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Valley Welcome throws party in Eganville for Syrian refugee family

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

Scores of welcoming Eganvillians filed through the doors of Melville United Church on Sunday afternoon to attend a meet-and-greet of sorts organized by Valley Welcome, giving many people the chance to personally greet and welcome the family of Syrian refugees who moved into the area earlier this year.

"It's beautiful," says Valley Welcome co-founder Kilmeny Heron. "So many people have shown up. I had no idea how many people would show up. It was just a community-wide invitation, and it's been packed since one o'clock."

As any good celebration does, Sunday's gathering featured a huge spread of food and plenty of friendly fellowship, with the areas newest residents as the centrepieces for the party. Anyone observing the event out of context could have mistaken it for a receiving line following a particularly joyful wedding, with a line of well-wishers snaking around the room on the way to the guests of honour, who were also, in a way, the hosts of the party.

"I think they're a little bit in awe or perplexed as to why so many strangers would help complete strangers on the other side of the world," says Heron. "So this was their opportunity to be able to meet all these people, because they've formed a very close relationship with the committee, through all the work the committee has done with them, but they know that there are so many more people out there who have contributed, either financially or through donated goods, and this it their opportunity to meet them and say thank you."

With members of the Deep River Islamic Centre on hand to help with translation (none of the family members had any prior English language knowledge before arriving in Canada), Abdukadar Kneifati and the rest of his family greeted everyone with beaming smiles and warm handshakes, communicating their appreciation well enough even without it, but telling The Daily Observer that they are indeed still astounded by the warmth and hospitality of everyone who welcomed them to their new home.

From the matching smiles on the faces of everyone present, but especially the core group of Valley Welcome volunteers, the whole experience has been a boon for everyone involved, not just the newcomers.

"We just realize how fortunate we've been to be involved in it," says Heron, echoing a sentiment expressed repeatedly by all involved in the project, "because it's made all of our lives much richer. It's been really wonderful. They're a wonderful family."

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