Today’s good people is … WOW. But then, all the good people I have found over the last two-and-a-half years since I started this feature are pretty awesome, from the youngest to the oldest. Today’s story is about a man who put his money where his heart is.
Meet Jim Estill of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Jim is the owner and CEO of a company that manufactures home appliances, Danby Products, Ltd.Although Canada has been much more welcoming of Middle-Eastern immigrants than most other countries, including the U.S., the bureaucratic wheels often seem to turn at a snail’s pace. The year was 2015, and Jim Estill was growing increasingly concerned watching the horrors of the Syrian civil war on television night after night. So many were seeking refuge from the violence, and yet the channels for asylum often seemed to be jammed. My own neighbors, who were refugees from Syria, were on the waiting list for a year-and-a-half before they were allowed into the U.S.
Jim decided to see what he could do.
Back in the 1970s, Canada introduced a program called Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program that was originally intended to help refugees fleeing from Vietnam at the height of the Vietnam War, but the program is still in existence today. Under the program, a private citizen may bring refugees to settle in Canada, but they must commit to covering the expenses of the new arrivals for the first year. As you can imagine, that could come to quite a bit of an expense: housing, food, utilities, clothing, medical care, transportation, education. But Jim was determined, and he began by bringing … wait for it … not one, not ten, but 50 Syrian families into the town of Guelph! More than 200 people!
Putting some up in his own house, he also rallied church groups and 800 volunteers across the city, and worked closely with the local Islamic society. People provided spare rooms, or helped find empty apartments, and the Salvation Army took the lead in collecting donated clothes to help the refugees stay warm during Canada’s cold winters. Meanwhile, Jim arranged for each Syrian family to have access to both English and Arabic mentors, so they could get their children enrolled in schools, start looking for jobs, get bank accounts, and all the other little things that are a part of relocating.
Initially, he gave 28 of the refugees jobs at his own company and provided the financial guarantees to enable them to set up shops in the city and launch other business ventures. As of today, Jim has helped sponsor some 89 families – more than 300 people!I’ll let Jim tell you a little bit about why he did what he did …
Hi, I’m Jim Estill. You’re likely here wanting to know more about the refugees and what we’re doing. I’ve written this to give you a little more information.
Since beginning this journey of bringing Syrian refugees to my hometown, Guelph Ontario Canada, the question I’ve been asked repeatedly is “why?” So, it is a question that I’ve naturally given a lot of thought.
Why choose to help this cause and not others? Why choose to go to all the trouble? Why choose to give so much time and money to people I’ve never met?
But that’s just it—it wasn’t a choice at all. The answer circles back to one of my personal mantras that has done me well in both business and life: Do the right thing.
I like to read. A lot. I read books, news articles, anything to further my own knowledge. Because of my unending curiousity, in 2015 I kept a close eye on what was happening in the Middle East and Syria. The stories and images broke my heart.It wasn’t a choice. I had the means and opportunity to help, so I did.
I like to start with the end in mind. Success is 50 families to safety. 50 families working, paying taxes and buying groceries where you and I buy them. 50 families speaking English and have some degree of integration. We are helping people through a hard time – not trying to keep them on charity. I have failed if any of them end up on welfare.
The process hasn’t been easy. Getting into this, I knew it would be difficult, but the biggest challenges were ones that none of us saw coming. Picking up 50 families and plunking them into a new country that is very unlike where they’re from, it isn’t hard to foresee some difficulties. Learning the language, adjusting to Canadian lifestyles, finding work. Not easy challenges, but manageable nonetheless.
No, the more difficult challenges were things like delays in the entrance process, maintaining volunteer interest while we waited for families. However, those difficulties pale in comparison to the hardest task of all: deciding which families to bring in. It is like playing God and it causes lost sleep.
The Syrians we bring in have been through a lot. They often have families in Canada. They have mentors and helpers to help them start to build a new life in Canada. They do need to help themselves though.
I love being the CEO of Danby (as well as being a mentor to all my side projects) and while it’s been tricky to accommodate everything, it’s been a true test of my time management abilities. Suffice to say, it has been a tough go. But as hard as it has been (and will continue to be), I wouldn’t change a single thing.
Many of the stories written have said that I have saved or rescued these people. I wouldn’t say I’ve saved anybody—all I set out to do was provide a way out and an opportunity for people that I saw were suffering. These families are now part of my community, and my life. If I can share a little bit of money and time to help a family to not only survive, but flourish, that sure sounds like the right thing to do.
For his work helping refugees, in March of this year Jim was awarded the Order of Canada, the country’s second-highest honour. Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette, who represents Queen Elizabeth II, said that he had shown “outstanding achievement, dedication to the community, and service to the nation”. I second that motion … I think Jim is most deserving of this honour, don’t you?