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Community Builders: Meet our eight new community builders

11 MIN READ

While COVID-19 continues to change 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 of 2020, in collaboration with Apt613, United Way East Ontario sent out a call for nominations to honour local volunteers who stepped up in this time of need. Since then we’ve gone on to award more than 20 remarkable volunteers who have uplifted their community—showing constant selflessness and care during these unprecedented times. 

With our host and 2019 Community Builder of the Year Award recipient, Erin Benjamin, we kicked off 2022 among friends, family, and coworkers to recognize eight more incredible community builders who have worked tirelessly to make our communities safer, healthier, and more resilient. These people are community leaders and fearless advocates who have stepped up and demonstrated a local love that has not gone unnoticed. 

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 who has gone above and beyond to support their communities? Our Community Builder Awards program accepts nominations year-round!

Dr. Warren Clarke

A photo of Dr. Warren Clarke

Dr. Warren Clarke is the founder of The Afro-Caribbean Mentorship program (ACMP) at Carleton University. This mentorship program helps graduate and undergraduate students in racialized communities build confidence within themselves and provide mentorship opportunities so that they can strive towards their educational and professional goals.  

Dr. Clarke’s leadership in diversity and inclusion is impressive and has touched many young African, Caribbean, and Black men’s lives throughout their schooling. During his mentoring and financial literacy work, he brings in professionals within the Ottawa community to ensure these students are getting enrichment throughout the program.  

“I don't do this work for the attention you know, I do this work because I believe in it.”

Dr. Warren Clarke has held multiple ACMP initiatives, such as More Than Networking events where more than 150 students, faculty, and community members attend to showcase the importance of networking. These networking events are important to ACMP because it helps to break down the barriers that African, Caribbean, Black and other racialized students face during their post-secondary education. He also brings high school students to these events to show them the university world and encourage them to strive towards their goals.  

Dr. Clarke also understands the unique barriers that young Black men face, so he implemented a series of “Barber Shop Talks” to create a safe space for Black community members to meet and encourage men to foster better communication skills. He also led a Black History month event in partnership with RBC. Dr. Clarke has been awarded the inaugural Hurst Legacy Award for his dedication to community work and academic pursuits. As an advocate, facilitator and mentor, Dr. Clarke uplifts his community. 

Daljit Nirman

Daljit Nirman is a lawyer and president of Nirman’s Law Professional Corporation and has experience as a sessional lecturer. His law practice areas include Canadian immigration, human rights, and corporate and property laws. 

Daljit weaves volunteering into every aspect of his life, and now has more than 15 years of volunteer experience. He is the founder and co-chair of the board of directors for Cooking Up Community Services. This federal not-for-profit organization is a free breakfast used to raise awareness and funds for charities in Eastern Ontario. Daljit always puts others before himself.  

He offers his time, legal advice, expertise and resources to a multitude of organizations and charities across Ottawa such as the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa Community Immigrant Service Organization, Ontario Association of Police Services Board, The Snowsuit Fund of Ottawa, Ottawa Sikh Society, and so many others. He has been a long-time supporter of project STEP, Ottawa’s award-winning community response to address the need for support, treatment, education and prevention of youth addictions.  

Photo of Daljit Nirman

“I am fortunate that I am being recognized, because there are people I have seen during this journey who are going above and beyond their motivations and involvement, my contribution honestly feels like a tip of the iceberg.”

Recently Daljit was inducted into the Order of Ottawa by Mayor Jim Watson, in recognition of his support and initiative in the community. He has also received other awards and accomplishments such as the Ottawa Sikh Society’s Community Service Award, and a certification of recognition as one of the key members in organizing the 18th National Diwali. Daljit has a giving heart, and it truly shows in the community. 

Thirteen: A Social Enterprise

Thirteen: A Social Enterprise

Thirteen: A Social Enterprise is an entrepreneurial program of the Parkdale Food Centre that provides youth who are facing barriers to employment with mentoring and real-world experiences to set them apart when entering the job market.  

The program has mentored youth in accounting, social media, marketing, production, safe food handling, sales techniques, public speaking and market etiquette. It provides skill sharing and education to youth while also creating everlasting relationships with mentors, which makes an indelible difference in their lives.  

Community leaders work with Thirteen: A Social Enterprise to provide their time, resources, and expertise to ensure youth are set up for success. They give youth opportunities to build their social and professional network which will benefit them later in life when it comes to pursuing new opportunities.  

