Melissa Jones
Melissa Jones       Founder

With the 25,000 Syrian refugees recently settling in Canada, there is a huge need to help them integrate into society and make them feel welcome. Ontario alone has welcomed 11,400 refugees and rising – with a large percentage settling in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

My name is Melissa Jones – born and raised in Toronto. New Canadians are a big part of our thriving city, culture, and economy. After hearing the horror stories from the civil war in Syria, I was distraught and felt a sense of sadness and helplessness.  After meeting my first Syrian newcomer family in Toronto, wondering what they might have gone through to get here, my first reaction was that I was touched, and wanted to invite them over to dinner to welcome them to my city and country! That’s when the idea of free welcome dinners was formed.

The welcome dinners entail matching local residents in the GTA with a new Syrian individual, couple, or family over for dinner into their home. The dinners are not only about sharing a meal together and tasting local foods, but are designed to welcome newcomers to the city, and to learn about Canadian customs and culture in hopes that a long lasting relationship will develop and a sense of warmth and community is formed.

Sharing a meal together with family and friends has always been special to me. It’s where connection and sharing happens. And my goal, along with our other volunteers is to help make Syrian newcomers feel warmly welcomed in their new country.

IN THE MEDIA: “Syrian Welcome Dinners Connect Torontonians & Refugees” was featured in 9 metroland publications across the city.

Kassim Yassin Volunteer

I’m a Syrian citizen living and working in Saudi Arabia. I met Melissa through work that we do together and after learning about her Syrian newcomer initiative in Canada, I knew I wanted to get involved.  As a Syrian myself who escaped from the turmoil, it is heart warming to know that there are still people who care about what is going on in Syria, and work hard to support them in anyway without expecting anything in return.

As a volunteer for Syrian Welcome Dinners, I work on developing the website with the support of my colleagues and provide any translation or advice needed regarding Syrian traditions and culture.

Anis Nasr 

Toronto is a cultural mosaic. Vastly different cultures and people from around the world come here and coexist in equality. I moved to Toronto from Jordan over a decade ago and I consider myself privileged to be part of this community. The diversity and the harmony among us is the source of strength which drives this city forward, and it is people like Melissa who make this city a warmer and kinder place to live.

As an Arabic speaking communications facilitator, I help liaise with the Syrian families who sign up and are in the early stages of learning English. I currently work as a food inspector for the government of Canada, and as a previous newcomer myself, I would never have reached this point had it not been for the multitude of helping hands extended to me over they years. Melissa’s initiative reminds us all that it’s not us against the world; rather, it’s us and humanity walking hand in hand together.

Annie Sahagian Volunteer

I myself moved to Toronto from Syria in 2016 and I know all about the challenges faced with integrating and interacting in a new society and culture. Particularly if you don’t speak English well. I actually signed up for a Welcome Dinner and spent a lovely evening with a few Canadian families, sharing a wonderful meal together. I was inspired by this initiative and wanted to volunteer my services to act as a translator and communications facilitator at future Welcome Dinners as my English is quite strong. I know what Syrians have been through and I hope to help them further enjoy these Welcome Dinners by being there to help communicate if there are language barriers. My family and I immensely benefited from these dinners and I hope you will too!

Marwan Al-Shami Volunteer

Due to the nature of my job, I have lived in six Canadian cities in the last ten years alone. Something you learn again and again when you travel across this great country is how Canadians share the same attitude toward newcomers; they always welcome them with a big heart, warm smile, and a helping hand if needed.

Syrian Welcome Dinners is a great opportunity for Canadian families willing to make a refugee family from Syria feel at home. I am truly honored to contribute as a volunteer translator for such a great cause. 

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