Community Builders of the Year 2020
Gwen Madiba has dedicated countless hours to assisting vulnerable people in our community. She launched the International Students Emergency Relief Fund when COVID-19 hit to assist students in need and actively advocated to MPs and other members of government on behalf of international students. This advocacy led to the government’s inclusion of international students in its emergency response. Gwen also developed a food program to ensure international students would have access to free food during the pandemic. On top of those efforts she also volunteers with Meals For Hope, and coordinates with multiple organizations such as Catholic Centre for Immigrants, IKEA, and the Ottawa Police Hoopstars to ensure families in need have access to food and home supplies. At Meals for Hope she single handedly raised over $10,000 to ensure the organization could make their programming as accessible as possible during COVID-19. She is a dedicated and passionate community member who constantly seeks to help the most marginalized break through barriers that cause distress in their lives. Learn more about Gwen.
At just 17 years old, Nicholas Scott has already been volunteering in his community for over 2 years and is a strong advocate for seniors and people living in long-term care facilities. Nicholas works hard to provide companionship and care to those who need it most. Through his work at the Hillel Lodge long-term care facility, the Duke of Devonshire Retirement Residence, and Olde Forge Community Resource Centre, Nicholas is able to put a smile on the faces of many. When COVID-19 hit Nicholas sought out creative ways to keep the spirits of seniors up. To keep them engaged Nicholas started creating trivia kits and activities for seniors, leading joke and storytelling sessions, calling folks regularly to check in and chat, and—his specialty—recording personal concerts with his clarinet for them to enjoy. As the weather warmed up during summer Nicholas started concerts for seniors in his community as well. Nicholas had made his community a measurably better place. Learn more about Nicholas.
Joe Thottungal is not only the talented and award-winning chef behind Ottawa’s Coconut Lagoon and Thali restaurants but also an inspiring leader in his community, who always encourages others to make a difference and leads by example. During COVID-19, Joe has dedicated Thali’s kitchen to making food for families who are housing insecure and struggling to make ends meet in the midst of a pandemic. Joe along with his team of many volunteers have donated hours of their time and hundreds of resources to serve more than 1,800 hot meals a week. Together, the team has prepared more than 20,000 free meals for people in need. Kickstarting the project, ingredients for these meals were supplied by the Food for Thought Net-Café, a community resource and meeting space that supports local residents in Ottawa’s Carlington neighbourhood. Joe has continued to do this work even after a fire damaged Coconut Lagoon a few weeks ago. He has remained a dedicated member of his community despite the devastation and in the best way he knows how—through food. Learn more about Joe.
Charlotte Smith is a former addict and homeless youth that has used her lived experience powerfully and without apology as a platform to uplift and support youth experiencing similar circumstances. As a Masters student in Sociology at Carleton University she has developed a support network for youth she meets through her M.A. thesis research and provides them with her contact information for anything they may need assistance with in the future. In the wake of COVID-19 Charlotte and her peers knew the importance of taking care of the most vulnerable youth. Throughout the past few months, Charlotte has delivered donated phones and tablets, basic necessities, cigarettes for those coping with withdrawal, and many other items to homeless youth. These items help keep them as healthy and connected as possible through the pandemic. Charlotte is also a strong advocate for Operation Come Home, a drop-in centre for youth experiencing homelessness. She has helped advocate for personal protective equipment for staff and volunteers of Operation Come Home and was also offered a donation from the organization for her grassroots efforts. With the help of Charlotte, fewer vulnerable youth are falling through the cracks during COVID-19. Learn more about Charlotte.
Christina Ranieri has worked tirelessly through COVID-19 to deliver food to over 300 people who were afraid or could not risk leaving their homes due to illness or disability. Christina would personally clean every item that was bought or donated to her and then package it up safely for delivery. Then she would head out to hand deliver food packages to people with disabilities or those experiencing homelessness. Christina has also been delivering protective equipment like masks, hand sanitizer, emergency blankets and more to people who need these resources in order to attend critical health appointments, and has helped prepare “go bags” containing individuals’ personal and medical essentials in case of hospitalization. Christina is a long-time volunteer, advocate, and leader for people with developmental and physical disabilities, both as a consultant and through charitable organizations such as Ability First Ottawa, where she is also the Executive Director and Board President. Through her various efforts Christina is helping to alleviate the toll that COVID-19 has had on our most vulnerable communities. Learn more about Christina.
