More than 200 volunteers were ready to help. After several planning meetings and organizing donations, the Central Okanagan prepared itself to welcome newly arrived Syrian refugee families. Kelowna Community Resources (KCR) worked together with many community partners to develop a plan to support and assist these families who were expected to arrive in the masses.
We have had the privilege of welcoming over 25 Syrian families to this community. The families are supported by private, government, or blended sponsorships and all are looking to make a good life for themselves and their families in their new homeland.
As a smaller community outside the larger metropolitan areas, we have had the benefit of being able to welcome small numbers of Syrians at one time. This means that we are able to provide specialized, individualized services that best meet the needs of those we serve. My favourite example is the day that we took eight adults and 21 children under the age of 11 to the dentist. Three local dentists generously opened up their clinics and volunteered their time for a whole day to assist these four families. It took four vehicles with volunteer drivers, 16 car seats, and two interpreters to pull this day off. As a result of our ability to customize the supports required we were able to make this day happen and the families all came away healthier for it. We are continuously overwhelmed by the outpouring of kindness that our community has shown. Offers of household items, financial supports, dental work, English tutoring, and rides to appointments have come pouring in. In fact there has been more support than needed for the number of families our region expects.
Many of the Syrian families came to our community in a very short time period. There was little time for planning and coordination due to the need to settle them so quickly. The haste also created much stress and pressure on community relationships. Despite these challenges, our community came together to successfully support these families and ensure they felt welcomed. Many olunteer interpreters worked around the clock to help families navigate through the community. Interior Health and School District 23 adjusted their systems to help the Syrian newcomers be more successful.
Our challenges continue to be affordable housing options, dental and medical needs, coordination of community resources, transportation, and interpretation for appointments. Our successes include a focus on community collaboration such as the Sponsors Network, an opportunity to share resources and work together to support newly arrived families. Another success is KCR’s successful volunteer management process which we designed to support and protect both the participants and volunteers as they work and learn together. To sum it all up this process has been a time of learning and community capacity building. We at KCR feel privileged to be able to continue to play a part in such an important humanitarian cause.
Submitted by Katelin Mitchell, Immigrant Services & Operations Manager at KCR
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