Ryerson Lifeline Syria halfway to goal with more than $1 million received

The Ryerson chapter of Lifeline Syria, a charity organization that seeks to resettle refugees in the Greater Toronto Area, has reached the halfway point on its goal to resettle 75 families.

Wendy Cukier, Ryerson’s vice-president of research and innovation and the school’s Lifeline Syria executive lead, said that as of last Friday, the group has raised well over $1 million. It needs to raise $2,025,000 in order to sponsor and support the families.

“I was delighted,” Cukier said. “It really shows our community can get things done quickly and efficiently.”

She said she is confident that Ryerson’s chapter of the organization will reach its goal, and says more donors are lined up for the cause. Close to 40 teams have already registered to sponsor families.

Ryerson launched the challenge this summer in partnership with Toronto’s Lifeline Syria, an organization which facilitates teams of fundraisers who raise money to privately sponsor Syrian refugees. The families being sponsored are separate from the 25,000 refugees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised to resettle in Canada before next year.

One team’s family arrived at the end of October, and another is set to arrive within the next few weeks. More families are expected before next year.

Ryerson Lifeline Syria started off with a goal of forming 10 teams to sponsor 10 families, with a cost of $27,000 per family. That goal increased to 25 families in September, after the picture of three-year-old Alan Kurdi made international headlines and inspired more people to volunteer, according to Kathleen Powderley, spokeswoman for Ryerson Lifeline Syria. In mid-October, the organization upped its goal once again, aiming for 75 families after three more universities — OCAD University, York University and the University of Toronto — joined the initiative.

Finance and banking volunteers attend a committee meeting for Ryerson Lifeline Syria. Courtesy Samantha Jackson

Finance and banking volunteers attend a committee meeting for Ryerson Lifeline Syria. (Courtesy Samantha Jackson)

“It just kept snowballing,” said Cukier.

The recent attacks in Paris have raised national security questions about the refugees, who are resettling from a high-risk region. Cukier insists that these concerns have not dampened the spirit of their volunteers, nor affected fundraising efforts.

Hate mail and threats to the organization, however, have increased. “We knew from the beginning that Islamophobia would be an issue,” she said.

There are about 400 volunteers from Ryerson currently involved in the initiative and 100 volunteers from the three other universities.

Volunteers are called on to provide additional help to the teams. Each volunteer’s role depends on his or her individual skills. For example, business students are helping families open a bank account, nursing students are helping families find doctors and Arabic-speaking students are acting as interpreters.

Fourth-year sociology student Leyan Saleh is a volunteer interpreter. She signed up in September as soon as she heard Ryerson Lifeline Syria was looking for Arabic speakers.

“I wanted to do something where I felt like I was making a difference, where I am doing work that will actually help someone,” Saleh said, adding she’s looking forward to welcoming the refugees at the airport and talking to them about their experiences.

Saleh worked with 14 other students to help organize a charity dinner and auction to raise money for Ryerson Lifeline Syria last month. Students paid $20 while alumni and community members paid $50 to attend. The dinner raised $17,000 for the initiative.

Two of the team members at Ryerson Lifeline Syria took their fundraising model to a whole new level. Samantha Jackson and her husband, Farzin Yousefian, scaled back their wedding and turned their reception into a fundraiser to raise money to sponsor a Syrian family.

In the weeks leading up to the arrival of several families, the group has been ramping up its efforts and preparation. Volunteers and teams are being trained on refugee resettlement.

If you are interested in volunteering with Lifeline Syria or in joining a team, contact
rulifelinesyria@ryerson.ca.

RYERSON NEWLYWEDS DONATE TO REFUGEE CAUSE

Two of the team members at Ryerson Lifeline Syria took their fundraising model to a whole new level. Samantha Jackson and her husband, Farzin Yousefian, scaled back their wedding and turned their reception into a fundraiser to raise money to sponsor a Syrian family.

“I felt like it was absolutely the right decision,” said Samantha Jackson, the volunteer co-ordinator at Ryerson Lifeline Syria and graduate of Ryerson’s immigration and settlement studies program. Instead of having the big wedding in March 2016 that she was planning for, the couple opted for a small ceremony at Toronto City Hall last month. Rather than receiving gifts and money, the couple asked friends and family to make a donation to their cause.

Jackson and Yousefian getting married at city hall. Courtesy Samatha Jackson.

Jackson and Yousefian getting married at city hall. Courtesy Samatha Jackson.

They decided it was the right thing to do after seeing the widely circulated photo of three-year-old Alan Kurdi drowned on a Turkish beach. “It really humanized the crisis,” Jackson said. “It made me think about the horrific choice that no family should have to make.”

Jackson and Yousefian raised $17,500. They are $10,000 away from having enough to sponsor a Syrian refugee family, and continue to accept donations under their names through the Ryerson Lifeline Syria website.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 25, 2015.

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