As a refugee support center, the FCJ Refugee Centre has helped refugees in York for a quarter-century. For many years, FCJ Refugee has been a safe place for refugees to call home. The centre has been providing services to refugees and other vulnerable immigrants and welcomes anyone seeking advice, counselling, or support related to these issues.
As a five-year-old, Elizabeth Carrillo arrived in Canada with her mother, who was pregnant with her son Brian at the time. The FCJ Refugee Centre became the family’s home.
“Someone from St. Joseph’s (Hospital) gave my mom the number of Loly Rico because we had nowhere else to go,” Carrillo said. “The program provided housing and helped my mother become more self-sufficient so that she could provide for me and my brother.”
They also made their first friends among people connected to the center in some way, in addition to finding shelter.
In York, newcomers in need of assistance have found a helping hand – indeed, a family – at the FCJ Refugee Centre for the past 25 years. On Sept. 22, the centre celebrated its 25th anniversary, and it continues to motivate the organization. The event attracted about 300 people, many of whom are former clients.
“All around me were people who we had touched in some way,” Rico said. “The celebration was beautiful.”
Rico and his wife Loly founded the centre in 1991, one year after coming to Canada from El Salvador. In those days, the couple only employed one part-time employee.
At present, the centre employs up to 10 full-time employees who help 3,500 to 5,000 clients annually. Over the years, clients have come from 110 countries, the majority of which are from Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. As diverse as the people themselves, so do their reasons for fleeing their homelands.
Rio said FCJ Refugee Centre clients tend to be the most vulnerable immigrants in York. Although the stories of each client are unique, there is one common thread they all have in common.
The centre is more than just a place for people to fill out and file the forms that are necessary to become permanent residents. Transitional housing is also available at the centre mainly for women who arrived alone or with children.
A maximum of 30 people can be accommodated in 24 bedrooms at the centre. The centre is currently run by four houses owned by the Faithful Companions of Jesus. Rico said there has been an effort on the part of the facility to help clients access education programs to achieve their goals of post-secondary education.
However, Rico said that the center will still do what it has always done – fulfill dreams by helping others.
In the case of Carrillo, she was very young at the time, but her experience at the centre inspired her to want to give back, something she was able to do while studying at Seneca College through an internship she completed with the center. Carrillo graduated from York University with a bachelor’s degree in social services and currently works as a social worker in York for senior citizens.
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