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In response to the needs of refugees on a global level, First United Church launched a Refugee Sponsorship Program to bring a family in need to our community.  In 2015, the Outreach committee was in dialogue with The United Church of Canada and the Calvary United Church in Prince Albert, to learn about the process and what steps need to be followed in such a complex undertaking.

In October 2015, the sponsorship idea was presented to our congregation and a vote decided overwhelmingly in favour of bringing a refugee family to Swift Current.

A refugee sponsorship working group was formed and they began their work in the late fall. A fundraising campaign began and the kick-off event of a Silent Auction & Supper was held on January 30th, 2016.   This was a very successful event with about 150 people in attendance, over 100 items in the auction.  Thanks to all the volunteers who worked diligently to make this event happen!

The government estimates that living expenses for a refugee family of four are about $20,000 a year. Under the federal program, the government pays for approximately half of these costs. Additional set-up expenses are in the range of $7000.   Through the generosity of the First United congregation and our community we were able to raise $31,000 over the past year and a half!

While there has been a great deal of attention to the plight of Syrian refugees in particular, First United was open to a family from anywhere in the world.  But when we received the list of refugees from The United Church of Canada, it was filled with families from Syria.

We were thrilled to welcome a Syrian family to our community on Monday, February 8, 2016. This happened with very little notice, and the volunteers on our Refugee Sponsorship Working Group worked very quickly to prepare for their arrival.  In a short time an apartment was secured, cleaned and filled with all of things the family will need to settle into their new lives. A big thank you to all of the volunteers who helped to move this forward with such care and such speed!

Our Refugee Sponsorship Working Group was very busy supporting the Etmeh family (Anas, Heba, Shahed and Mohammed) as they began a new stage of their life in Swift Current.  Thanks to all the volunteers who:  helped with paperwork and finances, provided interpretation, tutored English, drove the family to appointments, babysat the children and organized their medical needs.

On Sunday, May 15 2016, our congregation officially welcomed the Etmeh’s to our community with a special Interfaith worship service and a pot luck lunch.  We are very grateful to Bashar Sayyed, a member of the local mosque, who gave us a very informative presentation on the Muslim faith. Here is the video local Overtime Communications put together to showcase the event:

The Etmeh family, the Outreach Committee and the Refugee Working Group would like to offer our sincere thanks to the First United Church congregation for their overwhelming support, generosity and involvement throughout the sponsorship process over the past year and a half.

Countless volunteer hours, donations of funds, in kind donations, fundraisers and partnerships with community organizations such as Southwest Newcomer Centre, Great Plains College, Swift Current Library and more, all came together to encourage, empower and embrace the Etmeh’s as they journeyed through the process of successfully integrating into Canadian culture and life in this great community of Swift Current!