It Takes a Village

by Katelin Mitchell, Immigrant Services and Operations Manager at KCR

With over 200 volunteers ready to help, many items donated and planning meetings held, the Central Okanagan prepared itself to welcome newly arrived Syrian refugee families.  KCR – Kelowna Community Resources worked together with many community partners and sponsor groups to devise a plan to support and assist these families who were expected to arrive in the masses.

To date we have had the privilege of welcoming over 30 Syrian families to this community and are expecting at least another four families by the New Year.  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 therefore allowing us to be able to provide specialized, individualized services that best meet the needs of those we serve.  My favourite example was 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, 16 car seats, four volunteer drivers and two interpreters to pull this day off but due to 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 required for the number of families destined to our region.

The first wave of these families arrived in our community in a very short time period.  This haste to settle these families so quickly created much stress and pressure on community relationships as well as a lack of time for planning and coordination.  Despite these challenges, our community came together to successfully support these families and ensure they felt welcomed.  Many volunteer interpreters worked around the clock to help families maneuver through the community. Interior Health and School District 23 adjusted their systems to increase the success of these newcomers.  Private citizens volunteered their time to welcome these families into the community.

Our challenges continue to be affordable housing options, dental and medical needs, coordination of community resources, transportation and interpretation for appointments.  Our successes have included our focus on community collaboration such as the Sponsors Network, an opportunity to share resources and work together to support newly arrived families.  Another success has been KCR’s successful volunteer management process which is 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.

KCR – Immigrant Services serves over 1200 Immigrants and Refugees annually in the Central Okanagan.  We provide assistance navigating Canadian public systems, finding work, building social networks, accessing health care and with referrals to English Language programs.  KCR also works together with the Central Okanagan Local Immigration partnership to continue to ensure our community is ever more welcoming.  For more information please contact us at 250 763 8008 or


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