Michelle Fleming works as a Knowledge Broker at the Ontario Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care at Bruyère, where she is responsible for finding the best tangible ways to implement long-term care and seniors-based research. When the pandemic hit, Michelle saw first-hand the effect it had on clients and colleagues. As someone who works closely with long-term care home residents and their support workers, she immediately sought out ways to help lighten the effects of COVID-19. To boost morale and provide support, Michelle’s initiative, Kid Art with Heart, asks children all across the city to draw uplifting and encouraging art for patients and employees of long-term care homes. Thanks to Michelles work, isolated seniors and hardworking frontline workers across Ottawa can feel cared for and thought of during a time of crisis. Her hardwork has left many people smiling in situations where they might have suffered otherwise. Learn more about Michelle.
During a pandemic, it is more important than ever to ensure that our communities feel supported and taken care of—something Danika Brisson is very familiar with. As one of the primary organizers for Overbrook Community Cares, she has helped to fill the gaps for vulnerable neighbours in accessing essential services all across her community. She is dedicated to ensuring no community member falls through the cracks and works thoughtfully to ensure her communities needs are met. Danika and her team have provided many services for the Overbrook community, from food and household goods deliveries to loneliness supports for anxious neighbours and seniors with disabilities. She has spent countless hours on the phone with vulnerable community members, listening to their needs and figuring out ways to best serve them. Danika is committed to battling issues such as ableism, ageism, and poverty and has made herself a connector, facilitator and developer for her local community—she is a true light. Learn more about Danika.
Nathalie Maione has been serving her community for over 15 years through her grass-roots organization, Helping with Furniture (HWF). Now her small organization has grown to over 200 volunteers all helping to ensure families have the furniture and supplies they need to make their house a home. Unfortunately, COVID-19 changed the way in which Nathalie operates HWF and she was forced to halt operations with volunteers in mid-March. Determined to continue delivering furniture to families who need it most during this time, Nathalie continued operations solo—driving a Penske truck every week to collect donations and store them in the HWF warehouse. Since she can’t deliver furniture without volunteers, she has come up with a new system where families come to HWF and pick up their items with borrowed transportation, sometimes making up to 5 trips to fit it all. Her belief is that everyone deserves a furnished home, and her devotion to vulnerable people in her community is extraordinary. She has worked tirelessly both before and during the pandemic to make homes all across Ottawa safe and comfortable spaces for the cities most vulnerable. Learn more about Nathalie.
Mélanie Stafford is a thought leader in our community, and she conceptualized the Overbrook Community Cares project to protect the most vulnerable in her community. Working closely with Danika, this project brings neighbours together to help support one another, and Mélanie does the labour-intensive work of connecting with community members to understand their perspective and uplift them. As the conceptual leader for Overbrook Community Care, Mélanie has produced the media material, arranged program logistics, and worked tirelessly to get the project off the ground. Mélanie has a community first approach and always scopes a project beforehand to ensure that no inadvertent harm is being done to the community. She has a clear understanding of help versus hinder and continues to make her community a top priority. Since the start of the pandemic—thanks to her hard work and dedication, hundreds of people in her community have received weekly meal and grocery deliveries, phone calls from neighbours if they are sick or isolated, and assistance with financial aid applications. Learn more about Mélanie.
In response to the escalated need during the pandemic, Linda Cruz has increased her involvement with the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region where she diligently takes hundreds of distress calls from community members all across the Ottawa region that are struggling to cope in these unprecedented circumstances. Since the start of COVID-19, the need for mental health services and support has grown. One in five Canadians will be affected by a mental health crisis at some point in their lives and those numbers have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, making crisis lines and system navigation services more important now than ever. Linda felt a responsibility to step up for her community—recognizing that some of the existing volunteers wouldn’t be able to take shifts because of family obligations, health concerns, or other circumstances. As a volunteering veteran with over 10 years of volunteer experience under her belt, Linda is a leader within her team at the centre and is responsible for answering direct calls. Thanks to volunteers like Linda, people across our region are feeling secure and safe, knowing where they can turn when they need resources, support, or just a kind and friendly voice to listen. Learn more about Linda.
