the new MP, to everybody. 

When do you think this is going to start happening? Do you have any sense of where you are in the process right now? 

I think it will be within the next 60 days that we will start getting refugees, but it is government so you never know, but we're ready today. We've set up mentors, so that every family has an Arabic speaking mentor and an English speaking mentor to look after setting up bank accounts and getting health cards, you know, simple stuff.

And monitoring them to see are they landing well, are they integrating well, what do they need?  And then as we find out what is needed I've accumulated a bunch of names of people that might be able to help and we'll just reach out and ask.

If you ask, people will give. You just have to ask. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.