Loans are due!

You know, they say its always hard to follow your own advice.  Such as, “read the fine print”!

It’s important to realize that in only thirty days your refugee family will have a government loan becoming due.  Upon arrival, your family will likely have received a yellow sheet of paper (carbon copy) that provides an estimate of that amount.  If you followed our previous instructions on paperwork, that will already be uploaded in Google Docs. Within ten days of their arrival, you are supposed to provide a change of address for your family.

Where do you find all this information?

In the fine print, of course.  See this version of the fine print from our family (on the back of the loan document).

Fortunately, when you screw this up (can you imagine what people without private sponsors must struggle with?) you can do your best to sort it out speaking with a real human on the phone.

The kind person who was on the other end of the line at 1-800-667-7301 who deals with government loans for refugees informed me that because of the size of our family’s loan, they have six years to pay it.  Unfortunately, they were already in arrears but she assured me that no interest was charged for the first three years on this size of loan.  They were also still waiting on final confirmation of the amount – what we had received was actually just an estimate and the source documentation had to arrive from Beirut.  Again, the kind person informed me that she would try to dig into this and find out the final amount.  Find out the details of the loan payments sooner rather than later!

Our group’s goal was to fund raise enough money to pay off this loan so that they would be able to have a completely fresh start in Canada.  We highly recommend if you are private sponsors that you try to do this as well.  It will make a world of difference for your family to not have a bill of $100 (or more!) coming in every month for the next six years.  It could also greatly impact their credit rating to have overdue payments, which could mean more savings down the road.

Bottom line – put this in your budget right away.  It is a significant expense that the family must be immediately used to paying to avoid high interest payments later on.


May 26 – WHMRR Syrian Family Fundraiser

The Winston Heights-Mountview Refugee Response (WHMRR) invites you and your family to a fundraiser for the Syrian family.  All of the proceeds of the fundraiser will go to the family’s significant upcoming expenses.  Please take this opportunity to meet our wonderful newcomer family!

The fundraiser will take place at the Winston Heights-Mountview Hall (520 27 Avenue NE) on May 26, 2017 with a buffet style dinner of traditional Syrian food served from 5:30 – 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, but children 12 and under can join and eat for free. Alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase at the event.

Tickets can be purchased here:

Thank you for your ongoing support for this worthwhile cause. We look forward to seeing you at the dinner!

– Winston Heights-Mountview Refugee Response

Creating and Managing ESL Tutoring for your Family

Once our family had been in Canada for a few months, it became apparent to us that there was a real desire to have additional ESL help. We want to help our family integrate as quickly as possible, and that is difficult to do in large classrooms without the benefit of native English speakers (who have Canadian accents). We knew we had a lot of people who wanted to help our newcomer family; we just had to find a way to make the connection. This blog posting is about how we went about arranging extra ESL help for our family and hopefully those who are reading this can learn a little about our experience and how simple it can be, if you want to make it happen.

Step 1: Mobilize with Survey Monkey

The first thing we wanted to do was to find out what our volunteers wanted to help with, so I prepared a survey using the tool Survey Monkey. It was free and fairly straightforward to use so we created a few options of how people could help (ESL tutoring, rides, fundraising, etc). Those who wanted to help with ESL were put on a new email list.

Step 2: Schedule

We needed a schedule that would work for our family, and our volunteers. It was decided that every other week was a commitment that wouldn’t overwhelm our volunteers, or our family, and that it would be a 1 – 1.5 hour session on a subject area. Since our Survey Monkey also asked about availability, we were able to determine relatively quickly who would be able to help and when and we drafted a schedule! With a few changes and bugs worked out, we had something everybody could work with.

Step 3: Subjects

From my YouTube research (just look up how to teach ESL!) as well as my friend Naomi who used to teach ESL, we soon realized that subject matter was important. You don’t just show up at school and get taught everything – it is compartmentalized to make it more approachable. We had every topic from the slightly dull (banking) to Canadian themed fun! (Canadian symbols and food anybody?) We divided those up by each member of the team, and stressed the flexibility of them. I was assured by one volunteer that it was “fun” coming up with pictures to show the family to help them learn. I think this was key – nobody wants to walk into a room and not know the agenda. Having a goal to focus on helped everybody feel motivated on their first day.

Step 4: Meet the Family!

We had to all meet the family. It was important the family understood who they were opening the door to. We all assembled in their living room (thank you to their never-ending hospitality) and discussed what we would be doing, including the important factors and what could be helpful, such as:

  • Ask if there are any subjects that they would like to cover
  • Use photographs and actions
  • Focus on words, not grammar or full sentences
  • Record new words on flash cards to practice again and outside their lessons
  • Use repetition
  • Use their ESL booklets/workbooks from school as guides

Once we had our tools in hand and a plan, we took action!