Sylvain De Margerie
Sylvain de Margerie has volunteered in his community for more than 10 years and is a relentless advocate for his community. Back in 2018, Sylvain approached the Carlington Community Health Centre for his idea to create an internet cafe at the Bellevue Community Centre, to foster community cohesion and provide internet services for local youth and families. After almost a year of operation, the café has proven successful amongst community members, volunteers, and staff alike, and efforts are now underway to keep it running. But, when COVID-19 hit, Sylvain knew the cafe had to close, however, still wanting to find a way to support his community, Sylvain his team were able to repurpose food used for the Food For Thought net-cafe to feed residents of the Travelodge Hotel, which housed a number of families requiring shelter services. With the success of this endeavor, Sylvain approached the Community Foundation of Ottawa and asked for the funds for the cafe to be redirected to support their COVID-19 response, allowing the team to pivot and continue to provide meals for those in need. With his team’s support, Sylvain has delivered more than 65,000 hot meals to people in need across the city. Sylvain and his team have demonstrated their adaptability in the face of crisis in order to serve the city’s most vulnerable. Learn more about Sylvain.
Allison Brown has been an extremely active volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross and Girl Guides of Canada for many years and has doubled her efforts with both organizations with the on-set of the pandemic. She is an Emergency Response Team Supervisor and Digital Volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross and a Unit Guider and facilitator for the Leading of Lones program with the Girl Guides of Canada. In her volunteer role at Canadian Red Cross, Allison monitors social media channels to assist people experiencing emergency situations to ensure they receive the help they need. She also drafts educational articles and social media copy that provides updated and reliable information about emergency preparedness and safety in a COVID-19 world. With Girl Guides of Canada, Allison participates in the Leading Lones program—a remote/virtual unit that brings Guiding to girls who may be unable to access regular meetings due to illness or other circumstances. Allison has given a great deal of herself to help others in this challenging time, and has been a great role model and community supporter for the youth and adults she volunteers with. Learn more about Allison.
When COVID-19 hit, Arielle Contreras looked for ways to combat the social isolation many seniors in her Ottawa community were feeling. To meet those needs, Arielle developed Letters to Elders, a program she runs and organizes all by herself. The program collects letters from local community members and Arielle hand delivers them to seniors living in long-term care facilities in Ottawa. She coordinates with four specific long-term care homes and has letter writers take pictures of their letters and then send them to her for distribution. Arielle has received an overwhelming positive response from the local community with more than 90 letters delivered to date! Not only does Arielle’s program help the seniors who receive them, it’s also provided people in our region who are looking for a way to give back to share love and kindness at a time of great uncertainty. She is passionate and dedicated to inclusion of all community members and thanks to Arielle, countless seniors across Ottawa don’t have to feel as though they are alone. Learn more about Arielle.
Claire Marshall has been an integral part of Ottawa’s volunteering community since 2008 when she joined Volunteer Ottawa. A skilled public speaker, Claire has given many presentations on the subject of volunteering, often drawing on her own experiences both locally and abroad. She has mentored many Volunteer Ottawa staff and volunteers and has even provided presentations to diplomats and their families— inspiring them to give back to their community while living in Ottawa. Claire has also volunteered with OrKidstra, where she joined the board in 2010. Claire has worked tirelessly to help the program grow—now reaching almost 600 children. Claire also plays an important role on financial, governance, communications, and human resource committees. Her guidance has helped the organization flourish, and has in large part led them to where they are today. Claire demonstrates unconditional generosity and passion for her community time and time again, and her accomplishments show she truly makes a difference in the lives of others. Learn more about Claire.
