Sylvia Cuhaci has been a champion for community-based mental health services in Ottawa for over three decades. As a volunteer and board member with Upstream Ottawa, Sylvia – with her gentle, gracious approach to everyone around her – has worked tirelessly to ensure that those struggling with the effects of mental illness in the city have a place to turn when they need it most.
Sylvia’s late son Hayq fought a valiant battle with mental illness until his death at the age of 29, and thus she understands all too well the toll that the disease can take on individuals and their families. She is committed, through her unstinting dedication to Upstream Ottawa, to providing a ray of hope to kids and adults living with mental illness in our city, and to ensuring that they have the support they need as they rebuild their lives. For her courage, her selflessness and her dedication to those in need, Sylvia Cuhaci is one of #150GreatPeople in Ottawa. Here, she answers the questionnaire:
What makes Ottawa special to you?
Ottawa is home. Ottawa is where our children were born, where we all gather on holidays and family occasions in our house in which we have lived for over forty years and where memories and experiences have shaped us.
What do you love most about living and working in Ottawa?
Accessibility to places and people: In Ottawa you can live in a suburban setting and be at a stone’s throw from the urban core and the beautiful Parliament Buildings. Friends and family are never far away. Also, waterways, cycling paths and ample green spaces are special privileges that make our city unique.
The work that you do helps to make Ottawa a better place – why is this important to you?
When you come to a city you eventually become part of its communities. It is natural to want the best for your community and to be proud of its achievements. No conscious effort is required besides dedication. It is truly rewarding to have the opportunity to make a difference in a place that was so welcoming when my husband and I arrived in Ottawa as a young couple a very long time ago ….
You give back to the Ottawa community in various ways – is there one Ottawa-related achievement of which you are most proud?
As a Board member of Upstream Ottawa I take particular pride in being able to continue its founders’ vision of rebuilding lives affected by mental illness. I take special pride in having gained the trust of my fellow Board members, staff and clients. Through our dynamic and collaborative approach we have engendered hope and facilitated rehabilitation. With the help of Ottawa’s generous donors and volunteers we have expanded our community-based support services to create new programs such as the successful Youth Matters Initiative. Personally, my work is a tribute to Nancy Smart who spearheaded Upstream in 1985 and to our late son from whom I learnt so much about courage and the intricacies of mental illness. I have been involved with Upstream Ottawa Mental Health Community Support (formerly Project Upstream) for more than 30 years and look forward to further growth and success. With additional financial support from Provincial and private sources, we can do it.
What do you hope for Ottawa in the future?
I hope that Ottawa will continue to be a welcoming place where communities thrive and respect their city and its residents. I hope that Ottawans will continue to take pride in its landmarks and achievements and that schools will make a greater point of teaching children about the history of their capital city and its environs. When those children grow up they will become contributing members to their own communities.
Thank you Ottawa.