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Community Champion

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Community Champion

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Presented by:

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This award honours a woman who is a visionary trailblazer, a source of strength for her community, and has improved and enriched the lives of others during the pandemic. She is an influential leader through paid work, and/or volunteerism in the private, public, or not-for-profit sector. She may work in the area of public affairs, women’s rights, intercultural relations, social justice, or peace. She has created positive and meaningful social, economic, or political change that will impact people for years to come.

Hamilton Winner:

Lisa Nussey

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Lisa Nussey

Lisa Nussey is the Program Director for HAMSMaRT and the Co-coordinator for Keeping Six. Lisa relentlessly defends the rights, dignity, and humanity of people who use drugs (PWUDs). Lisa represents the voice for PWUDs at many stakeholder tables, attempting to manage and overcome the drug epidemic, while respecting PWUDs’ right to self-determination. Throughout the pandemic, Lisa has been committed to mobilizing mutual aid projects to support PWUDs and those experiencing homelessness. Lisa is a profound example of what it means to be a fierce agent of change and a true model of what one person can achieve through influential leadership, selfless dedication, and passionate advocacy efforts that have enriched the lives of people in the community.

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Halton Winner:

Julia Hanna

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Julia Hanna

Julia Hanna began her journey into the restaurant world at the age of 26 when she opened her first restaurant, Café Galleria in Downtown Oakville. She has gone on to conceptualize, open and sell seven restaurants in Oakville. Her latest restaurant venture in North Oakville is Ritorno, which is a return to Julia’s Italian roots. Ritorno invites guests to bring photos of their mothers and grandmothers to place on the Nonna Wall, in celebration of these remarkable women. Julia’s most passionate undertaking is her not-for-profit initiatives. In 2013, she launched HealthyFam, helping children, families and seniors build a foundation for healthy living. Julia was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and is also a Paul Harris Fellow recipient in recognition of her commitment to healthy living in Canada. Julia’s lifelong philosophy has always been “Family is whoever sits around the dinner table.”

Hamilton Nominees

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Alexis Wenzowski headshot

Alexis Wenzowski

Alexis Wenzowski believes that, “To be part of a community, you have to be part of a community.” This principle has shaped her current involvement with the Hamilton Jewish Community, and previous involvement with the Peoples of Amachewespimawin (Saskatchewan), as well as racialized communities in Buffalo, New York.

Alexis has a Masters of Education (Canisius University), Diploma of Peace and Conflict Studies (University of Waterloo), and an Honours B.A. in Political Science.
She  is the Executive Director of Hamilton Jewish Family Services (HJFS), an inclusive organization grounded in Jewish values and traditions. During the COVID-19 pandemic, under Alexis’ leadership, HJFS expanded its community supports to include dedicated case management, mental health counselling, and enhanced food security programs to help the community get through this challenging time.

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Amanda DiFalco

Amanda DiFalco is a recognized leader dedicated to ending homelessness in Canada. Prior to joining the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness in 2020, Amanda was a public servant for over 17 years in community services. Amanda has led system change across the housing and homelessness sector in Hamilton. Since 2015, she has helped to provide  stable housing for 900+ people experiencing homelessness. She has also been an advisor for several federal and provincial policy initiatives, ensuring local voices are amplified at higher levels of government. Amanda was selected to represent Canada in the inaugural Institute for Global Homelessness Leadership Program, exemplifying her intense and unwavering commitment to social justice, the Right to Housing, and serving our neighbours experiencing homelessness.

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Andrea Pohlmann

Andrea Pohlmann is a community builder, collaborator, and business consultant in Hamilton.

As a graduate of the Advertising and Marketing Communications program at Mohawk College, Andrea began working with small businesses to build engaging marketing strategies, systems, and processes to optimize operations. Previously the chair of Hamilton HIVE, Andrea is a hype-woman for small business and young professionals across the city.

Andrea has taught business in the City School program at Mohawk College, a community-based initiative aiming to reduce barriers to education and employment. Andrea has held director positions in the cannabis industry, has worked in real estate, hospitality, and education, and is now the Regional Manager for Curbside Pivot, an integrated curbside pickup system. She continues to champion small business as a consultant for local entrepreneurs.

