Mykola and Roman 2022 in front of Schafer House © Courtesy of Titan Trailers
By Raye Mocioiu
Ukrainian refugee families have found a new home and a new start in Canada thanks to the work of Titan Trailers, an Ontario-based business that is combatting the refugee crisis and workforce shortage.
In 2015, Mike and Sandy Kloepfer, the owners of Titan Trailers, purchased a 65-hectare property on Schafer Side Road, once home to a tobacco research facility, and for a short time, to a firefighter training academy.
The Kloepfers saw an opportunity to solve two local problems in their rural township of Delhi, Ontario: the labour shortage and a need for more affordable housing. They also saw an opportunity to make a difference on a global scale.
They refurbished the facility into a seven-unit building, including a common room that doubles as a play area for children, a communal laundry room, and a greenhouse. Last August, the building, now known as Schafer House, opened, ready to welcome new residents.
Last February, when Russia’s war on Ukraine began, the Kloepfers knew that they wanted to do something to help—and realized they may have already done so. Ukrainians, they realized, would be remarkably well-suited to life in rural Canada—their land is similar, as are their weather patterns and overall climate.
“Mike is a long-term thinker and saw the opportunity to help refugees, the county, the province, the country, and Titan Trailers,” said Sandy. “I am the problem-solver who gathers the right people and ideas to execute Mike’s vision. Helping the Ukrainian families quickly was the biggest challenge. We soon had a great team of people to identify problems and find solutions. By connecting with many passionate local, provincial and federal players, we soon knew the best path forward.
A Win-Win Formula
Refugees are good for Canada, and Titan Trailer’s win-win formula is proof.
Sandy Kloepfer shared that this is the kind of project that encapsulates the role of businesses in social issues—and she hopes to see it repeated throughout Canada.
“I see the role of business in addressing social issues like the refugee crisis as an opportunity to think outside the box and find a way to help that fits into their budget and plans,” she shared. “Every business owner I speak to has the same major problem that hinders business growth—they need more employees that want to come to work every day.”
Statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) show that, over time, refugees make essential contributions to the country’s economy and communities. Not only do they benefit from safety in Canada, but they also embrace the opportunity to build a new life and contribute positively to their new home.
“Refugees come to this country with four major needs,” Sandy explained. “A safe place to live, an immediate place of employment, access to transportation and long-term access to language training. If we can provide these needs, they will soon be 100 per cent self-sufficient. Businesses are uniquely positioned to find solutions to these problems.”
Mike and Sandy have said that this project is a win-win scenario: businesses like theirs get skilled workers who are excited to work and start a life in Canada, and the workers get the support they need to make a new start in a new country—a leg up instead of a handout.
“Knowing that helping others can solve the labour shortage problem is a win-win for everyone,” said Sandy.
The Canadian Dream
For the Ukrainian families that have found a new home in Ontario, gratitude is plentiful.
“We are from the eastern part of Ukraine,” said Roman, who came to Canada with his wife Tetiana and son Vova. “Our hometown has been under occupation since 2014. We lived in those conditions for seven years, but we decided that it was time to leave everything and move on. We learned about Titan from friends when we were already in Canada and were looking for work. I sent an email, had an interview and got the job. In addition to the job, we made many new friends, making it less scary to start our lives all over again.”
Living in freedom and safety are feelings that many take for granted in a country like Canada. For Ukrainians, being free and knowing that their families have a chance to prosper in a safe place is everything. UNHCR statistics share that refugees work hard to thrive, join Canada’s middle class, and put down roots. Two out of three refugees in Canada become homeowners after 10 years, and refugee children perform as well in school as Canadian-born children.
Another of Titan’s employees, Iana, said: “I can’t imagine how many difficulties newcomers face when they have to do it on their own. We feel Mike and Sandy’s support at every step. We have plans and dreams for our future in Canada now.”
The Kloepfers shared that their community has shown incredible support for the project, from teachers offering to assist with English lessons, neighbours and business partners offering handmade quilts and tickets to local events, and even donations, which the newcomers have said they would prefer to have go to those in need in Ukraine.
Up to now, Titan Trailers has been spearheaded privately by Sandy, Mike, and their team. But Sandy shares that the need is immediate, and a long-term plan for success, both for newcomers and existing Canadians, will require support from the government.
“Many businesses may not have the means to provide housing due to the high cost and legislation required,” explained Sandy. “Canada has committed to allow Ukrainian refugees entry. They need places to live, and it is not fair to tap into the short supply that existing citizens are struggling with. If the government could come up with a plan to have long-term, interest-free loans to companies willing to invest in housing for new immigrants, it would benefit everyone. A safe and secure place for the families to live, access to great employees, and a steady stream of hardworking, tax-paying new Canadians building on our proud history of diversity and inclusion.”
“Ukrainians will do everything for the future of their children, and therefore, will be hard workers and good citizens,” said Iana. “You will never regret providing jobs for Ukrainian families!”
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