For World Refugee Day, we share the story of Islington United Church's Refugee Support Ministry

Published On: June 20, 2022

Caring, sharing, and love are the hallmarks of Islington United Church’s Refugee Support Ministry that has served newcomers to Canada for over 40 years. As a private refugee sponsor, the Toronto church makes a one-year commitment to support both the financial and emotional needs of a newcomer family as it settles in a new homeland and faces the challenges of Canadian living and culture. Since private sponsorship was established by the government in 1979, Islington United has sponsored 105 people, representing 34 groups from 13 countries.

The procedure could be compared to a welcoming process, preparing an invitation, planning, waiting, final preparations and meeting with joy upon arrival. The work is supported by the entire congregation and a very busy ministry committee of some 20 people who meet regularly, raise funds and acquire household goods and personal items so that everything can be ready for new arrivals.  Committee members meet new arrivals at the airport with signs of welcome in English and their first language, and then introduce them to their interim home or new home, if it is ready. We move into high gear helping to get children in school, parents in ESL courses, finding doctors and dentists for the family, explaining our Canadian banking system and opening bank accounts, assisting with applications for financial benefits, working with the family to create an employment strategy and making sure they get to know the community and all its services.  And, we celebrate achievements with them working toward Month 13 when they will be ready to move into Canadian life to continue their new story.

Newcomers say that they are amazed with such a wonderful welcome and grateful to people who want to help them, but especially for the care shown.  They appreciate the friendships, the family support, invitations to homes for dinner, tours of the city and special outings, and even the support by committee members to new mothers through labour.

All these newcomers are proud to become Canadian citizens within five years; many have been able to purchase homes once they establish themselves, and some now have children attending university.  These newcomers have found employment as administrators, service industry workers, as well as skilled trades people and as teachers and engineers.

In the last few years, we have also assisted with settlement of families through co-sponsorship with other faith-based and community private sponsor groups.  We have helped a settlement agency with community support to an Afghan family that was government-sponsored, and most recently, have accepted a resettlement role for a family with five children with private sponsor Lamp Lifeboat Ladder where we can provide the kind of settlement and emotional support for which we are known.

Our commitment to refugee sponsorship is significant. And, in 2016, we were leaders in establishing the Private Refugee Sponsor Network (Ontario), thanks to a United Church EDGE grant. More than 430 sponsors in Ontario have joined together offering training to first time sponsors in best practice through a variety of workshops and information-sharing. 

Creating relationships is what we do in assisting our newcomers on the road of building their new lives.

 — by members of Islington United Church’s Refugee Support Ministry

Stay up to date on United Church refugee program news and information by subscribing to our newsletter, Refugee Sponsorship News.

The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.

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