“[Our team] has worked hard together over the years to really develop this program to support the youth in our community and create a community around Parkdale of youth that are really engaged and working towards the goals in their life, so it's been fun and exciting.”

Not only does Thirteen provide youth with support and education, the relationships and bonds they create are a valuable result of this program—leading to future success for these youth in the community. 

It’s one thing to teach someone, and it’s another to form personal relationships where kids feel comfortable reaching out when they struggle. For example, Landry Kalembo, who is now Parkdale Food Centre’s youngest board member,  joined Thirteen: A Social Enterprise in 2015. Landry has included the mentors he met at the program in every major accomplishment in his life, and has reached out to them when he was in need of help not related to employment. Landry went on to get his Canadian citizenship and is a pre-med student all because of the support he received. 

David Chun Yu Lao

David is heavily involved in providing his time to many non-profit organizations in various roles. He has accumulated more than 700 hours of volunteering and has raised awareness and thousands of dollars for research including Prostate Cancer Canada, Arthritis Society, Brock University, and the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.  

David dedicates a large portion of his time and effort to work with student organizations, universities, public service recruiters, and CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) representatives. David actively mentors more than 100 CPA students in Ottawa and has created a well-known writing approach for the CPA exam that Canadian students use as a study guide. 

His detailed writing approach has helped more than 12,000 CPA students across Canada succeed at taking the exam. David saw a need when an abundance of students reached out to him on LinkedIn for help, so he took the knowledge and leadership he learned as a student to help them succeed.  

Photo of David Lao

“The reason I volunteer is because I truly believe that our responsibility as CPAs extends well beyond the office. Volunteering is a great way to share our passion, value and inspiration with others. I believe that everyone has the skill or experience which others can benefit from, and volunteering is a great way to share these expertises.”

David has been recognized for his volunteer work and commitment to supporting his community in the CPA industry and was awarded the inaugural “Be the Change” CPA Ontario Volunteer Award in 2019. 

Dr. Mohd Jamal Alsharif

Photo of Dr. Alsharif

Dr. Alsharif is described as a “super volunteer” and has more than 16 years of volunteer experience. Dr. Alsharif is currently the Humans for Peace Institution president, a volunteer-based non-profit promoting global peace. He has a PhD in oral and maxillofacial surgery, and volunteers to work internationally to perform surgeries for children in developing countries.  
 
Over the last two years, Dr. Alsharif saw the impact the pandemic has had on the most vulnerable, and took it upon himself to organize almost 200 volunteers in Ottawa and Gatineau to deliver food and medication to more than 800 seniors and people in need. They delivered more than 600 hot meals per week and more than 500 food and medication supplies weekly.  

Kids have struggled with their mental health significantly throughout the pandemic. To help combat this, Dr. Alsharif organized more than 60 Zoom meetings with children to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and connect them with other professionals. 

“I have a dream and it is to make this world better, and I understand I have to start from myself, I have to change myself and then maybe I can change the world, and we can do it together.”

Dr. Alsharif has a dedicated passion for working within diverse communities with an emphasis on addressing a variety of social challenges people face. He knows from personal experience that it can be daunting and scary when coming to a new country, and he understands that many newcomers turn to their own ethnic communities for a feeling of safety and belonging. He provides them with support and solutions to help them feel more at home in their new communities, by taking time out of his day to meet newcomers and refugees, help them settle into their new lives and homes, connecting them with services, translating for them, and sharing employment information.  

Most recently, Dr. Alsharif has been using Facebook and YouTube to connect with Arabic speaking people in Canada to help them access resources and accurate information around health and COVID-19 regulations.  

“During this hard time I understood that whatever happens in a small city who has a population that is almost 11,011 million has made us all understand that in this world, we are in the same boat and if we think together we survive together. It will hit everybody, and we will never be safe until everybody is safe.”

Another huge priority for Dr. Alsharif is empowering women. He started an event called “Women Empowerment Bazaar” that provides newcomer women with the help they need to start up businesses and initiate their economic and social independence. By supporting these women, he is helping to set them up for success in the workforce and community. Dr. Alsharif has been awarded the 2019 Sovereign Medal for Volunteers Awards from the Governor General of Canada because of his influential social change impact, exemplary community service, and outstanding dedication to the community. 

Top Shelf Distillers

Top Shelf Distillers is a community driven business in Perth, Ontario that actively seeks to build and support its community. The company has been an active community leader and supporter since its inception in 2014, recently launching TOP SHELF CARES, which actively promotes their community initiatives. 