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Anna Di Carlo

Anna Di Carlo began her career in event planning and design over ten years ago, working as the Director of Events for a Toronto-based venue. She has been nominated for “Venue Manager of the Year” by BizBash magazine and was featured as “The Young Professional of the Day” on YP Daily, Notable Life. A newcomer to Hamilton, Anna was instantly drawn to the city’s love for the arts and knew she wanted to be a part of its independent and diverse spirit. She thinks of Hamilton as a place where she can merge her creativity and event expertise to create experiences that entertain, inspire and engage.

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Ashleigh Montague

Ashleigh Montague is passionate about impacting the communities in which she lives, learns and works. Her love for community is seen through the initiatives and non-profit organizations she has co-founded; Janus Skills 4 Success, Operation Feed the Homeless and Nu Omega Zeta – Canada’s 2nd black-focused sorority. Ashleigh embodies what it means to be a “True Hamiltonian.” In 2020, she co-founded BLK OWNED, a platform designed to celebrate, showcase, elevate and support black-owned businesses. In a time of instability, she used this platform to redirect traffic to black-owned businesses in Hamilton through effective and innovative free marketing. As a Connection Specialist, her life’s mission is to motivate and inspire youth through the art of connecting with self, others and community.

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Brenda Duke

Brenda Duke’s community engagement began in 2015 when she founded a community planning team to help residents improve Gibson-Landsdale neighbourhoods. Brenda started a community newspaper, initiated pollinator gardens, adopted three parks, revitalized the local community garden and is the visionary of Beautiful Alleys, a resident-led group that seeks to renew and promote Hamilton’s laneways and alleys as safe, environmentally sustainable public corridors that connect people, neighbourhoods and communities.
During 2020, Brenda organized volunteers    to prepare planting and care of the community food garden, and distribute supplies to clean their alleys and parks.
Brenda has been the recipient of Forty over Forty recognition, a Women Who Rock award and the Order of Hamilton. Beautiful Alleys has also earned a Community Builder Award/Environment Award of Merit.
Brenda’s goal is to ignite passion, and motivate and support the actions of residents to better their community and lives.

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Camy Hand

Camy Hand is a Regional Sales Manager for the Kavin Group, where she is responsible for partnering with company leaders and working with them to build a custom recruitment strategy that fits with their internal processes and procedures.

Camy has 17+ years’ experience in account management and full cycle recruitment. She has also been an owner/operator of her own business. Camy strives to become an extension to her clients’ “human resource” department, as well as acting as a trusted advisor to her clients, by keeping them informed of what is going on in the recruitment industry and ensuring that their KPIs and ROIs are being fulfilled by hiring top caliber individuals to join their teams and organizations.

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Dallas Lombardi

Dallas Lombardi is a Hospitality Expert, Business Consultant, Lifestyle Coach, and Mentor. She climbed up the ladder in the hospitality industry, became a Director by the age of 26, and has continued to lead teams at the Executive level. She has always had a burning desire to help people, whether within her own social circle, providing coaching and mentoring to teams in her career, or getting involved with not-for-profits and the community.

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Gina Robinson

Gina Robinson is a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) and has has held various leadership positions in addition to acting as a role model and mentor. In 1999, Gina joined McMaster University and was appointed the first Assistant Dean of Student Affairs (2012). She has brought vision and innovation, spearheading new programming (Women in Leadership Summit), developing new partnerships (City of Hamilton), becoming a member of the Hamilton Financial Empowerment Strategy Group, and ensuring equitable and inclusive program design. Throughout her tenure, she has served the community and McMaster on boards/committees such as Hamilton Community Living, YWCA Hamilton, Graduate Student Association, and McMaster Alumni Association. Gina is most passionate about financial literacy, and has used her knowledge/skills to educate students and the community about questions around taxes and other important money matters.

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Jeannie Howe

Jeannie Howe has been the owner of Must Love Dogs pet services since 2015. She utilized her dog grooming business in 2020 to help a local dog rescue raise funds for their vet costs, and has raised over $1,600 to support a Pomeranian and Small Breed Rescue.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown, she volunteered with Caremongering Hamilton to deliver food kits locally 2-3 days a week, and personally donated pet food and other necessary supplies to those in need.

