KITCHENER -- An executive at Kitchener-based tech company Bonfire has received one the country's highest civilian honours for a project to help newcomers enter the job market and rebuild their lives.

Omar Salaymeh was announced as a recipient of the civil division of the Governor General's Meritorious Service Medal on Friday.

He co-founded Jumpstart Refugee Talent in 2016, which was initially geared toward supporting Syrian newcomers. Since then it has grown to connect with more than 1,000 refugees of all backgrounds from across the country.

The initiative aims to help newcomers find work where they can best put their skills to use.

Since its inception the project has helped about 300 refugees find work in fields including finance, restaurants, and the tech sector.

“It aligns with their career ambitions, and not survival jobs,” said Salaymeh.

The initiative has helped people like Mohammed Hakmi find work. Hakmi has been employed at Bonfire for the past two years and said it’s been great for him, but also for his family in Lebanon.

“Now I can support them financially and as well maybe it’s an opportunity for them to come here to Canada as well to also contribute,” said Hakmi.

Salaymeh said he has a personal connection to his clients, explaining that his family fled Syria to come to Canada.

“When you’re trying to get the paperwork from a country that’s in turmoil, it’s even more difficult,” said Salaymeh.

Salaymeh notes that his father was lucky to have connections in Canada, and able to go back to school when he arrived.

“He immediately signed up for Conestoga College courses and started his recertification process here in Canada, but that still took some time,” said Salaymeh.

When it comes being one of 98 people to be named by the Office of the Secretary of the Governor General for their service to Canada, Salaymeh said he felt humbled.

“If this helps bring more light onto this cause, I feel good just because of that,” said Salaymeh.

The Jumpstart Refugee Talent program is currently taking place virtually due to pandemic restrictions.