Holly & Mark Patterson

Holly and Mark Patterson chose to make Ottawa home ten years ago, and have been giving back to their chosen city ever since. Active community volunteers, it’s their work at The Ottawa Mission which is particularly meaningful to the couple, allowing them to give and receive joy in equal amounts.

Holly and Mark have been part of holiday meals at The Mission since 2007, treating the many hundreds of people who walk through the doors as they would a guest in their own home – with dignity, respect and kindness. They help to create a spirit of compassion and generosity within a community of people who need – and deserve – it most, and for that, Holly and Mark Patterson are two of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, they answer the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

We moved here from the UK 10 yrs ago and instantly loved it. When we arrived we were a young(ish) couple who had been married for 16yrs. Due to Mark’s military career in the Royal Air Force we traveled, partied and had a blast but it was 2 yrs after we moved here that we settled down, bought a house and had our son Caiden. After many years of moving from base to base in England we chose to end Mark’s career in Canada to now call Ottawa home.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

It is a beautiful city with beautiful people. Never before have we lived anywhere so giving, so kind and so charitable. From the United Way campaign to the Charity Galas, dedicated volunteer websites, school volunteer hours, kids sports run entirely by volunteers and more, this is a city that cares and is always trying to help all aspects of society. We love that.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

It’s not about helping Ottawa be a better place, it’s about helping people in Ottawa feel valued and cared for. For them to know that whatever they’ve gone through and continue to endure there are people that genuinely want to see them smile. The banter and laughter on Bingo night is infectious and seeing groups of friends and families sit down to celebrate a Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter meal together in the Mission is what it’s all about.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

This, although we don’t think we deserve this recognition. This city is held together by people that give their time, energy, money and hearts on a regular basis. We’re just happy to be part of that very special community.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

Ottawa is already a fantastic city but of course we hope for more. We’d love to see a lot more help available for young and old who are battling mental health demons or who are struggling to break their dependencies on drugs and alcohol. We’d love to see a city without homelessness, where everyone has a safe place to call home and opportunities for everyone to be successful. Currently, what may be perceived as unattainable, with the incredible efforts of the fantastic people in this city, is possible.

Ibrahim Musa

 

   Ibrahim Musa is committed to changing the lives of vulnerable kids in Ottawa, one haircut at a time. Ibrahim, who grew up in a low-income community in the city, has founded a charitable organization called Cuts for Kids Foundation which provides free haircuts to kids in need.

Ibrahim believes that a fresh haircut gives a child a sense of dignity and self-esteem, contributing to their physical and mental health. Through Cuts for Kids, he has rallied a vibrant team of volunteer hairstylists and barbers, holding regular hair-cutting events at local community centres or clubs where kids are treated with respect and compassion while they get a trim. For the work he does helping to make life better for kids who need it most, Ibrahim Musa is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, he answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is unique because of how tight-knit and loving we are. When you share an idea with an Ottawan, the first words out of their mouth will often be “How can I help?”

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

The people, the people, the people. We are an open and welcoming city. We are not afraid to stand up for what we believe in and make our voices heard. Ultimately, we are the perfect balance of straightforward and empathetic.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

My work is focused on youth, newcomers and people living in low-income neighbourhoods. I strongly believe that when we invest in our vulnerable population, our community will flourish with a mosaic of human beauty. We can create leaders, caretakers, teachers, artists, astronauts, and everything in between. And as someone who has been a young newcomer living in a low-income area, I could not wait on someone else to make Ottawa a better place – I needed to create change in the way that I understood it to be impactful.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

Creating a free haircut program (Cuts For Kids Foundation) using haircuts as an excuse to get the conversation started about youth and family mental health, to provide easier access to resources for newcomers and to promote the integration and cohesion of programs and services offered in Ottawa. How do we achieve all this? Join us at the next Cuts For Kids event and find out!

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

My vision for Ottawa is a place where the entrepreneurial spirit can be nourished and our non-profit sector can revolutionize the idea of cohesion when it comes to services offered within our community. My vision for Ottawa is a city where people of all backgrounds can bring minds and hearts together and build solutions. My vision is a vision because hope is what we feel, while Ottawa’s future is something we can see if we join together and begin building.

Photo Credit: Julie Oliver, Ottawa Citizen

Avery & Rowan Parkinson

Avery and Rowan Parkinson are going to change the world. The two sisters, students at Elmwood School, have formed a foundation called MapleWishes which allows them to organize and execute a variety of fundraising and awareness building initiatives based on needs they see in the Ottawa community.

The girls are big believers in the positive change that can be brought when people work together. To that end, they involve their friends, their school and the larger Ottawa community in helping to change things for the better, be that for research into Parkinson’s disease or feeding the homeless.  Avery & Rowan Parkinson have their eyes on a brighter future for everyone, and for that, they’re two of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, they answer the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is our home, so we naturally regard it with affection. The element of community is evident – from our elementary and middle school dynamics, to the functioning of the city as a whole. Though this idea of “community” is a broad idea, we have come to appreciate that in this day and age – where individuals hustle to fulfil their own schedules and aspirations – it is a very precious thing.

What do you enjoy about living and working in Ottawa?

We have a genuine interest in community service. As such, we have put together a Foundation called MapleWishes – a platform upon which 11 campaigns of service are to be planned, organized and executed over our middle and high school years. These projects span a variety of issues that are close to our hearts, and are either awareness or fundraising based. As stated above, Ottawa is a relatively communal town, where it is not only easy to identify problems, but there are evident ways of resolving them. It is not difficult to be involved from a service perspective, and the small size of it allows one to be easily acquainted with like minded people.

The work that you do helps make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

Altruism is the desire to set aside urges of self preservation and instead aid someone else. It forms stable relationships between people, fuelling healthy communities. Naturally, this idea is key to the success of a nation, and it begins on a minute level in the exchanges between two individuals. What we aim to do is not particularly extravagant – it is based around a selection of projects targeting problems we see locally. Our goal is to inspire others to help society, to be altruistic. As two privileged girls, and civilians of our society, we feel it is our responsibility to give back to the community in some way. MapleWishes and its mission is the way we intend to accomplish this, making it important to us.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

As mentioned, MapleWishes consists of 11 projects of service which we intend to fulfil. Despite our desire to aid the community ourselves, our primary goal is to inspire our peers to help society in their own ways – as more can ultimately be accomplished by a community than an individual. To that effect, we organized a Sandwich Making Session for our middle school this past October, where students from grades 6 through 8 all dedicated 1 hour to making sandwiches for 2 local shelters (The Shepherds of Good Hope and The Ottawa Mission). In total, we donated around 1300 sandwiches to the shelters. This event was an embodiment of what we are trying to achieve and the inspiration we are trying to ignite in terms of community. In one year the pair of us made 1500 sandwiches, roughly the amount a small community of girls made in less than 1 hour – proving the magnitude of what can be accomplished by those working together. Additionally, the success of the event was a positive spin on the concept of helping the community, a sentiment that hopefully inspired many of the girls.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

We hope that Ottawa continues to be the welcoming, supportive and communal city that it is today. Hopefully these aspects will allow us to thrive and progress, inspiring other communities, cities, and provinces, such that we can blossom into the diverse and accepting nation the world requires as we move forwards in our next 150 years

Paula Rolfe

Paula Rolfe provides joy and exercise to people with special needs through the Therapeutic Riding Association of Ottawa-Carleton – known as TROtt. A longtime member of TROtt, Paula is both teacher and program administrator, working with individuals who live with physical, developmental and learning disabilities as they discover the therapeutic effects of horseback riding.

Working at TROtt is not a job for Paula, it’s a calling, allowing her to combine her passion for horses with her passion for helping others. Ask any of the families of people whom she has taught, and they will tell you that Paula Rolfe is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, Paula answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is special to me because I have lots of friends, family and colleagues here.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

Ottawa and the surrounding area has lots of horse enthusiasts such as myself, so lots of opportunities for learning and sharing knowledge.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you? 

Therapeutic Riding is very important to me, it is a huge part of my life, not just a job. I am very proud to be a part of the team at TROtt that offers this special program to people with special needs.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

I am proud that I have achieved many coaching certification levels in the field of Therapeutic Riding, all due to the fabulous coaches and mentors who taught and guided me along the way.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

I hope that Therapeutic Riding can be made more financially available to all people with special needs who wish to participate.

Dominique Ruiz-Courcelle

Dominique Ruiz-Courcelle was diagnosed with a rare genetic muscular disorder called Friedreich’s ataxia at the age of 13, but that hasn’t stopped her from living her life to the fullest. An Ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern Ontario – an organization which grants special wishes to kids with life threatening illnesses – Dominique started a Canada 150 fundraising project called “150 Wishes” which she hopes will allow 150 kids in the region to see their own wishes come true.

Dominique, who met Justin Bieber in 2013 through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, feels that having a wish granted gives kids a dose of inspiration and joy that’s stronger than any medicine. For her determination to “wish it forward” and her commitment to supporting the dreams of other Ottawa-area youth dealing with major health issues, Dominique Ruiz Courcelle is 1 of #150GreatPeople. Here, she answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is so special to me because it is the city in which I grew up. I have so many memories related to every corner of the town. I’m also so proud to be a citizen of an inclusive city where diversity is so important.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

I love living and working in Ottawa mostly because of the culture. There is always something to do and the people are just so warm, kind and respectful towards others.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

As an ambassador for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern Ontario, I want to make Ottawa a better place in term of generosity. The children suffering from a life-threatening medical condition deserve to see that their lives can be beautiful even through the hospital appointments, the injections, etc.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

In honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, I want to raise enough funds to grant the wishes of 150 other children. My campaign, 150wishes.ca, is one of the thing I am super proud of because I feel that I can make a difference in the lives of others.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

For the future, I hope Ottawa will be totally peaceful and that everyone will have self-esteem as high as they deserve. I know it might be unrealistic, but that’s my ultimate goal with my project. #keepdreaming ?

George Sparks

George Sparks was born in 1917, a direct descendant of Nicholas Sparks, a noted landholder who owned much of what is now the downtown core of Ottawa.. George, who is 101 years young, has given back to this community, and his country, in many ways all through his life. He and his late wife of seventy-four years, Evelyn, co-founded what became known as Meals on Wheels in Ottawa, and George was a volunteer driver for the organization well into his eighties.

George was Treasurer for The International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons, President of his Seniors Club, and Life Member of the Civil Service Recreational Association where he taught Ballroom and Line Dancing for 25 years. He also went to war for his country, serving in England, France, Germany, Belgium and Holland during World War II. George is one of Canada’s eldest living war veterans and,has been invested into The Order of St. George as a Field Knight and had the George L. Sparks Veteran Friendly Learning Centre named after him at Willis College.

George Sparks’ volunteer work has contributed to the kind of giving community Ottawa is today, and through his military service he helped ensure a safe future for successive generations of Canadians. George Sparks is, in 101 very special ways, 1 of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa, and here he answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

What makes Ottawa special to me is that we have a family history going back to one of Ottawa’s founding citizens, my great-great-grand uncle Nicholas Sparks. Our whole family from the early 1800’s till now have been in the Ottawa Valley area.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

What I love most about Ottawa is that I met my wife here, we made our careers and raised our three children here. It is a friendly city. We made many friends through our work and activities. Ottawa has lots of opportunities for cultural, educational and recreational activities. A very beautiful and safe city.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

The work that I did to help make Ottawa a better place is important to me because a city has to engage with its people for it to grow, and the work one does has to contribute to this growth. If our work and efforts to support our city were not of any significant importance, new projects and developments would not get started and the city would suffer.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

One achievement of which I am proud is helping my wife start the “Dinner Wagon” known now as “The Meals on Wheels”. I helped her develop this service and was one of the first volunteer drivers to deliver meals to the elderly, shut-ins and medically identified recipients. This service is still going strong today with many volunteers and needy recipients who have found a better, healthier lifestyle through this service.

My involvement with dancing for fifty years and being an instructor was also rewarding as I got to give back to others the joy that I received from these activities. The social interaction and health benefits of dancing are immeasurable and I got great satisfaction out of seeing people enjoy themselves. I have been active all my life, dancing up to a few years ago, I am now in my 101st year and still going strong.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

What I wish for Ottawa in the future is for it to remain friendly, open and caring to its citizens. It would be nice for Ottawa to be violence–free, but that is not reality. We can, though, protect the vulnerable, help the needy and care for all things human, animal or material, to be respectful and cherish life. To maintain the clean physical appearance and beauty of Ottawa’s heritage. Encourage people to respect the scenic lands and structures that hopefully will remain for many years to come. I have seen a lot of changes in my 101 years, going from just a radio to high-tech gadgets that my daughter and granddaughters are using today and it’s mind boggling. It is so easy to lose the things that are close and dear to us.

Julie Findlay

Julie Findlay loves nothing more than to help busy Ottawa families live their best life. As the founder of Mom in the Know, Julie is a blogger, food educator and media maven – a former teacher who is passionate about sharing information and ideas that let people be healthy in mind, body and spirit.

Julie also believes in healthy local and international communities. She has drawn hundreds of kids into raising thousands of dollars for the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation through the annual Great Canadian Lemonade Standemonium, and helps CARE Canada organize its annual Ottawa Walk in Her Shoes event to raise money and awareness of moms and babies living in poverty around the world. For her infectious energy which motivates people to build healthier, better lives, Julie Findlay is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, she answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

It is a beautiful city inside and out. From our amazing museums and theatres to our beautiful buildings, canals and parks our city has something for everyone. Whether it’s going for a skate on the world’s longest rink, biking on our picturesque paths, or taking in the beauty of our Parliament buildings, our city is stunning.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

Hmm, well there’s lots to love. It is an inspiring city. I love the easy access to the wilderness. The maze of path on which to run, bike or ski. The variety of great restaurants. But I think what I love the most is that while Ottawa feels like a small town, it’s become an increasingly cosmopolitan city in which, through Mom in the Know, I’m constantly meeting new, amazing people who’re doing incredible things to maintain and improve our community.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

We become so busy within our daily lives, wearing so many hats, that it’s tough to stay in tune with our communities. If I can continue to raise awareness of the great things our city has to offer, while sharing ideas and solutions to make those things more accessible and convenient, then my work is done.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

Keeping our kids active. Getting them engaged and participating in activities that promote healthy and active lifestyles. As an educator and a mom who wants the best for our children, it gives me great satisfaction to see the smiles on kids’ faces as they engage in healthy social and physical activities.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

That we continue to connect, share with, and help the people in our communities. It takes a village/city

Karen Nielsen & Leigh Reid

Leigh Reid and Karen Nielsen are committed to treating every resident of Ottawa like they would treat their own neighbour – with respect, compassion and, above all else, like a fellow human being. The two women are the founders of a social enterprise called highJinx, a place that runs a bit like a store, but is actually a whole lot more.

highJinx helps people no matter their situation or background – whether they need a piece of furniture, a decent meal, bus fare or just someone to talk to during a difficult time. Karen and Leigh want you to feel like you’re coming home every time you walk through the doors at highJinx, a place where strangers become friends and everyone is willing to offer a helping hand. For their devotion to building a community where everyone feels they belong, Karen Nielsen and Leigh Reid are two of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, they answer the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is a special place to us because it is our community and our home. Both of us are not native to Ottawa having moved to Ottawa from other citiies in Ontario in order to pursue post education. After completing our studies we both entered the workforce in different career paths

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

First and foremost, Ottawa is a great city to live and work in because it a wide variety of cultural backgrounds coming together for common ground. It is truly a welcoming and supportive community.
Ottawa promotes the inclusivity of all people regardless of their diverse backgrounds.

Secondly, Ottawa offers the same economic opportunities as a large city while maintaining a small town feel. It is a very close knit community that comes together when times are tough.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

It is important to us because it is our community and our home, and we want to make it the best that it can be. We want to help foster a healthy, thriving and all encompassing community. We believe that everyone needs a sense of belonging and that socioeconomic backgrounds shouldn’t be a barrier to neighbours feeling included

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

Over the years there have been many moments which we are proud of. We’d have to say the fact that we have shifted the language in the social services scene in some organizations from clients to neighbours. We feel the term client is very clinical and that it promotes the divisive feeling of “us vs them.” We feel that we are all in this together and want to promote the sense of community and inclusiveness, a community where neighbours are helping neighbours.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

We hope that Ottawa will continue to grow and mature as a city while maintaining its small town feel. A city that fosters communities which will continually embrace the diverse and unique people that live in this great city. In regards to highjinx we hope to remain in existence helping the community and providing social equity in our neighbourhood.

Photo Credit: the loveOttawa project (Dwayne Brown Studio)

Katerina Mertikas

Katerina Mertikas uses her remarkable artistic talent to give back not just to the Ottawa community, but to the international community as well. She regularly donates her bright, joyful art to various charitable causes to help them raise money, and was the first Ottawa artist to be chosen by UNICEF to have her work featured on their international greeting cards.

Katerina also generated a substantial contribution to the trust of Marcus Cirillo whose father, the late Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was killed in 2014 while on guard at The National War Memorial, by selling prints of a painting she created in Corporal Cirillo’s honour. Her work highlights and celebrates the very best of Ottawa, and for this, Katerina Mertikas is one of #150GreatPeople. Here, she answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is very special to me for many reasons. First, it was where we called home after emigrating with my family in the 60’s from lovely Greece. My younger brother Dr. Harry A Patrinos studied here, got his PhD in economics from England and now works in Washington D.C. as manager at the World Bank in the Education department and Ottawa gave him his first years of education and a thirst to learn more. It is where I got married to Dimitry and had my two beautiful daughters Loukia Zigoumis and Gina Mertikas Lavictoire. It’s where all 5 of my grandchildren were born. How could I not love this city. It’s part of what makes me, me.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

I love living and working in Ottawa because it’s basically a serene, beautiful city with vast spaces, great lakes, waterways, the Parliament buildings – it’s a city with so much history. Working in Ottawa presents great opportunities for feeling part of both a big and small city and it’s great to call home.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

I never would have thought my art made Ottawa a better place, but if it brings recognition about Ottawa to the thousands who have bought my work and who find out it’s where I call my home, that can only encourage the arts and nurture artists to keep growing and showing their work. Its important for me to say with pride I am from the Capital of Canada!

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

I have been giving back to Ottawa, and giving back globally, through art donations that can be sold in turn to help many worthy causes and charities, from the Canadian Lung Association to the Children’s Aid Society, to our local hospitals, many of which also have my pieces hanging on their walls. I am very proud of the fact that I was the first Ottawa artist to have been selected by UNICEF in 1993 to not only sell my art on their global greeting cards, which help improve the lives of children everywhere, but also to feature my work on their international cover. Through UNICEF, I have met many celebrities who have also gone on to purchase my works, and I’ve benefited from media coverage, but knowing that my art – which mainly features happy children – is also actually benefiting children – is my real reward.

I am equally proud of another recent contribution, but one which was brought about through tragic circumstances. After the shooting of Corporal Nathan Cirillo at the War Memorial, I painted a memorial painting on the day of the shooting which featured Corporal Cirillo’s young son saluting his father. It is called Honouring My Father, and garnered so much local and national attention that we decided, in conjunction with Koyman Galleries and with the help and support of Mayor Jim Watson and past Mayor Jacqueline Holtzman, to make limited edition prints that were sold internationally. With the help of local and national newspapers which advertised the sale of the prints, we were beyond pleased to raise $75,000 which went directly into Marcus Cirillo’s trust fund. I had the honour to meet the mother of the corporal and we presented her with an embellished print which now hangs in the son’s room. The original hangs in our Mayors office and a copy on the main floor at city hall.

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

I hope that Ottawa continues to grow and give more opportunities to all, and to the art community in particular. I love how the transportation system is catching up to other world capitals. I hope it continues to stay clean and safe for all who live, work and study in Ottawa. I hope my grandchildren will have the same opportunities I had living in Ottawa and also feel proud to say they are from Ottawa, capital of Canada.

Jessie Thomson

Jessie Thomson dedicates her professional life and her personal time to helping people find a safe home. As the incoming president of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization Board and as Senior Director, Program Innovation and Strategic Partnerships with CARE Canada, Jessie is a passionate advocate for refugees who have been forced to leave behind their homes and lives due to violence or conflict.

Jessie, whose work has taken her to refugee camps around the world, helped chair a private sponsorship group which welcomed a Syrian refugee family to Ottawa, and she firmly believes that diversity helps to make this city stronger, that inclusion makes us better, and that we have a duty to always help those less fortunate than ourselves. Jessie Thomson is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa, and here she answers the questionnaire:

What makes Ottawa special to you?

Ottawa is special to me because I met my spouse here and we had our beautiful daughter Rose at the Ottawa General. It is also special to me, because it is where I have been able to continue to pursue my passion and my vocation as a refugee advocate. I found my professional home here and whether in government, in civil society or as a member of the community, Ottawa has given me the space to be a champion of those forced to flee their homes.

What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?

Ottawa is a small town with a big heart. It is a city full of global citizens, who are deeply committed to social justice, inclusion and a world where people can live healthy, prosperous and meaningful lives free from violence and conflict.

It’s a city where a film screening about refugees sells out on a sunny evening in June, where a mosque basement is host to private sponsors from every possible religious domination, and where local settlement workers partner with volunteers from the community to show newly-arrived refugees how to skate. It’s a city that stands-up in the face of racism and discrimination, where one act of hate is met with thousands of generous acts of love and welcome. It is a city that I am very proud to call home.

In the last year, as chair of OttawaWelcomes (a private refugee sponsorship group that welcomed a lovely Syrian family), I have also had a unique and privileged insight into the city of Ottawa: its people, its services and its warm-even-in-the-dead-of-winter welcome. This incredible journey has connected me more closely to my neighbours, my friends and the services in the community than ever before and it has made me incredibly proud.

I watched in awe as friends and family generously opened their wallets – enabling us to raise $45,000 in just three weeks. I breathed a sigh of relief in a moment of crisis early in our sponsorship, when a settlement worker from the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization took my hand and told me it was going to be okay. I felt lucky when I watched my new friend’s son with cerebral palsy access free health care from the amazing Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario after spending the first three years of his life in a refugee camp. I made unlikely friends with the National Capital Wrestling Club, who took me and my new Syrian friends into their wrestling world without question and with the warmest welcome that I have experienced in Ottawa to date.

The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?

It is important to me because everyone needs and deserves a safe home. I feel deeply privileged by the life and country I have been born into and I do not take my freedom for granted.

As a board member of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization, I have heard countless stories of the struggles faced by refugees desperately trying to restart their lives in a strange new land and I have seen the transformative power that small, often underfunded settlement programs can have – enabling people to start over here in Canada and not just survive, but also thrive.

At CARE Canada, where I have worked for the past 7 years, we extend such a sentiment abroad. I have seen the devastation caused by conflict, and I have seen the tremendous impact of Canadian funded programs in some of the most isolated and forgotten corners of the world. I know that it is possible to make a difference in the lives of others, and that poverty is not a given. I have seen the transformative power of gender equality programming in the heart of Chad. I have watched a 15-year-old girl in Afghanistan stand up to a community elder and demand a space to speak and lead.

The work I do is important to me, because it is contributing to a brighter, more inclusive, and more peaceful world and I owe that to the world, knowing that I can always go home.

You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?

I am thrilled to be the incoming president of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization Board this year. The incredible staff of this organization are on the front-lines of our beautiful multiculturalism project and they are confronting, challenging and overcoming the issues that tear communities apart every day. They are helping to build the Ottawa of the future on a foundation of inclusion, respect and diversity. I am honoured to lead the board of this incredible organization!

What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?

I hope that Ottawa will continue to be the welcoming and inclusive city that I have come to know so well. There is no question in my mind that our diversity makes us stronger and that we can do more at home and abroad to help people find safety and restart their lives. I hope that not only Ottawa, but also Canada, will continue to show leadership around the protection and assistance of refugees and that we will keep our borders and our doors open to welcome those less fortunate than ourselves.