Jeannie created a “grateful garden” of painted rocks with uplifting messages at St. Joe’s Hospital Emergency Entrance and at The Durand Retirement Residence.
Jeannie is a passionate advocate for a strong, connected community.

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Julie Freeman

Julie Freeman is a Registered Nurse and proud Hamiltonian. Julie graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2007 and has since worked in many Emergency Rooms across North America. After two years providing Medevacs and Community Care in Nunavut, she settled back in her hometown of Hamilton and began a Clinical Informatics career at Hamilton Health Sciences. Julie credits her day job to her dog, Charlie, who she unexpectedly rescued in the airport flying home from a contract in Pangnirtung. In response to COVID-19, Julie created Feast in the Hammer, an initiative that was featured on In the Hammer, and Global News Radio, with the goal to provide direct support to individuals and small businesses struggling to survive the pandemic.

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Karol De Stefano

Karol De Stefano has been active in the Hamilton community as a social service worker for several years and is extremely passionate about serving her community. As co-founder of Free Mom Hugs Southern Ontario, she has dedicated countless hours volunteering as a mentor, educator and loving mom for the LGBQT+ community. Karol believes that resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and also to know adversity and not only recover from it, but to thrive and help others thrive as well. Although Karol has known her share of adversity, instead of allowing it to make her angry or bitter, she has turned it into her life’s mission of helping others. She has built a reputation as hands down, the best hugger in the world!

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Kathryn Clewley

Kathryn Clewley has a Masters of Education, and a Bachelor of Science Concentrating in Marketing from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
She is an active member of the Hamilton Fitness Community, and a local business owner. . She previously worked as the Manager of Mohawk College’s David Braley Athletic and Recreation Centre, and as a Fitness Instructor and Group Fitness Regional Manager for YMCA Hamilton. During the pandemic, Kathryn has volunteered her time, offering virtual fitness classes, and has participated in several virtual fundraising initiatives, including YWCA Hamilton’s Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event, and events for Interval House and 541 Eatery & Exchange, among others.

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Kofo Owolabi

Kofo Owolabi is an entrepreneur with immense experience in relationship building, increasing brand recognition, driving revenue and improving customer service. She believes that humans by design, are built for connection and investing in that connection is what gives us meaning, and a sense of belonging.

Kofo is a licenced travel advisor and the founder of KOAR Travel, curating river cruising experiences in Europe, Asia, Africa and the US. Her past experience also includes founding Indigin Beauty and serving as Manager of Membership Services for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.

She is currently the Community Manager for Hamilton Fempreneurs and works with McMaster University students through the Career Trek program. Kofo holds a BSc. in Chemistry from the University of Toronto.

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Lohifa Pogoson-Acker

Lohifa Pogoson-Acker was born in Nigeria and immigrated to Vancouver in 2000. She always had a passion for styling hair and at the age of 16, she was working part-time styling hair out of her parents’ garage. She went on to study Biopsychology and Economics and has worked abroad in public health roles with organizations like The Clinton Foundation, DFID and USAID. Lohifa has traveled extensively, moving wherever her career took her, but since moving to Hamilton in 2012, she says she would not want to live anywhere else. She now has a flourishing business in Hamilton and has been recognized for her work as a hairstylist on the debut season of “Canada’s Drag Race.”

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Melanee McAulay

Melanee McAulay has been a leader in Hamilton’s non-profit housing sector for nearly three decades, serving currently as Executive Director for Sacajawea Non-Profit Housing. Melanee has led teams in supporting tenants of all ages to achieve their best potential through providing stable, affordable, and appropriate homes. This includes leading Sacajawea’s evolution as new needs emerged, becoming a multi-residential housing developer with the recent Onkwanónhsa – Ezhi-Mina-Giiweng project that opened in 2019. Melanee’s commitment to pursuing co-operation is demonstrated both within the Indigenous community where she has served on numerous boards, networks, and associations, as well as in her tireless efforts to bridge Indigenous and mainstream organizations, moving towards greater friendship, unity, and reconciliation.

