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Community Builders: Making our communities great


While COVID-19 has changed the ways we gather, celebrate, and honour one another, it has not changed the way our neighbours step up to support each other in times of crisis.

From making essential grocery trips for immunocompromised neighbours, to making wellness phone call checks for seniors, to helping newcomer families access the support services they need—volunteers have come together now when we need them the most. 

Early in the summer, in collaboration with Apt613, we sent out a call for nominations to honour local volunteers who stepped up in this time of need. Together, we recognized five outstanding COVID Heroes with Community Builder Awards to honour the incredible work they did to support their communities and the most vulnerable people within them throughout the pandemic. In August, we chose to honour eight more remarkable volunteers who uplifted their community during COVID-19—showing constant selflessness and care during unprecedented times. 

As the pandemic continues to press on, we’re proud to introduce you to five more incredible community builders. With the help of these changemakers and their unwavering support for their community, more people across our region feel connected, nourished, comfortable, encouraged, safe, involved, and heard. 

We thank everyone who took the time to nominate these everyday heroes and we thank you, community builders, for your exceptional contributions. Do you know a community builder? Nominate one here

Claire Marshall

Photo Credit: Jeanne Inch

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.

“I really understand the value of volunteerism, and the importance of encouraging what is a very Canadian strength: offering up skills, time, and energy to make communities better. Recipients of Community Builder Awards represent all the many sung and unsung volunteers who make Ottawa a much better place.”

Mashooda Syed

Mashooda Syed’s volunteerism in Ottawa began in 1982, the year after she arrived in Canada from London, 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. 

Mashooda has received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award, the Senate 150th Anniversary Medal, and Ashbury’s Outstanding Parent Volunteer Award.

“I love doing community work and I love working on projects alongside my community. My latest project is working with a charity from Toronto called Sakeenah Homes and we just opened our first Muslim women's shelter. I love the work!"

Thanks to Mashooda, vulnerable residents have the support they need to weather the pandemic. 

Mante Molepo

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.


“I have the best job in the world. I'm so grateful I get to work with amazing people and I get to show up every day for the kids in our schools who are just bright and incredible human beings.”

Mante’s dedication to diversity and inclusion reverberates through all of her work and she is committed to building healthier, safer communities for everyone.

Sergiana Freitas

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. 

Sergiana Freitas

“I’m very happy to help the seniors. I like to say we're a big family [at Connected Canadians] and I am very proud to be a part of this family.”

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.

Sergiana’s selfless devotion of time when her community needs her most is what makes her a true community builder.

Rose Leblanc

Rose Leblanc

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.

“I enjoy helping others, I saw a need and I filled it. It's my pleasure to give back to The Trinidad and Tobago Association of Ottawa and Friends of Serviam, helping make our communities a better place for all.”

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.

Mary Gusella

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. 

On December 3rd, 2020, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, United Way East Ontario was very proud to present Mary with a Community Builder Award for her commitment to creating and fostering inclusive and equitable workplaces, and all she has done to make our community a better place to live, work, and play for all!

While we don’t yet know when we will be able to gather again at the Walls of Inspiration across our region, we look forward to adding the names of community builders to these walls in the future.




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