When Doris Smith learned that the Ottawa Community Foundation had established a special fund to support refugees from Syria, she leapt at the chance to make a generous donation in support of the cause. This was on top of her ongoing support of local arts initiatives through the field-of-interest fund she’s had with the Foundation for more than 20 years, and was the result of how closely she can relate to the plight of refugees seeking asylum from war-torn countries.
Doris knows exactly how it feels to run for your life…to lose your home…to head into the unknown. And, finally, to be welcomed with kindness and safe refuge by strangers in another land. Doris arrived in Canada as a “displaced person” in 1947 after escaping the Soviet occupation of Northern Europe during World War II. She had left her homeland of Estonia behind three years earlier, carrying only a few belongings and very little in the way of English language skills along with her.
After a series of harrowing adventures across Eastern Europe, Doris finally arrived in Canada at the age of 22, settling in Montreal and working as a housemaid, caregiver and mother’s helper in the homes of several families. It was here that Doris embarked on a brand new journey that led her to earn a Master of Arts degree at McGill University and begin a whole new life. “What struck me most when I arrived in Canada was the kindness of the people,” says Doris. “I could not have succeeded without the years of material and moral support I received from both the institutions and so many generous people I encountered along the way.”
After getting married and moving to Ottawa to raise a family, Doris found her way to start giving back to the community she now called home, as both a volunteer, as well as a budding philanthropist. In fact, it was her early volunteer experience as President of the Friends of the National Gallery that introduced Doris to the world of fundraising, and ultimately, to the Ottawa Community Foundation. “By 1993 I had become a professional fundraiser and was aware of developments in fundraising campaigns, as well as sources of funds in and around Ottawa. The Community Foundation seemed like a good fit with my needs when the time came for me to begin making charitable donations of my own. ”
Despite her own knowledge and passion for the arts, Doris appreciates the freedom of being able to rely on the Foundation’s expertise in knowing how best to use her funds to support the most worthy projects at any given time. “I chose to establish a field-of-interest fund because, while my interest in a particular field was quite strong, I trusted the CFO to be much more knowledgeable about current needs and opportunities in the community than I could ever be. I can be sure that the recipients of the annual grants have been carefully chosen and deserve the support they receive from the Foundation.”
It was also the Community Foundation she turned to when she wanted to respond to the desperate plight of the refugees trying to escape Syria. “The Foundation was the first group in Ottawa I was aware of that offered a program to help refugees financially,” she said. “The new arrivals will need warm clothes, shelter, an allowance, language training and a place where they can meet with fellow refugees regularly and in comfort. They need to be made to feel welcome.”
“Refugees are a huge asset to Ottawa. As they become integrated into society, they add new talent, variety and drive to the population. On the one hand, I hope that a diplomatic solution can be found for the horrible situation in Syria, and soon. On the other, I almost hope enough of them stay here to enrich the mix of peoples who make up modern Canada.”
For those of us at the Community Foundation, we feel particularly grateful and all the richer for the presence and generosity of Doris Smith, proud Canadian citizen and caring community champion.