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Mayor honours Sarnians who made a difference in 2022

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Tara Jeffrey

They helped comfort the sick, feed those in need, provide safe spaces, opportunities for youth to thrive, and help families start over after escaping war — and those are just a few.

The 2022 Mayor’s Honour List was announced today and includes a list of people who helped make a difference this past year in their community.

“The list is a tribute to the unsung people and groups in the community who make a difference in trying to create a good and just community and society,” Mayor Mike Bradley said of the tradition, established by the late mayor Marceil Saddy in 1981, to honour “citizens and groups in the community or surrounding area who have been instrumental in improving the qualify of lie or making a significant contribution to the City of Sarnia and Lambton County.”

An event will be held in the New Year to formally recognize the recipients.

The honourees are:

KEVIN ALLEN – SARNIA BLESSINGS

Kevin Allen, of Sarnia Blessings. Cathy Dobson

Kevin Allen, founder of Sarnia Blessings, worked alongside a group of volunteers to prepare and deliver meals to seniors and others at home who were recovering from surgeries in March 2020 before the pandemic hit.

Their efforts grew from there and during the peak of the pandemic were preparing 1,000 meals a week. The location to prepare the meals has moved from a church kitchen to now leasing a vacant restaurant. Meals are prepared in the middle of the week, frozen, and delivered by volunteers each Monday.

Mr. Allen has dedicated Sarnia Blessings in memory of his late mother. Mr. Allen noted that Sarnia Blessings is filling a need in the community with great volunteers. “It’s a good feeling to be able to give back to the community.”

CESTAR COLLEGE

Cestar College is one of Canada’s largest private career colleges and has had a long-standing partnership with Lambton College.

The partnership, known as Cestar-Lambton College, has benefitted local and international students over the years. Cestar-Lambton College has become an integral part of the Sarnia community through its generosity in supporting the Sarnia-Lambton Oversized Load Corridor, multi-year sponsorship of the Sarnia Sting Major Junior A Hockey Team and various programmes through The Inn of the Good Shepherd.

Over the past two summers Cestar-Lambton College has provided funding to support the Inn’s Mobile Market programme which delivers fresh produce weekly in the summer and fall to five Sarnia neighbourhoods and seven county communities along with Aamjiwnaang and Kettle Point.

In addition, they have supported the Inn’s “Families Dinner” where 300 people attended; the children’s party attended by 200 children; and the Adopt-A-Family programme with Christmas gifts going to 600 families. A new Christmas programme called “Christmas Breakfast Bags” with 220 families receiving a bag containing all the items to have a hearty traditional Christmas breakfast was well received – all supported by Cestar-Lambton College.

BRIAN DEWAGNER AND JUNE PARTRIDGE

Brian DeWagner and wife June Partridge.
Like Minded Studio Photo

Brian and June co-founded two non-profit sports programs – Janie Lax, a lacrosse program, 10 years ago, followed by Janie Puck, a hockey program, five years later.

Over this time 1,000 girls have registered for the programs. They wanted to provide a sports program that was both accessible and affordable.

In the beginning, the programs operated with a “donate if you can” policy but now there is a small fee charged to cover things such as insurance. The recent donation of portable lacrosse goals and women’s sticks for lacrosse and hockey from the “TD Thanks You Campaign”, as well as a storage unit, will go a long way to carrying on with the programmes.

The two programs have grown to regularly unite groups of 80 to 100 girls aged four to 12 in the spring and fall season.

KRISTI DISPER

Kristi Disper

Ms. Disper is the founder of The Fresh Start Project: Sarnia Area, FRESH START, a non-profit programme launched in 2020 in the Toronto area, assists people moving out of shelters, away from an abusive home or moving into the community from another country to an apartment or house.

It relies on the help of community members donating basic household and personal items.

This past May, Kristi launched the program on Facebook and quickly attracted almost 500 members offering to help. Donations began coming in and at the end of May the first family in need was secured. Persons go through a list of what they need, and the goal is to have the items collected and delivered to the client’s home within five days. It is hoped the delivery of the gently used items will assist in making their lives easier for the first couple of months.

This is the first of its kind in the Sarnia area. Since its inception the program has grown to 1,300 members, collecting, donating, and distributing thousands of items to many families in the Sarnia area. In addition to the basic program, Kristi and the FRESH START Programme have organized a number of holiday-themed activities benefitting many families in the region. Kristi also spearheaded the “socktober” sock collection drive at Sacred Heart School where 785 pairs of socks were presented to Fresh Start families and also donated to the Inn of the Good Shepherd.

