Young residents of the New Hope apartment building in Whalley sing O Canada.

Young residents of the New Hope apartment building in Whalley sing O Canada.

VIDEO: Building hope for refugees

New Hope Community Services Society celebrates a year in Surrey helping refugees.

Residents of an apartment building in Whalley came together last Saturday to celebrate.

With cake, cookies and a keyboard-accompanied singing of O Canada, the families crowded the lobby of 13478 Hilton Road to give thanks to New Hope Community Services Society (NHCSS) for giving them a fresh start and showing off Canadian generosity.

The building’s 10 short-term resident families are refugees from around the world – not just the Syrian Civil War that’s top of mind.

A further three Canadian families live in the building long-term, making for a total of about 50 people.

NHCSS Executive Director Jamey McDonald says the non-profit society’s motto “from paralysis to productivity” means that after a certain time, the families should be able to find their feet and live independently.

Above: New Hope residents Rahele Rashedi and her daughter Melane, 2. Their family of seven immigrated from Congo six months ago.

New Hope’s mandate is to provide housing, while its partners and volunteers assist with language, job and “soft skills” such as shopping and transportation.

“There’s literally hundreds of volunteer hours every month put into this place by people trying to keep it going,” says McDonald. “We couldn’t afford it if we had to pay everybody.”

It’s expected residents will stay for 12 to 24 months before they’re ready to move on.

“It depends on whether they have a job or another place to live,” says NHCSS founder Jack Taylor. “Our job is to get them to transition, so they get stabilized with language, job, and then we start looking for (permanent) housing.”

A few families have already left the nest.

“In the past year, we’ve seen 16 families move through this building,” says McDonald. “There are go-go refugees and slow-go refugees and struggle-to-go refugees, just like human beings.”

“The integration relative to language seems to be pretty good already,” noted visitor Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner, who mingled with the families on Saturday.

Addressing the crowd, she brought up upcoming St. Valentine’s Day and its theme of love.

“In the world that we’re living in, with the kind of xenophobia we see, to have you all here gathered together and to see your beautiful, beautiful children, is a great joy for me.”

Floor manager Jamila Qazi, herself an immigrant from Pakistan, says when families are able to move on, they’re welcome to take their furniture with them – churches are ready with more donations to the New Hope building.

The building, purchased in early 2016, has both one and two-bedroom units.

The society, founded in 2004 in East Vancouver before moving to Surrey last year, has assisted more than 450 refugees over the years.

All of its operations are funded by donations, both corporate and private.

New Hope is open to receive families of all religions, ethnicities and identities.

New Hope continues to seek donations and volunteers to assist with English tutoring, yard maintenance, hosting community meals and teaching families “soft skills,” including shopping, transportation and accessing the education and health care systems.

“What we’re trying to do here is provide safe, clean, affordable housing to help refugees get on their feet,” says McDonald. “We’re a success not when they come here but when they leave us. And we are sad to see families go, but we celebrate every inch of it.”

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Below: Refugee kids sing O Canada at the New Hope apartment.