This week I had the opportunity to attend the United Way Ottawa Community Builder Awards Gala. This morning I woke up inspired and energized. We We heard stories about and speeches from nine inspiring community leaders who were recognized as community builders for the work they do to make Ottawa a better place.
Community Builder of the Year
The headline news is that Brian Murray, the General Manager of the Ottawa Senators was named the 2015 Community Builder of the Year for his contributions to the community and more specifically for his use of his platform in a public role to talk about his cancer diagnosis. He was introduced by Jonathan Pitre who thanked Murray for making him feel special. Murray spoke about the opportunities he had to be involved and the Senators’ players had to be involved in the Ottawa community. He said he had been raised in a house where they were taught Respect, Support and to Be Involved. A solid household mission statement if ever there was one.
Volunteer of the Year
Ottawa Lawyer Jane Bachynski was named the Volunteer of the Year for her work as the chair of Spark Ottawa. Spark brings together women in the community to support the objectives of the United Way. Jane gave a moving tribute to her mother who first got her involved with the United Way in Saskatchewan by taking her canvassing door-to-door for donations in the snow.
Belonging to Community Award
This award went to the organization Dress for Success Ottawa National Capital Region. Dress for Success is an international organization which collects donations of gently used women’s clothes and provide them to women seeking work so they have interview-appropriate clothing. The volunteers also provide interview preparation support to the same women along with the clothes. When the client is successful in securing a position Dress for Success provides them with a week’s worth of professional clothing so that she has enough to wear for work until she begins to receive a paycheque, Dress for Success has just served their 1000th client. I know from experience how much a positive impact it has on someone when they secure a new job after a period of un or underemployment. The support Dress for Success provides is so important and impacts not just the specific women who come for clothes. Their work also benefits the families of those women.
Turning Lives Around Award
The Alliance to End Homelessness Ottawa was given the award for Turning Lives Around. They said that their role was not to house the homeless, but rather to find homes for people who found themselves temporarily without a home of their own. They are a key part of the national campaign to house 20,000 people through the housing first strategy.
Growing Up Great
The next winners do work that is close to my heart and were really the reason I wanted to be at the event. Nancy MacNider & Cindy Simpson and the Executive Directors of St. Mary’s Home and the Youville Centre respectively. Together they provide services for young mums and dads to support them when they choose to parent instead of opting for adoption or abortion when dealing with an unintended pregnancy. As someone who was in that situation at 16 parenting was not the right choice for us, but it is so important to have resources to support those who do decide to parent. Being a new parent is challenging at the best of times. Being a teen parent brings additional challenges and some of the St. Mary’s and Youville clients come from challenging life circumstances that predate becoming parents.
At the gala they had laid out photos of babies on sticks at each place setting and they had us hold them all up to represent the children they have been able to help by supporting their parents and especially mums to get a better start as parents. Then we all sang Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star for the mums who had not grown up learning lullabies themselves to pass on to their kids. I was on the verge of tears and if they had dropped one more feels bomb on us I would have been done for. The work they do just touches me in so many ways and I was so glad to see their work recognized.
Community Impact Award
The Community Impact award went to Esri Canada, a geographic information systems company, for their work on the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study. The Neighbourhood Study is a tremendous resource for service planners in Ottawa. It enables providers and planners to dig into the details of a specific community in the city and determine whether it is being adequately served or if there are particular issues that need addressing in that area. I have accessed this data a number of times for work and I so appreciative of the work that has gone into developing this tool, which helps me to make a difference in precise ways.
Best Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service won the award for the best GoC Workplace Charitable Campaign. The beat their campaign goal by 20%. I’d like to tell you more about them, but it is a secret…
Actually the Assistant Director who accepted the award on behalf of the organization said a lot of nice things about the dedication and commitment of the people who work for CSIS. Due to the nature of their work they don’t get recognized of acknowledged in any public way for the work they do protecting our community and country. This award recognizes some of the contribution that they make.
United Way Ottawa Ambassador
Police Chief Charles Bordeleau was named the United Way Ottawa Ambassador. He joked that his assistant had told him to sit tight for a call that was coming in a few minutes. He pondered what could be so important that he needed to sit and wait. He wondered if it was his moment for the Prime Minister to call him and make him an ambassador or Senator as was the case with his predecessor Vern White. It turned out to be the CEO of the United Way calling to make him an ambassador. No cushy overseas posting with this one though. The chief, who everyone apparently calls Chuck, was very complementary to the men and women who serve as members of the police force and the work they do.
It wasn’t clear if we now have to refer to him as Ambassador or if Chief Chuck was still ok…
Raising Funds for Literacy
Throughout the evening the United Way was raising funds for a summer literacy program in one of the priority neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The goal was $15,000 and by 8:30 we were just shy of $14,000. You can donate at UWottawa.ca and support this program.
It is always so inspiring to hear the stories of people making a difference in their community. The above people are bit a tiny representation of the every day heroes making a difference in the lives of people in Ottawa. It left me thinking about how I can get involved. I have long been a volunteer or staff person in the nonprofit sector except for the past nine months after I finished a stint as an interim Executive Director in addition to my day job and now I’ve been focussing on building a couple of side businesses to help support my family. Those are important things that make a difference for my family. After last night my brain is shifting to thinking about what kind of contribution I can make to my community. I’m not sure that I actually have time to fit another thing on to my plate at the moment. I crave the involvement and opportunities to make a difference….
Thank you to Andrea Tomkins for the opportunity to attend this event as her guest.