Step 5: Let your volunteers loose

Nobody likes a micro-manager, but as a volunteer, nobody has time to be one anyways! I have taken the “check in once a month approach” and have asked that prior to attending for a lesson the volunteer should text the family confirming the time. It isn’t a big deal if you can’t make it work, but I hope that all our volunteers see how valuable their contribution is to a newcomer family. We are so happy and excited to have such a wonderful group of committed volunteers and I cannot wait to see our family’s progress over the next three months!

– Caleigh Hanks

It’s a small world after all

Now that our family is getting more settled in, it’s back to other family commitments.  In my case, I have a niece and nephew who Irish dance and I attended their first first dance competition and Christmas recital. As I used to Irish dance myself many years ago, I ran into a few familiar faces at the event (whose own children and nieces are dancing) and was trying to keep tabs on my own nieces and nephew and not step on any of the other little ones.

All of a sudden, I see another familiar face… I know him, but the context doesn’t quite make sense at this Irish dance Christmas recital in the industrial area off Blackfoot Trail.  I am smiling, waving, trying to place him… and realize it’s the brother in law of our own sponsored family who we met at the airport and arrived in Canada only two months ago!  To my surprise, he was there with his wife, their children, and their own sponsors!  It turns out their sponsors are the parents of two of the best Irish dancers I have ever seen and they brought them to the event to check it out.  Of course, they ask why I didn’t bring our family to the event – I can’t say I even contemplated asking three teen boys to come to a dance recital, but in hindsight, they might have enjoyed themselves!

This was truly one of the coolest parts of sponsoring so far – realizing how small Calgary is, and there is no six degrees of separation here – there is only ever two.  It was so cool to meet other sponsors too – people just like you and I.  They might be next to you on the treadmill at your gym.  They might work down the hall in your office.  They might be at your niece and nephew’s Irish dance Christmas recital.

I really think it doesn’t take a special person to do what we are doing.  We are just a group of people who came together to help, just like hundreds of other Calgarians around this city and coast to coast across Canada. Private sponsors have so many different skills and abilities, and we come from so many different backgrounds. That diversity is what makes WHMRR strong. It’s what makes Canada strong.  What occurred to me tonight is that what makes private sponsorship so special are the connections that are formed right at the outset with that diverse group of people, so that only two months after a Syrian family arrived in Canada they are showing up at Irish dance Christmas recitals where they already know somebody else in the room.

Week 1 plus

The first week the family arrived was intense to say the least! Despite a few hiccups everything went really well. The amount of paperwork the family came with was overwhelming, however Google Docs has been a great resource to securely store everything. Our group very quickly determined priorities for getting the family set up with bank accounts, cell phones, SIN numbers, Alberta Health Care and Fair Entry passes. They took everything in relative stride, although I suspect they were very jet lagged. Fair Entry provides discounted prices for Calgary Transit and Calgary recreation facilities. We thought we had the house set up until everything started to get turned on. With five people in the house and always extra visitors the aging furnace couldn’t take temperature regulating. A hot water tank issue on the first morning and a quick re-installation of the washing machine topped day one and two. They boys were very grateful when the internet was connected. I can’t imagine my teenager going more than a day without being connected.

This past week was a busy one getting the boys into school and their parents into ESL classes. On Wednesday, after the family indicated that they would prefer to have the boys attend the Catholic school system (CSSD), the boys and their dad went to the CSSD’s St John’s reception Centre where they were assessed for academic and English levels. They were immediately assigned schools. The youngest will be going to St Helena Jr High which is about 3 blocks from their house. He started this past Friday and the CSSD interpreter met him there to help get him settled in. The two older boys will be going to Notre Dame HS which is further away but only one bus ride. Again, the CSSD interpreter met them there to get them registered and their classes picked. They also started this past Friday!

The reception Centre gave the 3 boys back packs with binders, paper, pens etc. We still need to determine what other school supplies and books they will require.

On Thursday we went to Immigrant Services Calgary to have English levels assessed. They were referred to two ESL programs – one at Calgary Catholic Immigration Services and the other at Maple Leaf Academy. They walked over to CCIS and got on the waiting list there and then walked back to the Maple Leaf Academy and got on that waiting list. The next day both were contacted by CCIS and Kristine took them down to get registered. They start their ESL classes on Tuesday! Bus training began in earnest on the weekend. A somewhat cold (if 7 degrees is cold for November) Saturday afternoon was spent going to CCIS by bus with mom and dad and going to school for the two oldest boys.

A Calgary non-profit organization called Ahlain has produced the following Calgary Transit “how-to” video in Arabic:

A Visual Guide on how to use Calgary Transit is also available in Arabic.