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Meltem Fidan

Meltem Fidan is a Master Engraver and CEO of F² Engravables. She is an inspiration to all who come into contact with her and those around her know her to be a caring mother, a loving wife, a reliable friend and an amazing businesswoman. She has grown so much, from being an employee to opening her own business and shop. She is a role model who continues to surprise and amaze everyone around her. Her contribution to the community can be described as persistent, professional and adaptive. Her journey has only just begun, and the sky is the limit for where her creativity and expertise will lead her.

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Paula Laing

Paula Laing is Kanienke’ha’ka (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory and belongs to the Turtle Clan. Paula started her advocacy work when she was at McMaster University in the Social Work program. She continues to speak up regarding challenges and barriers that our Indigenous communities are experiencing.  Her grandmother was a survivor of residential school and she witnessed first-hand the effect this had on her family across generations. Despite this painful history, Paula’s mother instilled in her  a deep pride of her Indigeneity as a young girl, and  inspired her to choose a career focused on advocating, supporting and empowering Indigenous communities, especially Indigenous youth.

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Perihan (Peri) Eid

Perihan (Peri) Eid has countless years of experience in the recruitment industry in Canada and abroad.

Peri is Director of Client Services Permanent Placements for KTMR, where she is responsible for the company’s support services strategy and enhanced client experience. Peri is also responsible for ensuring compliance with all government regulations, company policies, and human resources laws, legislation and procedures.

Earlier in her career, Peri worked at top multinational firms such as Drake International, Sanofi and LOGIC Consulting Group, where she held various progressive management and leadership positions. Peri holds a Bachelor of Arts in Management from the Modern Sciences and Arts University in Cairo.

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Rachel Braithwaite

Rachel Braithwaite is Executive Director of the Barton Village BIA. Rachel is a big believer in community, especially the Barton Village community — a growing hub for independent, family-owned businesses and young entrepreneurs. She goes beyond business advocacy to provide support, resources, and connection for everyone in Barton Village. The BIA’s successful pandemic response is a testament to her strong and empathetic leadership. Rachel also represents small businesses and BIAs on Hamilton’s Infection Prevention and Control Committee. Over the past 11 years, she has created a community planning team, neighbourhood association, and organized many community events, most notably Barton Village Festival. Most recently, Rachel joined the Board of Directors for the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association and currently sits on their Advocacy Committee.

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Robin Lacambra

Robin Lacambra is a fierce, loving force of compassionate wisdom. She is a movement educator, social justice advocate, and all-around change-maker, inspiring many others to take up the cause of building safer, inclusive spaces for wellness. Robin owns GoodBodyFeel Movement Studio and runs anti-racist education initiatives through her business moniker Royola. As Robin’s success has expanded, she has leveraged her voice/platform to speak up for many important issues, including but not limited to: body positivity, anti-racism, LGBTQ+ inclusivity, low-cost movement practices, and greater funding for social housing. Robin cheers on folks who do not believe in themselves and leads by example on how we can build better communities.

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Sabrina Jaspers

Sabrina Jaspers has a passion for maternal health. She is a Clinical Social Worker with 14 years of experience in acute care and adult mental health and trauma. Sabrina’s clinical focus is maternal mental health, perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, including postpartum depression and anxiety, and birth trauma. Sabrina uses a variety of ways to support the women in her community, including counselling, speaking engagements, seminars, and education on social media. Sabrina completed her BSW through McMaster University and has completed her MSW through Dalhousie University (May 2020). Most recently, Sabrina worked collaboratively with a local midwife program to bring interdisciplinary care and mental health support to women experiencing difficulties in the perinatal phase.

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Samantha Mercanti

Samantha Mercanti is a mental health advocate and blogger who uses her experiences to help others learn how to live life to the fullest while having a mental illness. Samantha was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 20s. Her battle with mental illness is a daily one, but this has not stopped her from providing hope and inspiration to others. Mental health is one of the biggest pandemic issues and Samantha is making a difference. She also stepped up for the Charity of Hope, an organization supporting underprivileged children and youth, taking the lead in pivoting the main event to run virtually. The Charity of Hope’s fundraising event was a great success, raising over $100K for children in need.

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Sandra Jenkins

Sandra Jenkins tirelessly advocates for those who are marginalized, silenced, and unable to advocate for themselves. As a survivor of sustained trauma and homelessness, she uses her personal experience and ongoing learning to support, inspire, encourage, and empower others on their healing journeys. For more than a decade, she has volunteered in the community within the context of various programs, drop-in centers and churches serving the vulnerable. She has spoken at events about her lived experience of homelessness and trauma, and continues to educate and uplift others online throughout the pandemic. In her own words, “The reason I work so hard to heal – harder than anyone knows – is so that I can help others who have suffered and who struggle.”

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Serena Bufalino

Serena Bufalino is a force of nature, devoted to service through hard work, dedication, and determination. What began as a career as a teacher under the Section 23 program with Toronto’s at-risk youth, has evolved into a lifetime of service work empowering people across the globe. Serena has taught in detention centres, mental health hospitals, and group homes. In 2011, the Haiti School Building Project was born, when her Section 23 students insisted, “Miss B, you say we can do anything, so let’s build a school!” Over $100,000 was fundraised and a school in Haiti for 100 students was constructed. Today, Serena continues her development work in Haiti, while also supporting local food programs for Hamilton community members in need during Covid-19.

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Dr. Soumeya Abed

Dr. Soumeya Abed is a scientist and lecturer at McMaster University, a social entrepreneur, and a dedicated wife and mother committed to the Hamilton community. Her exceptional vision and leadership skills led her to found and direct the Symbiosis Co-housing Initiative, the first intergenerational co-housing program in Ontario, pairing students and local seniors to reside in a mutually beneficial living situation. This brilliant and innovative idea resulted in increasing the social integration of elders, while providing affordable housing to students in need. Soumeya is a true trailblazer who has inspired others, through national and international media coverage, to start-up similar co-housing initiatives across Canada. Her efforts have been recognized by multiple awards, including the 2020 Ontarian Entrepreneur Award for inclusive leadership.

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Theresa Horak

Theresa Horak  is the CEO and founder of LoAllay. She recruits and trains diverse talent from the Canadian professional market, providing employment opportunities and building our economy.

Born in South Africa, Theresa is a world traveller,  a leader and change maker, and a visionary with a passion for innovative ideas and technology. She inspires and motivates student apprentices to make informed career choices and soar like eagles in their chosen careers. Theresa’s motto is, “The issue is not that a complaint arose; it is how you handle the complaint that makes the difference.”

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Whitney McMeekin

Whitney McMeekin is the owner of Girl on the Wing, a local boutique that is well-loved for showcasing unique, stylish works of makers from Hamilton and around the world. However, “Businesswoman” alone hardly encapsulates the role that Whitney plays in the community. Her event productions for institutions including the Art Gallery of Hamilton and the City of Hamilton (as well as her own Hamilton Flea) are renowned for creative engagement and downright fun. It is Whitney’s deep community spirit that makes her entrepreneurial practice unique. This commitment to community is evident through pandemic practices that put community safety (and customers’ mental health) first, her seven years strong Necessities Drive collecting supplies for local womxn’s shelters, and the Admiration Awards (launched during the Pandemic) celebrating friendship, collaboration, and fellow community champions.

Halton Nominees

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Amber Rushton headshot

Amber Rushton

Amber Rushton leads Community Emergency Management (CEMC) for the City of Burlington as part of the Burlington Fire Department. Her focus during an emergency is to support first response agencies and field response, manage the emergency control group and emergency operations, and provide technical advice to the Mayor, City Council and City leadership team., She has a post-graduate certificate in Emergency Management from George Brown College, and has graduated from the Fire and Emergency Services Training Institute firefighting program. She is currently working towards a Master’s of Public Safety degree from Wilfred Laurier University. Amber enjoys spending time with her young family and volunteers in local and international humanitarian capacities. Amber strives to serve others in every facet of life.

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Honourable Anita Anand

The Honorable Anita Anand was first elected as the Member of Parliament for Oakville in 2019. Minister Anand is a scholar, lawyer, researcher, and mother of four children. A devoted leader in her Oakville community, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Lighthouse Foundation for Grieving Children, the Oakville Hospital Foundation, and Oakville Hydro Electricity Distribution Inc.

