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Guelph entrepreneur Jim Estill donating $1.5 million to sponsor 50 Syrian migrant families

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Guelph entrepreneur Jim Estill is donating money to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families expected to begin arriving in Guelph over the next two months. His financial sponsorship could reach $1.5 million.

ROB O’FLANAGAN / MERCURY STAFF

Guelph entrepreneur Jim Estill is donating money to sponsor 50 Syrian refugee families expected to begin arriving in Guelph over the next two months. His financial sponsorship could reach $1.5 million.

By: Rob O’Flanagan Guelph Mercury, Published on Thu Nov 26 2015

GUELPH — A major effort is underway to bring 50 Syrian refugee families to Guelph in the coming weeks, a community-wide operation involving several faith groups, businesses, and social agencies. The entire effort is being backed financially by one Guelph entrepreneur.

Jim Estill, president and chief executive officer of Danby, is donating the cash to support those 50 families in their first year of settlement. Sponsors of Syrian refugee families are required to have $25,000 to $30,000 per family ready to provide life essentials for an entire year. By this formula, Estill’s donation could total $1.5 million.

He confirmed his sponsorship on Tuesday, and said that supporting Syrian refugees is simply the right thing to do.

“This is not pure charity,” Estill said in a telephone interview. “You are not just giving people money. You’re setting them up to have a life.”

Estill, a former director of Research In Motion (BlackBerry), is well known for starting a highly successful technology distribution business, EMJ Data, from the trunk of his car, building it into a company with $350 million in sales before selling it to Synnex. He served as the chief executive of Synnex for nearly five years.

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A complex process has been ongoing over the past several weeks to formalize the sponsorships through government channels, and to bring several local contributors together to house, employ, feed and clothe the families once they arrive.

Families are expected to begin arriving within two months, Estill said. He has been orchestrating the effort, calling on business associates, friends, colleagues and agencies to put innumerable pieces in place to settle the families in the community.

Lakeside Church, the Salvation Army, the Roman Catholic community, the Muslim Society of Guelph, and Welcome In Drop-in Centre are just some of the local helpers in the effort. Estill said a broader call to action will be made as the arrival times are closer at hand.

Muhammed Sayyed is president of the Muslim Society of Guelph. He said Estill first expressed an interest in sponsoring 50 refugee families in September. Sayyed was astonished by the offer.

Work began immediately on the logistics of bringing as many as 300 refugees to Guelph, with Sayyed taking a lead role in the work to formalize the sponsorship agreements.

“I’m amazed at what the community is doing,” Sayyed said. “The response is phenomenal right now.”

Sayyed said organizers have access to profiles that give a brief description of the refugee families, and are able to choose from those profiles which families to sponsor. Over three million Syrians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries, while another 6.5 million are internally displaced.

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