By Jeannine Arbour

Lessons in Paperwork



This blog post, although dry, is essential to those of you who are considering, or perhaps already expecting, to accept your own refugee families.  This was what we wanted to find out the most about before hand, but had to go in a bit blindly ourselves.  Fortunately, with a little luck, some internet research, and trial and error, we present you with our theory for how best to approach the onerous paperwork for your newcomer family (if you have already been matched and are expecting their arrival in 1-2 months):

  1. Rent a Home – Your family will need a place to live, you know that.  However you may not realize how critical it is that the family be listed in full on the lease agreement.To get the lease signed, you may need to co-sign.  What worked for us was listing the two adults on the lease, and a member of our group co-signing and signing as the agents of the family.  You should also list every single family member on the lease agreement as a resident, along with their ages in brackets.  Ensure you spell their names correctly. The Lease must contain the full address of the residence as well.  Make sure you get a signed copy back from the Landlord, you’ll need this. This Lease is the key to everything. Get it right the first time.
  2. Set Yourself Up for Success – You should already have the birthdates and full names of your family through Canadian Immigration.  You also will know where they are going to be living prior to their arrival.  This means you can fill in a significant amount of paperwork before they arrive.  Start filling out that paperwork before their arrival – you are going to be busy and this is something you can get done in advance for them!You also must organize.  We found the best method was to set up a new email for the family.  All the sponsors have the password.  We email all of the scanned documents into that email.  At the end of the year (or earlier if appropriate) we will simply ask the sponsorship family to change the password so that we no longer have access to their information or email.  This way, even if a sponsor moves far away or drops off in terms of engagement, the family has a copy of every record and document they might need going forward but in the meantime, so do the sponsors who want a convenient place to find the relevant documents.
  3. Do the Applications in the Best Order – This was one thing we wished we had known, although we did eventually figure it out.  On top of the Lease, which you should already have on their arrival, you will likely receive the following (and should get scans made of):
    – Confirmation of Permanent Residence for each family member
    – Interim Federal Health Certificate of Eligibility of each family member
    – Single Journey Document for Resettlement to Canada of each family member
    – Passports (of their country of origin, or a temporary travel document) of each family member

This is the order we did our applications in:

  1. PR Card Address Update: Go to the CIC website and sign into the primary applicant’s account and ensure that their new address is listed.  This way their PR cards will not be held – they will arrive to the family as soon as possible.
  2. Alberta Health Card (fill out paperwork in advance): Go to a registry and grab the required form for Alberta Health Cards.  You fill these in ahead of time and bring in all of the documents (including passports) for the registrar to verify. Takes 1-2 weeks to arrive.
  3. Fair Entry Program: You will need a letter from a social worker to obtain entry from the Fair Entry program.  Have a social worker you can get to write this letter upon their arrival.  This is needed to show proof (or complete lack of!) income.  Once you have that and your Lease, you can apply for the Fair Entry reductions (lower bus pass prices, rec centre, etch). Takes 1-2 weeks to arrive.
  4. SIN Numbers: You will need to attend the Harry Hayes (or other government building in your city/area) to get their Social Insurance Numbers.  Bring the entire family if possible or you will need to do this again.  You will need their original documents (i.e. Confirmation of Permanent Residence). You obtain the SIN number immediately.
  5. Bank Account Records: You should try to get a meeting with a person who speaks the language of your family.  Ask what to bring to that meeting (likely all of the records is always safest).  You obtain a bank card immediately.
  6. Canada Child Care Benefits: You need the SIN numbers to fill this out as well as direct deposit information from the bank.  The date the parent became primarily responsible for the care and upbringing  of the child is apparently not their date of birth, but their date of arrival.
  7. Library Card: This is not a priority, but a nice to have.  Check with your branch to see what they require.
  8. School ID: If you bring all the records with you, they give you the school ID during registration.
  9. Others: who knows! We are entering week 3 with still a lot to learn.  Hopefully this helps others going through this process and we will update the blog if we identify any key information that should be included.

Questions you might have:

Q: When can we get them some Photo ID?
A: You can get an Alberta ID card at the same stage as the Alberta Health Card BUT they must give up their out of country drivers license to do that which WE DO NOT RECOMMEND. This is not made clear under the Government Regulations, but if they give up a drivers license from their country of origin to get an Alberta ID card they will NOT GET CREDIT for previous driving experience.  As a result, it is often better if they have an out of country drivers license to keep that licence until they are ready to take their drivers test.  If they don’t have a drivers license at all, pursue an ID Card so that you have some government issued photo id for them.

Q: How long will it take to get their PR Card?
A: We have seen that it can take a long time for it to arrive, more than two months.  We recommend that not having the PR card not prevent you from seeking whatever you need.  Call ahead and see if the passport, single journey entry, and confirmation of PR is enough. Usually it is.

Good luck everybody!

Welcome to Canada!

