Whistler pledges $19K, free housing to Syrian refugees 

Welcome committee 'blown away' by community response

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - GIVING BACK  An attendee from an earlier meeting of the Whistler Refugee Response Group is pictured.
  • file photo
  • GIVING BACK An attendee from an earlier meeting of the Whistler Refugee Response Group is pictured.

Whistler is paving the way for the potential arrival of Syrian refugees with a significant funding and housing commitment announced at a community meeting.

At the Jan. 16 meeting of the Whistler Refugee Response Group, the organization pledged $19,000 and a house in Alpine Meadows rent-free for 12 months.

"I'm blown away," said Sarah Morden, who sits on the group's fundraising committee. "That $19,000 came from a relatively small group of really passionate people, but people are getting in touch with me all the time asking what they can do and how they can help. It's typical Whistler. Everyone here is so generous."

The group is currently working on a potential partnership with Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church that, if finalized, will allow fundraising efforts to expand in scope.

"These (funds) are just to show commitment to the church, and we wanted to have that upfront," Morden explained. "Once we solidify the partnership with the church we will do some broader community fundraising, in which case we would at least double that commitment."

Whistler's response to the Syrian refugee crisis was sparked by Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden's resolution at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in September calling for Ottawa to ramp up its efforts to settle Syrian refugees. She's been overwhelmed by the response so far from Whistler and beyond.

"This has just been so positive," she said. "Across the country, there has been a real national awakening of the terrible circumstances these people have found themselves in and an outpouring across the country of effort to do something about it."

Some concerns have been raised over the lack of resources in Whistler to help the refugees integrate into their new home, although Morden reiterated that any family that comes to the resort will be specifically matched to the community and will be well aware of what's available to them.

"The largest sub-committee (of the response group) is for integration and support once the family gets here. So we've got registered therapists, we've got educators, and a lot of the schools here have already agreed to support and help the families once they get here with English language learning," she said.

Wilhelm-Morden acknowledged there will be difficulties, however.

"There will be challenges, of course, but I think this is going to work," she said. "We recognize there may well be language issues, but we can deal with those. There are many people who are involved already who have been looking at transitional experiences for the Syrian refugees and how to assist them once they get here."

There's no clear timeline in place for the Syrians possible arrival. The Whistler Refugee Response Group has applied to the federal government to host at least one Syrian family in the resort and is aiming to raise a minimum of $40,000, which will go towards living expenses. Once a family is matched to a community, the refugees can arrive in a matter of days.

"We're hoping it will be just a few months, but again it's really hard to say at this point," Morden explained. "The government really doesn't guesstimate how long it will take."

For more information, visit the Whistler Refugee Response Facebook page. The group's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 16 at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church.


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