Within the span of less than a year, the Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group has brought two families of Syrian refugees to the community.
The first meeting, an information session, was held on Dec. 2, 2015, when Doug Holmes organized a discussion on how to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis.
Less than a week later, 26 people attended a follow-up meeting and the refugee sponsorship group was formed.
The group quickly received support from Summerland council and from the community.
Holmes, chair of the group, said around $50,000 was raised in the first four to five months.
“Raising money was the easy part in this,” he said.
The sponsorship group also received donations of in-kind services and furniture.
A rental house was acquired in February and on Feb. 14, the Al Sheblaqe family arrived in Summerland.
“We were ready for them,” Holmes said. “We had a settlement plan in place. We were incredibly organized.”
In March, a second house was rented and the Abdulrahman family — friends of the Al Sheblaqe family — arrived.
The family of six, under a federal government sponsorship, had been living in a hotel in Vancouver for six months.
The Summerland Refugee Sponsorship Group was incorporated as a nonprofit society in May.
Holmes said the group’s focus has changed.
“Once the families arrived, the focus shifted to supporting these families,” he said. “The families’ milestones became our milestones.”
Terry Green, a member of the committee, said the community has been supportive.
Close to 80 people have expressed interest in volunteering.
“It’s been amazing the number of people who have been committed to this venture,” he said.
Jean Munro, who has been helping the Al Sheblaqe family, said the family has been adjusting to their life in Canada.
“It’s not so much the English as the cultural literacy,” she said of the family’s biggest challenge.
“They seem to be doing so well, but they still have so much more to learn.”
Jacquie Foley, who has worked with the Abdulrahman family, said the family members are learning English and adjusting.
Adnan Abdulrahman, the father, has started a small business, repairing cell phones, computers and other items.
Foley said this business allows him to earn money and make connections within the community.
Holmes is impressed with the support the families have been shown.
“With these two families, we’ve gone over the top,” he said.
“These two families have been treated like royalty.”
The committee has almost enough money in place to support a third refugee family, although there are no immediate plans to bring in an additional family.
“The more we do it, the easier it’s going to become,” he said of the sponsorship process.
“This has been a huge learning experience this past year.”