Time to celebrate!!! November 14th was the day everyone was waiting for! We finally received confirmation of the Abo Eid family’s arrival in Canada–almost a year to the day after the WHM Refugee Response was formed. True to their word, the MCC confirmed their flight details on Nov 1st, exactly 2 weeks prior to their arrival. We were so excited to hear that they were finally coming and relieved that we had set up their house despite a precautionary warning in October from the MCC that it could still take months. In an excited flurry of activity we finalized details at the house, planned the airport welcome (a big thanks to Caleigh for the fantastic banner!), clarified roles within the group and laid out a plan for the first week. Their flight was scheduled to arrive at 5:55 pm but was delayed, and knowing it would take some time to get through immigration we arrived around 8 pm. When we arrived three generations of their extended family were already at the airport waiting for them. We were by far the largest welcoming group and the anticipation and excitement was palpable!  We eagerly watched extended family for a cue every time the doors opened until finally Taleb, Mariah, Havez, Gaby and Abdelmasih walked out. It was a beautiful moment of cheers, tears, hugs and laughter. The joyous celebration eventually shifted from the terminal to their house where we had a chance to truly meet this wonderful family. We ate, drank and talked in Arabic or English, and simply felt grateful to be part of a new start and a long awaited family reunion.
by Kristine Sare

Act III of the Winston Heights-Mountview Community Association – The Heart of the Home

We were lucky enough to have some of the wonderful members of Act III attend at the soon-to-be Abo Eid residence and help us set up the kitchen.  This was no small task! We knew the kitchen would be the hardest room to set up as there are so many small parts and we had so many donations from different people and places.  Act III generously offered to lend their support and we are so grateful for all the time they spent making the kitchen everything that it will be for the Abo Eid family starting on Monday!

These wonderful volunteers sorted through (literally) hundreds of donations, chose the best items for the job, set out liners in the cupboards, cleaned what was necessary, and took a truly caring approach to the kitchen, which is so often considered the heart of any home.  Act III really transformed this space and we can’t wait to show the Abo Eid family all of their hard work.

Just to give everybody a visual of the “situation” that Act III managed to deal with through a day of back breaking labour, here are some Before and After photos:


img_2828 img_2818 img_2822



img_1028 img_1024 img_1027 img_1026

We are so happy that the community of Winston Heights-Mountview is supporting this project, and so grateful to Act III for giving up their day to create the heart of the home.  It has been amazing to see the community come together for this family and prepare their new home.

Touchdown in Calgary on November 14



This past weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving – a time to reflect on the many riches with which we have each been blessed: peace, freedom, security, prosperity, health and family to name but a few. This year, we also had something else to celebrate! Our sponsored refugee family will be landing in Calgary on November 14th.

We now have exactly one month to prepare. Over the long weekend, members of our group viewed a number of units. We have found an ideal rental property in the north-central community of Thorncliffe. It is affordable, close to public transit, schools and other amenities, and within reach of the Winston Heights-Mountview community where the majority of our team lives.

Although we are in relatively good shape, we still require a few more in-kind donations. Visit to view an up-to-date list of outstanding items. Determining clothing sizes in advance is a bit of a challenge, but we likely require men’s sizes medium to x-large, and women’s size medium or large. If you have any gift cards you won’t be using we would also be more than happy to take those off your hands!

We are also on the lookout for dentists willing to provide pro bono work for one or more family members.

In the coming weeks, we will be preparing our sponsored family’s new home, finalizing budgets and researching schools and community resources. Mostly, however, we will be looking forward to a (hopefully warm and sunny) day in mid-November when we will finally get to welcome the Abo Eid family to this free and bountiful country we call home.

Submitted by Heather McCrank

Big News! Abo Eid Family Arriving in Canada



Abo Eid Family Arriving in Canada!


We just received confirmation from the MCC that the Abo Eid family’s applications and visas are complete. They are ready for travel to Canada and their flights will be booked in the next 4-8 weeks!!!!

We are thrilled, almost as thrilled as their family members already living here. We are in the process of finding them a home and hope to have a lease signed and furniture set up within the next three weeks. To do that we need your help! We have amassed quite a few household items but require quite a bit more.

Please see the list below and contact one of our group members or email if you have any of the items listed below, or most importantly a COUCH, COFFEE TABLE, ENTERTAINMENT UNIT, DRESSERS, BEDSIDE TABLES, VACUUM. Thank you in advance!


Measuring cup & spoons
Kitchen cloths
Serving Tray
Garbage bin
Placemats / cloths
Pot holders
Entertainment unit
Coffee Table
Pens, pencils, stapler, etc.
Space heater
Bedside table
Shower curtain
Toilet bowl brush
CLOTHING (parents and 3 boys 14-18 yrs old)
Ironing board
Laundry baskets
Laundry Hamper(s)
Broom and dust pan