Brian and Philomena Logel recipients of IODE Citizenship Award

March 10, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

A local couple who were instrumental in welcoming Orangeville’s first refugee family to the community in 2015 have been honoured for their “selflessness and generosity” in helping to provide a new life for a family of four Syrian evacuees.

Brian and Philomena Logel have a lengthy history when it comes to helping people. Following a successful 45-year teaching career, which saw the pair work for various school boards across Ontario and Quebec before establishing and running The Maples Independent Country School (now the Maples Academy), the Logels have found themselves heavily involved in Orangeville’s volunteering community in recent times.

It was this involvement that brought the couple to the attention of the Lord Dufferin IODE (Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire), the women’s charitable organization with more than 110 years of history in Orangeville. Each year, the group scours the community for a worthy recipient of its prestigious Citizenship Award. Typically handed out to one deserving member of the public, the group made a special exception this year upon hearing the Logels’ story.

“In all the years that we have offered this award, we’ve been on the lookout for that special someone that goes above and beyond the call of duty to help out in our community – this year, we were in the position where we had two incredibly worthy candidates,” Lord Dufferin IODE member Dori Ebel told the Citizen. “Brian and Philomena’s name came up quite frequently and so we thought it would be fitting to present this award to the both of them.”

She added, “They were the perfect team as they welcomed in Orangeville’s first refugee family. I can’t think of two more deserving people to receive this award.”

Speaking to the Citizen following the official presentation of the award at the Lord Dufferin Centre on Feb. 28, the Logels recounted the story of how they became involved in bringing the Alhajalis family – made up of husband Emad, wife Razan and two children, Fatma and Mohammad – to Orangeville.

“It all started back in late 2014 when a long-time local committee – the Headwaters Refugee Sponsorship committee – were approached and asked to sponsor a Syrian family,” Mr. Logel said. “Back in 2007, the group was involved in bringing an Iraqi family into the community. Unfortunately, the committee wasn’t in a position to help out this time around.”

Having followed the disturbing stories stemming from the prolonged civil war in the middle eastern nation, Mr. Logel said it wasn’t an option for him and Philomena – an immigrant herself – to simply sit back and watch.

“I have a really hard time (containing my emotions) when thinking about these people and these families overseas. When we see these things, we always say, what if that were us,” Mr. Logel said.

“We’ve all seen the little boy on the beach. We have grandchildren of our own, so that sort of thing really hits us hard. It does make you wonder ‘what if that were us’, so we decided we needed to do something,” Mrs. Logel said. “This was our opportunity to open up our home and help this family.”

Mr. Logel subsequently volunteered to chair the project, with help from the group’s co-sponsor, Westminster United Church. The family quickly gathered all the necessary paperwork and launched several community fundraisers to prove they could finance a family of four, before sending their application off to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The entire process took less than 12 months, as the Alhajalis arrived in Orangeville just in time for Christmas. They officially became Canadian residents on December 14, 2015.

With Emad now working full-time at Honda  in Alliston and Razan working hard on her English skills in the hopes of re-obtaining her nursing licence, the family has planted some real roots right in Orangeville. The family has been bolstered further by the arrival of Emad’s brother and his family, who arrived in late 2016.

“They’ve done incredibly well acclimatizing to Canadian culture and society. We’re amazed with the way they’ve adapted to everything,” Mr. Logel said. “Their kids are enrolled in school, both Emad and Razan have taken extensive English classes – it’s been fantastic watching them integrate into our community.”

Mrs. Logel added, “To put it into their words, they say they couldn’t have found a better community to move into. People may look at this and think Brian and I have done a great thing helping this family come to Canada, but the way I see it, we’re the lucky ones. This whole process has enabled us to add to our family.”

While both Brian and Philomena indicated they were proud to receive such a prestigious award, they were equally keen to point out that they did not do this alone.

“I think of us as the catalysts – we got this thing started, but since then we’ve had so much help from people in the community. Orangeville has been incredibly generous. There’s no way we could have done all of this ourselves,” Mrs. Logel said.

And that belief is exactly why the Logels have committed to helping anyone involved in bringing refugees into Canada. The couple is currently assisting First Line for Syria – a Mono-based group that is helping a Syrian refugee currently based in Brampton acclimatize to Canada.

“We will always be here. The different refugee groups in the community will always be here,” Mrs. Logel said. “Even though we were only on the hook to help out our family for a year, we’ll always be there, and that goes for everyone. Whether it’s advising or helping in other ways, we’re here to help these people.”

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