Hilde Schlosar retired from her post as executive director of the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society last month. She helped oversee the first wave of Syrian refugees get settled in Nanaimo.

Multicultural society leader prepares for quieter life

NANAIMO – Hilde Schlosar retires from organization after overseeing first wave of Syrian refugees.

After more than a decade of making the tough decisions, one Nanaimo executive can now relax a little.

Hilde Schlosar retired from her position as the executive director for the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society late last month.

Schlosar, who spent 13 years in the post and was responsible for overseeing the Syrian refugee effort in the city, told the News Bulletin she is sad to have left the society but happy to be retired.

“I am tired of being responsible for everything and everybody, honestly,” she said with a bit of a chuckle. “You have to think about your health.”

Schlosar was born in Germany and moved to Canada with her family at a young age. They settled in Alberta, where her father worked in the grocery industry.

“We lived in a little community in Calgary with all immigrants. I kind of had that immigrant experience,” she said. “I spoke German before I could speak English and … we ate different foods and had different customs like a lot of people here today.”

Schlosar eventually got into the family business herself, working her way up from cashier to managing her father’s IGA grocery store.

“I grew up as one of those kids who either lived in the back of the store or above the store,” she said. “I learned how to operate a till when I was 10 years old and my dad taught me how to make change.”

Although Schlosar enjoyed the business, she found her heart wasn’t totally into it and wanted a more meaningful career. She decided to get into the non-profit sector, first volunteering at a crisis help line and then working her way up to executive director for an Alberta-based suicide prevention organization.

“Just working to make money, I didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t feel satisfying,” she said. “But I knew that I learned a lot about business and I felt that the business model could apply very well to a non-profit.”

In 2003, Schlosar joined the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society as executive director. She helped grow the society from a tiny organization into one that now employees dozens of staff and has an annual budget of more than $1 million.

In her last year with the society, Schlosar oversaw the society’s efforts to help resettle dozens of private and government-sponsored refugees in Nanaimo.

“I was really grateful that I had that experience before my retirement,” she said. “It was a challenge but we did the best we could.”

Schlosar said she was surprised at how receptive and supportive so many people in Nanaimo have been during the ongoing refugee crisis.

“We were overwhelmed with donations,” she said. “We couldn’t even handle them all.”

With so many people stepping up, Schlosar said the challenging part wasn’t so much to do with resettling the refugees, but more to do with navigating the complexities of so many people wanting to help but not being fully aware of how to help in the right way.

“That at times was difficult for the staff because they would get calls from well-meaning volunteers deciding what should be done and through interpreters we would find this wasn’t what the family wanted or needed, but they didn’t want to say no because they were so grateful,” she said.

As another wave of refugees are expected to arrive in Nanaimo in the coming months, Schlosar believes the city has plenty of room for all the newcomers and needs them, adding that there is a strong economic case for resettling the Syrian refugees as most of them are young families.

Schlosar said she is proud of the staff at the society.

“It’s time for a quieter life,” she said.

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