After crisis, a focus on community

In September 2015, Ottawa was struck by the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis.

From the video of a toddler rescued from the rubble of his bombed-out home, to stories of overcrowded boats capsizing—the images were devastating. We will never forget the heart wrenching photo of Alan Kurdi, just three-years-old, washed up on a beach in Turkey.

When Alan drowned alongside his brother, mother and 10 other Syrian migrants, the world took note—and so did Ottawa. Generous donors, community leaders, non-profits, businesses, faith groups, community agencies, universities and governments pulled together.

United Way Ottawa has a history of supporting newcomers, and it was clear we needed to do something: bring refugees from the Syrian crisis to Ottawa and help them build a better life.

It was in October of 2015 that we launched United for Refugees, a community initiative that would go on to raise more than $950,000 by the end of 2018. This generosity allowed these newcomers to be sponsored, come to Ottawa and make a home, put food on their tables, learn English, receive mental health and other supports, and connect to job opportunities.

The community came together to achieve long-lasting impact for those depending on us.

“You brought us back to life.” – Rana

Supporting refugees—and all newcomers—is a long-term part of building a healthy, vibrant Ottawa.

Through United for Refugees, United Way demonstrated that we are here for our community, no matter what happens—and we will be ready to take on this challenge again if our city needs us.

We know that many who supported United for Refugees are longtime supporters of United Way—loyal donors who stepped up and took on the challenge that we put to you. We also know that many who gave in support of United for Refugees had perhaps never given to us before.

What we all have in common is simple: a love for our city and its people, and a commitment to help tackle its most pressing challenges.

In addition to United for Refugees, United Way supports newcomers along many stages of their journeys.

For example, since 2011, United Way Ottawa has helped 9,760 newcomers get the help they need to find a job and start a new life in our city – people like Sudesh, Ruth, and Uttara.

Until he immigrated to Canada in 2011, Sudesh lived his entire life in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal. When he arrived in Ottawa, he was not fluent in English, experienced severe culture shock, and also had to figure out his identity in a new country.

After connecting with a United Way Ottawa partner, Sudesh learned valuable skills that prepared him for the workforce in Ottawa, which was brand new to him.

“The Youth Services Bureau and United Way was the first step for me to realize who I wanted to be.”

– Sudesh

We also support 5,100 newcomers each year through other investments in the community, like mental health supports and programs for isolated seniors. We know this number is likely much larger, as some of partners (like crisis lines) are unable to collect this type of information.

Our community-wide initiative, Hire Immigrants Ottawa, has helped employers hire more than 2,400 newcomers, delivered workshops to more than 877 employers, and provided integration support to more than 1,500 employers in its 12-year history.

Anas’ story is especially inspiring.

After fleeing to Canada in 2016 due to the unrest that started in Syria, he couldn’t find work to due to communication barriers. Determined to carve out a place for himself and his family, Anas enrolled in English as a Second Language classes.

There, his instructor connected him with a local program—made possible by United Way—that accelerated his path to success. In the two years that he has lived in Ottawa, Anas improved his English. After completing the program, found full-time work for a lighting installation company—close to his field of work.

Another important area is our support of after-school programming like homework clubs and recreation programs. These initiatives draw large numbers of children and newcomers, as they are located in communities with significant numbers of immigrants and new Canadians.

United Way also invests in place-based programs and projects that support community engagement and resident capacity-building are focused in neighbourhoods with large immigrant populations.

Russell Heights residents at their September Harvest Celebration, made possible by United Way Ottawa’s women’s giving initiative. Donors made it possible for residents to care for their own community garden and provide free, fresh produce for their neighbours.

At United Way Ottawa, we stand with, and for, our community.

To all of the incredible people who continue to step forward to support those in crisis: thank you. As we all know, the important work of supporting newcomers continues. Our success will be made possible by a commitment from the community to join United Way as we take up this challenge.




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