Kathy Vassilakos is a founding member of Stratford Welcomes Refugees. As a mom, a gardener, a cyclist, and as a scientist who holds a PHD in biochemistry from the University of Toronto, she is an active leader in the Stratford community with a very strong background in municipal politics.
For the last 8 years Kathy held a seat on Stratford City Council where she contributed her expertise to the Finance, Labour Relations, Heritage and Social Services Committees. She is someone who has come to be very well known and respected because of the many contributions she has made to this city.
In addition to serving on internal council committees, Kathy represented the City on community and advisory boards including: the Perth District Health Unit, the Active Transportation Advisory, Spruce Lodge, Stratford Perth Housing, Stratford Tourism Alliance, Gallery Stratford, the Stratford Chefs School, and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario Housing Taskforce.
As a board member and then vice-President of the Ontario Municipal Water Association, she has been involved with many projects including expansion of OMWA activities to On-the-Job Training and industry-specific information webinars, the promotion of Covid-19 Wastewater Surveillance, and she co-authored an OMWA position paper on the removal of lead from drinking water.
Kathy Vassilakos continues to be a driving force in Stratford Welcomes Refugees, a non-profit organization initially created in 2015 in response to the refugee crisis caused by the war in Syria. The first objective was to settle five Syrian families in Stratford. After that, a family from South Sudan and one from Somalia were welcomed to Stratford.
Now the members of these families are well-established in their new homes, working or attending school and many have become Canadian citizens. This is thanks to the generosity of Stratford and area donors, and to the involvement of the individuals who make up the sponsorship groups, which are responsible for supporting each family.
Because there is an ongoing need in the world for resettlement of refugees, Stratford Welcomes Refugees (SWR) restarted in 2022 and is continuing its work fund-raising and organizing new sponsorship groups – and providing advice and assistance to those groups as needed.
How does a family get to Stratford? If they have been displaced from their own country because of war or persecution, and it is not possible to return home, they can apply for refugee status with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). If they are accepted to come to Canada, there are two programs for settlement. The Government-Assisted Refugee (GAR) program funds qualifying families to settle in new communities.
In the second program option, theBlended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) – used by SWR – private sponsorship groups support refugees in starting their new lives in Canada by providing 6 months of financial support and 12 months of social, emotional and settlement assistance. The Government of Canada provides the other 6 months of financial support.
The current goal of SWR is to settle two refugee families per year. One sponsorship group has already been formed and is set to begin the process. Enough money has already been raised to fund that group’s efforts. Next, there is a need for more individuals to be part of the next sponsorship group.
There are lives to be saved and enriched through the sponsorship process. Those who has been involved know what a positive and life-changing experience it is to engage with a refugee family. The roles for volunteers include finding and furnishing accommodation, helping the family to navigate school and medical systems, as well as transit – and everything involved with adapting to an unfamiliar place and new culture. The objective is always for the new family to become independent.
Anyone interested in learning more about sponsorship or volunteering should get in touch with Stratford Welcomes Refugees through their website: