Justin Di Ciano

Project Hope gets big boost

  • November 13, 2015

TORONTO - Money, memory and many hands are all being assembled to help Toronto get ready to help Syrian refugees when they arrive. With a big assist from one anonymous donor, Toronto city councillor Justin Di Ciano is well on his way to providing $500,000 to help the Archdiocese of Toronto’s Project Hope reach its $3-million fundraising goal by Dec. 15.

Di Ciano took to the airwaves in an Oct. 29 CBC radio interview to pledge $30,000 of his own money and challenge the south Etobicoke ward he represents to raise $250,000 for the archdiocese’s plan to sponsor 100 refugee families from Syria. Di Ciano was shocked the next day with a call from a single donor pledging the entire amount.

“I was certainly surprised by the first, initial gift. I thought it was incredible that someone within 24 hours donated $250,000,” Di Ciano told The Catholic Register.

With that anonymous donation in place, the Etobicoke-Lakeshore councillor immediately upped his fundraising goal to $500,000.

So far Project Hope has raised $2.4 million with just over a month to go before reaching its deadline. The money raised will go to financing additional refugee sponsorships to be managed by ORAT, the Office for Refugees Archdiocese of Toronto.

Before committing to raise funds for Project Hope, Di Ciano went looking at a variety of agencies and charities involved in refugee sponsorship, but came to the conclusion the Catholic agency working directly with the federal government was his best option.

“Ten minutes into the conversation I realized what a powerful force they were,” he said. “You are dealing with a top notch organization here that’s got the experience, the will, the know-how.”

Di Ciano hasn’t faced skepticism over the religious affiliation of ORAT. Most people understand perfectly well that ORAT is bringing refugees to Canada based on need, not religious affiliation, he said.

“It’s not a religious thing. It’s not an ideological thing. It’s a humanitarian thing,” Di Ciano said.

He isn’t alone among Toronto politicians working on bringing refugees to the city. In October Toronto City Council voted 42-1, Councillor Rob Ford casting the dissenting vote, to budget $600,000 to support Syrian refugees. The city is also asking for additional federal support for affordable housing, social assistance and child care associated with helping refugees.

“Councillor Di Ciano has done a tremendous job with his leadership on this issue and we want to find the best way to support his goals and maximize community contributions for Project Hope,” said archdiocesan spokesman Neil MacCarthy in an e-mail.

With the financial goal of Project Hope well within sight, the focus now shifts to organizing 100 volunteer committees willing and ready to smooth the path of refugees once they arrive in the city. The volunteer committees of six to 10 people will be responsible for helping refugees move into a new apartment, register their kids for school, find English classes, make it to doctors’ appointments and learn their way around the city on the TTC among other things.

Di Ciano is convinced that the news images of refugees risking their lives and families in search of safety and a better life are not just another fast-fading headline. The image of three-year-old Alan Kurdi dead on a beach is not the sort of thing people just forget, he said.

“Things fade. But I’m going to make sure I do everything in my power to not allow it to fade. Because this is too important.”

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