Throughout the pandemic, Top Shelf went into overdrive to support the community by overhauling their production line to create hand sanitizer that was in scarce supply, learning how to make it as they went. They then gifted large quantities of sanitizer to those who needed it most, like frontline workers and vulnerable community groups. They also dropped off complimentary care boxes containing PPE and sanitizer to many small business owners to help them reopen following the initial lockdown, building in an option to gift a bottle at purchase point to ensure they could continue to donate where it was needed the most. 

Top Shelf Distillers

“All of the work that we've done, it really feels like small moves for change, but definitely purposeful moves. We always want to be able to do more and give more to our community.”

Top Shelf Distillers are a long-term sponsor of United Way of East Ontario’s GenNext program and events. They are always a leader when it comes to advocacy within our region, and take action on important social issues like support for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and protecting our environment. Top Shelf has created their own initiative called #MoreTrees, which means that for every bottle sold, one tree is planted within 100 kilometres of the point of purchase. Recently, they donated 150 trees to Perth veterans and their families.  

No matter what they are selling or producing, Top Shelf Distillers has purposefully prioritized local needs, whether it’s through donating, fundraising, advocating, or creating and distributing new products to keep our communities safe. 

Dominion City Brewing Co.

Dominion City Brewing Co.

Dominion City Brewing Company was founded in 2014, and has made it a priority to invest back into their community. They have consistently demonstrated that they believe in purpose before profit, and they make sure it’s a principle they live out every day. Since opening, Dominion City employees have dedicated time and effort to volunteering, creating atypical partnerships, raising awareness on local issues, fundraising for neighbourhood charities, and planning events.  

A champion for equity and diversity, they created a diversity in brewing scholarship which supports a person with a background underrepresented in the beer industry with a contribution toward their tuition, and a paid eight-week internship at Dominion City upon completion of study.  

“We’re just a little business a part of a bigger community, we feel like we're at our best when we can connect with other people.”

Dominion City staff advocates for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, forges relationships and partnerships with Indigenous communities, and actively promotes other small businesses to build opportunities for mutually supportive initiatives.

During COVID-19, they increased their community support. With monthly fundraising drives, Dominion City and its customers have provided tens of thousands of dollars each year in much needed support for the work of non-profit organizations, specifically for smaller charitable organizations in their own neighbourhood. They continue to be an avid supporter of United Way East Ontario and the GenNext program. In December of 2021, they rallied their customers to help put an end to youth homelessness by donating to GenNext.

Between these charitable endeavors, advocacy work, and collaborations with local small businesses, Dominion City Brewing Co. ensures their own successes benefit their community at large.   

loveOttawa

Dwayne Brown and Anita Ruivo have consistently contributed to our region by being the founders and artistic creators of loveOttawa. loveOttawa Experiences is a unique online initiative that celebrates Ottawa and its rich and dynamic community, highlighting everything from culture to culinary, business to education, and lifestyle to tourism. Dwayne and Anita have lent their expertise in countless ways by offering help and support to people, families, and small businesses. 

Anita and Dwayne have spent many years offering their time and photography skills to young mothers completing their high school diplomas at the Youville Centre. Every year since 2010, they take portraits of Youville’s moms and babies leading up to Christmas, and they do so free of charge. These portraits hold a special place in these young moms’ lives as they often face financial and time barriers that would not normally allow them to have pictures taken with their children.  

“We've had a strong mandate to always help nonprofits. But also, in the last year, to do our very best to help and highlight small businesses who are doing their best to keep their heads above water.”

They have always supported charities, giving so much to them through their photography by capturing clients, donors, staff and volunteers. They’ve helped paint a picture of the important work that charities do across Ottawa. From Youth Services Bureau, The Ottawa Food Bank, The Parkdale Food Centre, The Ottawa Integrative Cancer Centre, HighJinx, Welcoming Ottawa Week, Connect Ottawa and United Way East Ontario, these organizations are grateful to Dwayne and Anita for lending their talents. 

In the summer months before COVID-19, Dwayne and Anita also volunteered to take exchange students in Ottawa on sight-seeing tours all over the city, mentor them, and introduce them to influential local people.

“Through photography and through what we've done in the last few years to help, it's really important just to be there for people”

For four years, loveOttawa and United Way partnered for Giving Tuesday to capture images and stories that showcase United Way’s work, sharing the impact being made across our region online with their followers. The stories our partnership has captured have helped us tell so many inspiring stories while explaining the importance of generously giving during the holiday season. 

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. 

Know someone doing great work in their community? 

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