The St. Francis Xavier University community is celebrating a fundraising milestone a year ahead of their goal after receiving a $20,000 anonymous donation this week.
In 2015, students, faculty, alumni and the administration started working together to raise $100,000 to bring Syrian families to Antigonish. Their group, STFX for SAFE, did everything from collecting change to appealing for corporate donations.
On Thursday night, students were gathered to see some of the student leaders donate their long hair when the private donation was announced.
"It's been a long process so this is just outstanding," said Kristian Rasenberg, president of the fundraising group. "It means that people still care."
Campaign leaders had worried they were losing steam. Syrian arrivals have crawled to a halt, and the community's next sponsored family likely won't arrive until 2018.
"I think we all were concerned that the wind had gone out of our sails," said Norine Verberg, a professor at the university. "So I watched this group of young people really work hard to continue to raise the money, to meet the goals, with the goal of helping one or two more Syrians to escape living the life of a refugee."
She called it a great joy to reach the $100,000 mark.
"We're just all a part of this incredible change."
STFX for SAFE saw first hand how its efforts were making a difference. Two members of the first Syrian families to arrive in Antigonish, Majd Al Zhouri and Tareq Hadhad, quickly joined the group.
"I really wanted to help because I see these people helping us," said Al Zhouri, 21, who escaped Homs on foot as a teenager.
Since arriving in Canada last year, Al Zhouri has learned English, gone to high school for the first time, and just been accepted into the engineering program at St. FX this fall.
He also created a play with Brendan Ahern about his experience during the war.
"It was important for the community to hear the story to know what they have done for us," said Al Zhouri. "To know that every dollar they donate, it went [to] bring us from death to life again."
"Now when I hear something on the news and I see what's happening, I have a different perspective," said Ahern.
While the Antigonish community has six Syrian families, STFX for SAFE is still waiting for its sponsored families to arrive. The paperwork is underway for three families, but the new money means they can sponsor a few more Syrians.
Now that they've reached their initial goal, Rasenberg said they're going to start raising money for specific causes. One of the first, he said, will be to create a bursary for Syrian students and help them cover tuition.
Al Zhouri said university seemed impossible not long ago.
"It's been a dream since I was 12 years old, and it got interrupted because of the war. Now I have my dream back."