Who is sponsoring Syrian refugee families in Waterloo Region

The interest in sponsoring Syrian refugees is "unprecedented," according to the Mennonite Central Committee.

Interest in sponsoring is 'unprecedented' says MCC Ontario executive director

According to the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario, the interest in sponsoring refugee families from Syria is "unprecedented." (Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press)

Whether donating money to aid agencies or raising money to bring refugees to Waterloo Region, politicians, churches and community groups are stepping up to help families fleeing Syria's civil war, 

When it comes sponsoring refugees to come to Canada, many groups and individuals are working with the Mennonite Central Committee, whose Ontario offices are located in Kitchener. MCC has a sponsorship agreement with the federal goverment, which means it can approve and facilitate sponsorship requests from local groups.

The interest is unprecedentedin our history of working with refugeesponsorships.- Rick Cober Bauman, Mennonite Central Committee

The organization is currently working with "many dozens" of community groups about sponsorships according to Rick Cober Bauman, executive director of MCC Ontario. He says the organization had to hire another person to help with all the requests. 

"The interest is unprecedented in our history of working with refugee sponsorships since the early 80s and it's also highly diverse," Cober Bauman says.

Typically, it has been churches that have worked with MCC on sponsorships, but Cober Bauman says the organization is now hearing from many other types of groups, from schools to community associations. 

At least part of that interest can be traced to the photo of Aylan Kurdi, the young Syrian boy who drowned along with his mother and brother as they were trying to reach Turkey.  

A child holds a self-made placard reading "SOS help me" outside the railways station in Budapest, Hungary September 2, 2015. (Laszlo Balogh/Reuters)
"I think that you only get that kind of massive tipping point ground swell response when there is a heavy build-up and pent concern about what's going on in the world," Cober Bauman says. "You couldn't have had that photo with no context or nothing happening prior to it and have the same effect."

Here's a sample of some of the work being done in partnership with the MCC in Waterloo Region and the surrounding area. 

Cities and Region of Waterloo donate funds

Both the City of Kitchener and the City of Waterloo have donated $10,000 each, while the Region of Waterloo has donated $25,000 to the Mennonite Central Committee's support program to help people displaced by the conflict in Syria.

In addition, Cober Bauman says the cities and region are continuing to speak with his group about other ways they can help and other services they can offer to families coming to the region from Syria. 

"I think there still is a willingness and a desire to help encourage and coordinate the way citizens and local residents respond as well. So that's also a really heartening and encouraging direction," he says.    

City of Stratford teams up with community groups to sponsor 5 families

A volunteer steering committee in Stratford is coordinating efforts to raise $225,000 to sponsor five families to come to live in the city.

The committee's chair, Kathy Vassilakos, is a city councillor, but she specified that community groups like churches will be the actual sponsors for the families, which will be brought over one at a time, as funds are raised.

Trinity United Church sponsors Syrian family to come to Kitchener

Trinity United Church has been working with other churches in the area and with the MCC to sponsor a family, and has secured an apartment for them to live in when they arrive.

That family was expected to arrive in Kitchener on Thursday and will be the first sponsored refugee family to arrive in the region since the photo of Aylan Kurdi was published in September. 

​Wilfrid Laurier University to sponsor two families

WLU is working with the MCC to sponsor two families, one family that will live in Waterloo and another in Brantford, where the university's other campus is located.

"That would be another, up to now, unusual and unprecedented kind of partnership where a university has reached out to partner with MCC," Cober Bauman says.

He says MCC Ontario is talking to some other universities, but the WLU partnership is the farthest along.

Kitchener neighbourhood association to sponsor Syrian refugee family

The Central Frederick Neighbourhood Association in Kitchener plans to sponsor a Syrian refugee family in partnership with the MCC and is working to raise $27,000 to do so.

Currently, the family the CFNA will sponsor is living in Lebanon and waiting for security and medical checks to be completed.

The association has almost the entire amount needed. A fundraising page set up on the MCC's website shows they've raised just over $24,255 as of Thursday afternoon.