On the morning of October 5 at our This is Community event, more than 150 people came together virtually with hosts Stefan Keys and Suzanne Pinel to honour outstanding individuals across the region for their contributions to make our neighbourhoods stronger, safer, and healthier—during times of crisis and beyond.
As part of the event, United Way bestowed its top honour—the Community Builder of the Year Award (CBYA)—to our region’s four Medical Officers of Health and their respective teams, for their continued efforts in bringing equity and social justice into health care practices, especially during COVID-19.
Dr. Robert Cushman and the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, Dr. Vera Etches and Ottawa Public Health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, and Dr. Paula Stewart and the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit were present to accept the award.
Even before the onset of the pandemic, local public health authorities from across the region—Drs. Cushman, Etches, Roumeliotis, and Stewart—have recognized the complex impacts that poverty, systemic racism, discrimination, and unequal access to information have had on an individual’s or group’s health outcomes.
However, the pandemic compelled these teams to be a guiding voice for how public health—and other community institutions—can better support the most marginalized people, and why this is critical for the health of communities at large.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented health crisis. It has affected literally every person in our communities, but it is our most vulnerable residents who have experienced the harshest impacts. As a community, it is critical that we work together to improve the social determinants of health as we navigate through this pandemic and beyond. Although there is more work to do, I couldn’t be prouder of our public health staff across the region, whose tireless commitment to health and social equity continue to be the backbone of our efforts to protect and support our community’s most marginalized residents,” said Dr. Roumeliotis.
“COVID-19 has shown us that community is incredibly important for all of us – supporting people who have to isolate; maintaining regular contact with people who are alone; schools, childcare, stores and businesses adjusting to follow COVID precautions; health and social services working together and providing virtual services; people wearing masks to prevent possible spread to others; and now people getting fully vaccinated to protect themselves, their household and friends and others in the community. The underlying theme is that everyone in the community is important, and collectively we can make a difference,” said Dr. Stewart.
“[…] This has been a team effort of healthcare providers and allied services. Countless people, including many volunteers, have worked tirelessly to keep our numbers down and to protect the general public. Furthermore, there has been a focus on those most in need to ensure they are first and foremost. On behalf of the Renfrew County and District Health Unit, I want to thank the entire community for being there when we needed you to see us through these trying times,” said Dr. Cushman.
“While we are all impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, we are not all experiencing it in the same way. The pandemic has emphasized the importance of working across many organizations and with communities facing the greatest needs to ensure fair health outcomes. Ottawa Public Health will continue to listen and act on the messages from our communities about the need for system change. Thank you to United Way for recognizing the work of local public health units, this work could not be done without incredible community partners such as the United Way,” said Dr. Etches.
In addition to the public health award recipients, 22 people and organizations were honoured at the virtual event for their community contributions.
These community builders were previously recognized with awards throughout 2020-2021 at virtual events where they were surprised by their friends, colleagues, and United Way volunteers. Many of this past year’s recipients were recognized for their work in supporting people throughout the pandemic. As part of the This is Community event, their names will be added to the Walls of Inspiration in Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark, and Renfrew Counties. Their names join the more than 850 Community Builders United Way has recognized since 2000.
During the event, United Way also surprised more than 100 different people and organizations with a special Community Builder Award (CBA).
This surprise CBA was given to a unique group of social service organizations, government officials, businesses and volunteers for their collaborative response and support of our region’s most vulnerable people during the pandemic. The award was presented by the four Medical Officers of Health.
The group—known as the COVID-19 Community Response Table—came together in February of 2020 to support those most impacted by COVID-19 from a social services perspective. The group looked at issues such as the loss of social contact, loss of work, unstable housing, and loss of in-person services, as well as the challenges associated with isolation or the need to isolate as a high-risk contact. Through the Community Response Table’s work, they looked at how to support people during their greatest time of need.
From working together to distribute basic needs like food and masks, to helping isolated seniors and people facing mental health challenges get the support they need, helping children stay on track in school by providing the technology they depend on, and so much more. All of this has made a measurable difference for individuals and families across East Ontario.
This group was recognized for their innovation, creativity, nimbleness, and ongoing efforts.
United Way East Ontario’s Community Builder Awards program celebrates our region’s local volunteers with awards throughout the year. Annually, we recognize a Community Builder of the Year (CBYA) with an award presented to the candidate who demonstrates the highest level of community impact.
Please join us in congratulating 2020-2021’s Community Builders with a virtual chorus of applause by sharing this story to your networks via your social platforms. You can also visit United Way East Ontario’s social media to join in on the conversations.