Our Story

An upstairs property in downtown Kitchener laid vacant and waiting to be used for some noble purpose.  It belonged to Ray of Hope and Chester Vanhuizen knew just the right fit for this space.  Chester had been involved with Sudanese refugee arrivals and saw the need for a place that would provide a sense of safety and support to newcomers.  As director of Ray of Hope’s Oasis Drop-in Centre, he saw the potential, made the arrangements, and so, in June 2004, the work of Welcome Home began.

 

After a few discussions between International Teams (who would own the program) and Ray of Hope, there was a quick decision that using the property to house refugees was a mutually agreeable use of the space.  As so much more than just a landlord, Ray of Hope provided fair rent and services, recognizing the value of the new program.  Gord Skopnik, after many years of serving refugees in Europe, became the first Program Director and Barb Letho offered her support as a dedicated volunteer.

 

Gord and Barb were WH pioneers, but the house required live-in supervisors to truly make this new endeavor complete.  Lloyd and Christy Hipel, after living in Ecuador, became the first WH supervisors.  Their job was to befriend residents, supervise activities, deal with problems, and be a presence in the home.  Thanks to these founders, residents from Ethiopia, Colombia, Sudan, Pakistan, El Salvador, Cuba, and China had a place to call home in their first year in Canada.

 

WH is currently led by Sharon Schmidt, a passionate woman who guides the program with a rare depth of heart and strength of mind.  Sharon began working at WH with Gord in the fall of 2007, but when Gord decided to dedicate himself full-time to mission work with Sudan, Sharon was asked to step into the role of WH Director.  Over 200 refugees later,  the formerly vacant second floor home was bursting with life, laughter, and love.

 

A New Facility  

When Ray of Hope sold the building at the end of 2014, Welcome Home needed both a new location and a new ministry partner.  In October, 2015, the Ray of Hope Board of Directors agreed to launch Refugee Support Services, and officially adopt Welcome Home Refugee House as one of their programs.

A bright new corner in Welcome Home’s future was turned as a 15 room student housing complex in Waterloo was leased, renovated and re-purposed for refugee housing.  A Welcome Centre was added to create a common space where refugees and community volunteers could interact.  With the hiring of another round of interns to live in and provide support for each newly arrived refugee, the program celebrated a Grand Opening on Sept 17, 2016.

 

Media Reports:

The future is as bright as the promises of God.  (William Carey)