Full house

A Kiwanis property provides decades of shelter to those in need.

Story by Lori Roberts • Photos by Michelle Gibson

A single-family home near the heart of Kitchener, Ontario, has a history of serving as a place of refuge. Now, it’s become a home for Syrian refugees, thanks to the efforts of the Kiwanis Club of Kitchener-Waterloo and other organizations.

The story starts in the mid-1980s, when the Kiwanis Club of Kitchener-Waterloo purchased the home as a place for troubled youth who had nowhere else to go. Members partnered with Kitchener’s House of Friendship to offer support and counseling services, and the house became known as the Kiwanis House.

In the early 2000s, the Kiwanis club gifted the entire home to the House of Friendship, but members stayed involved with the house and its programs. 

When the youth services program no longer was financially sustainable, the home once again needed a purpose, along with numerous renovations.

Enter Reception House Waterloo Region, an organization that works with refugees. Reception House needed a home for a large family. The Kiwanis House had six bedrooms. An agreement was made. House of Friendship turned the home over to Reception House. The Kiwanis Club of Kitchener-Waterloo paid to renovate a bathroom, something a family would appreciate.


Together, the Kiwanis Club of Kitchener-Waterloo, House of Friendship and Reception House welcomed a family of seven who recently had arrived from Syria. Saleh Al Nasser and Awach Ahmad and their five children fled Aleppo in 2012, living in a refugee camp near Beirut for four years before coming to Canada. For the first three months, the family lived in a Howard Johnson hotel, but then Reception House connected them with the Kiwanis House. Now the children have their own bedrooms and return to a comforting home each day after attending school.

“I am so grateful to have an affordable house that gives us the peace of mind that we lost for many years,” Al Nasser says. “I would like to thank everyone who helped me and my family since our arrival in Kitchener. I am looking forward to learning English and helping the community.”

With 20 members, the Kiwanis club is small, but it’s mighty.

Explains member Shelley Des Cotes, “This gives us a chance to find a need and fulfill that need.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2019 issue of Kiwanis magazine.


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