Mashooda Syed’s volunteerism in Ottawa began in 1982, the year after she arrived in Canada from England. During her 38 years of dedicated community involvement, Mashooda has supported her community with educational fundraisers, food-raisers, civic engagement, celebrations of women empowerment, and one-on-one guidance to individuals during times of crisis. Mashooda is an active member of the United Muslim Organization of Ottawa-Gatineau (UMO-OG), a member of the Parents’ Committee at Ashbury College, and she has been a volunteer with the Ottawa Food Bank since 2018. When COVID-19 hit, Mashooda felt immediately compelled to help. In collaboration with the UMO-OG and the Ottawa Food Bank, Mashooda set up a home delivery program that brought free food hampers to the doorsteps of food bank clients in Ottawa. The City of Ottawa’s Human Needs Task Force also worked with Mashooda to help deliver food to at-risk residents who were unable to leave their homes. Learn more about Mashooda.
Mante Molepo has served on Amnesty International Canada’s Board of Directors since 2019. As part of the Gender and Diversity Action Plan Working Group and the Strategic Planning Committee, she advances equity, diversity and inclusion at Amnesty International—but also in the broader community. In 2009, Mante founded Ottawa Young Black Professionals—organizing networking events and mentoring opportunities. In 2016 she knew she had to take action when her children faced incidents of racism in the school system—that’s when she founded Parents for Diversity. Through Parents for Diversity, Mante advises school boards on human rights, equity, diversity and inclusion in education. She delivers monthly workshops, webinars and lectures to schools, communities and families to build safer and more inclusive learning environments. Mante also sits on the Board of Directors at Parkdale Food Centre. Here, she advises on how the Centre can provide food-insecure people with healthy and sustainable food in a manner that is equitable and inclusive. Learn more about Mante.
As a new Canadian, working within the time constraints of other full-time commitments, Sergiana Freitas still found time to volunteer just shortly after she moved to Ottawa from Brazil. She started volunteering as a technology mentor with Connected Canadians, helping seniors learn digital literacy to reduce their social isolation. Two years later and she has since transitioned to a coordinator role with Connected Canadians, taking on even more responsibility in a time when virtual connections are more important than ever. In her new role, she continues to prove her tireless dedication to her community, often working long hours, getting up incredibly early, and staying up late into the night—all to ensure seniors have the technological assistance they need, and other volunteers are supported. When COVID-19 hit, Connected Canadians received an influx of calls from people seeking technological assistance. Sergiana again stepped up to recruit more volunteers to meet the increased need, even mentoring many of them herself. Learn more about Sergiana.
Rose Leblanc has given hours of her time to multiple community organizations. During her career in the public service, Rose was a dedicated United Way volunteer. She has also shared her time with organizations such as The Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ottawa and Friends of Serviam. Rose uses her talent for crafting to create breathtaking quilts that she donates to silent auctions and other charity fundraisers. She is known throughout her community for these beautiful pieces of work. During COVID-19, Rose took her love of crafting and dedication to community to the next level—hand sewing thousands of masks for front-line workers and coordinating groups of volunteers to sew masks as well. She has devoted her time and her supplies to helping people all across her community who need access to personal protective equipment during the pandemic. Thanks to her work, more front-line workers now have the equipment they need to take care of their neighbours. Rose has been hand-crafting a stronger community for years, but she took her skills to the next level during a time of increased need. Learn more about Rose.
Mary Gusella retired as Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2006 following an incredibly distinguished 36-year career in the Public Service of Canada. As a founding member and current chair of the LiveWorkPlay Federal Employment Strategy Group, who work with LiveWorkPlay employment staff to support the hiring and success of people with intellectual disabilities and autistic persons in federal government departments and agencies, Mary has found even more ways to give back to her community. Over the past five years, Mary has been dedicated to achieving greater inclusion and employment opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities. Mary has helped grow LiveWorkPlay’s relationship with the public service to more than 25 departments and over 100 hires and the employment model and partnership Mary has developed alongside her Federal Employment Strategy Group colleagues has been presented at local and national conferences. Learn more about Mary.