For the past two decades, Minister Anand has been a legal academic, employed most recently as a Professor of Law at the University of Toronto where she held the J.R. Kimber Chair in Investor Protection and Corporate Governance. As Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Minister Anand is responsible for procuring millions of Covid-19 vaccines and PPE for Canadians.

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Colleen Mulholland

Colleen Mulholland brings over 28 years of experience to her current role as CEO of the Burlington Community Foundation. She  previously held executive positions with Canadian Diabetes Association, Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Ontario Centres of Excellence.

Under her leadership, the Burlington Community Foundation’s impact on the Halton Region community continues to grow through meaningful granting, increased assets under management, and important community facilitation.

In 2014, Colleen led the $2.7M Burlington Flood Disaster Relief Program, a critical response to a record rainfall of 191mm in 8hours that caused extraordinary flooding to homes and infrastructure.

Colleen is an active member of her community, volunteering her expertise in support of numerous initiatives, and believes in the importance of people working together to build a healthy future for our communities.

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Gabriela Covaci

Gabriela Covaci is an Employment Consultant/ Career Developer who works with clients to help them find new job opportunities or identify a new career path. Gabriela is a visionary trailblazer who has been a community champion from  day one of the pandemic, organizing fundraising events, , “Thank you Frontline Workers”events and “Lawn Graduation” events to celebrate the accomplishments of our youth. In 2020, Gabriela worked alongside  amazing youth in putting together a unique TEDx conference, providing the audience with a ground-breaking virtual reality experience. Gabriela is a source of strength to many and an influential leader. Her focus  throughout the pandemic has been on what she can do to help. She is a true community champion with a big heart.

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Jacqui Cronin

Jacqui Cronin is a busy mother of two teenagers, a business owner and an entrepreneur from Burlington.. In 2015, she saw a gap in the market for high end artisan platters to go and  founded The Platter Company. ! She started the company in her basement and  has grown and  matured into the business it is today. The Platter Company originally focused on catering, but. during the pandemic, Jacqui adapted her products and founded a Gourmet Market to offer prepared food for her community. The Market offers one-of-a-kind gourmet products, such as imported cheeses, house-made prepared meals, appetizers, soups, sauces, platters, gifts, entertaining essentials and more!

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Maria Locker

Maria Locker is an advocate and champion for the advancement of women and women entrepreneurs across North America. She is often sought as a speaker, contributor, and expert on topics including economic empowerment, gender equality, lifestyle and business trends, and products that women love. As Founder and CEO of The Mompreneurs® Organization from 2010 – 2020, Maria worked with her team across Canada to grow their community of women to over 23,000 members and subscribers, presented 750+ events, and gave back over $80,000 to the community and charitable organizations. Now, as the Founder and CEO of RevolutionHER, Maria is excited to work alongside her team to bring even more support, empowerment, and inspiration to women of all ages and walks of life.

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Nancy Romic

Nancy Romic is the Executive Director of Shifra Homes, a maternity residence for young, homeless, pregnant mothers and their babies. Under Nancy’s care and guidance, Shifra’s programs have grown and expanded to provide a complete wraparound service, helping to ensure safety and success for these young women. Nancy works tirelessly to support new mothers even after they transition out of the residence and. always puts others first. Nancy has changed the lives of many women, including helping them recover from trauma, neglect, and addiction, encouraging them to continue their education, and working with them to break generational cycles of poverty and abuse. Nancy is a nurturer and a giver and continues to be the reason so many young women and their babies have a hopeful story written in their book of life.

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Shannon Tobin

Shannon Tobin is the Founder & CEO of Dare To Be Youth, a charity dedicated to supporting young adults ages 17-24 in Halton & Hamilton.  Shannon’s core belief is that “Success is not a skill, it’s an inside job.” This has been a driving factor for Shannon as she has overcome adversity in her life. Shannon and her team turned a crisis into an opportunity and spent the last 9 months of 2020 defining a model of support for young adults who need assistance to develop confidence and resilience to set them up for success as our next generation of future leaders. She has been recognized for her exemplary achievements and contributions in supporting her community by demonstrating true leadership and creating positive change.


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