CRYSTAL FACH

Crystal Fach, centre, co-founder of Diversity Ed

Crystal is co-founder of Diversity Ed, a not-for-profit organization which provides education and the development of community spaces for 2SLGBTQA1+ people.

Even when they are “not on the job” Crystal is still looking out for the safety and wellbeing of people in the 2SLGBTQA1+ community.

Crystal goes above and beyond the call of duty to try to teach the community and debunk stereotypes and myths, doing all this in a respectful manner. Crystal has been described as an impeccable role model who incorporates the values that we should all have for protecting and creating an inclusive community. “The world needs more Crystal’s.”

CARISSA HOULE

Ms. Houle is a recipient of the 2021 Women of Excellence Award, presented this past year by the Sarnia Community Foundation, for her dedicated servíce to organizations like Temple Baptist, the Diabetes Association, the Inn of the Good Shepherd, Habitat for Humanity and World Vision.

CHIEF CHRIS PLAIN

Chief Chris Plain

Chief Plain has been a leader building bridges and outreach from his community to others.

He was first elected Chief in 2005 and has served in that leadership position except for the term 20L6 to 2018 when he served as a Councillor.

In September 2022 Chief Plain was acclaimed to another term as Chief. The Aamjiwnaang First Nation has been a leader in social and economic development because of Chris and Council leadership and vision.

The City of Sarnia is fortunate to have a strong and ongoing relationship with the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, providing services through a number of agreements and compensated by the Band for doing so which strengthens and enhances our relationship. There are many community events and special occasions that are also jointly shared and treasured.

ELVIRA POPOVA

Ms. Popova was a recipient of a Sarnia Community Foundation 2021 Women of Excellence Award for her work in mentoring others finding their way in a new country.

Originally from Bulgaria Ms. Popova, in addition to her mentoring work, is involved in the community through the Goodwill, Green Drinks, the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, Artwalk and the Hub.

SAVE UKRAINE – SARNIA & LAMBTON COUNTY

Kevin and Liana Smith and their children preparing to welcome Ukrainian refugees into their home in April. Cathy Dobson photo

Save Ukraine – Sarnia & Lambton County is a group of Sarnians who have come together to assist people who have fled Ukraine and looking to start a new life in Sarnia and area.

With the assistance of individuals and local churches, they are hopíng to bring as many as 100 or more Ukrainians to Sarnia.

A number of Sarnians have come forward to be host families. Through generous donations, once they arrive, they are provided with household

Debbie and Peter Osmond with their Ukrainian guests Igor, back left, Ihor, and Olha Komirenko. Cathy Dobson photo.

goods and clothing.

Volunteers are helping with arranging English classes, and offering babysitting services while parents search for jobs.

The group is making every effort to make the adjustment of a new life easier for the new residents.

 

KEVIN SCHOFIELD

Mr. Schofield, a retired Police Officer, won five gold medals in bowling at The World Police & Fire Games held this past year in Rotterdam, Netherlands. In total he has won 28 medals-16 gold, seven silver and five bronze in 11 trips to the Games. He is now a member of the World Police & Fire Games Hall of Fame. The World Police & Fire Games is the world’s second largest multisport event after the Summer Olympics. The Games can draw up to 10,000 competitors from 70 countries in 63 sports and are open to active and retired law enforcement and fire service personnel. This year’s Games were Mr. Schofield’s most successful, and he is looking forward to participating in the next Games to be held in Winnipeg in 2023.

ANGELA SEKERIS

Angela Sekeris. (Cathy Dobson photo)

Following the passing of her husband a few years ago Angela found it difficult, especially around holidays or on special occasions, and she needed to do something positive.

Reflecting back on her husband’s chemo treatments at Bluewater Health Cancer Clinic and his positive outlook, she wanted to honour him in some way.

She came up with the idea of “Totes for Hope” a large bag containing personal care items to be used during chemo treatments, along with a warm blanket.

This past December Angela surpassed the delivery of 1,000 totes to chemo patients at Bluewater Health. What began as 100 totes in a year then doubled. Each tote also comes with a handwritten note offering an encouraging message.

The positive messages Angela receives from patients who have received a tote “puts life into perspective for me.”

JIM & ELLY VERGUNST

Jim and Elly Vergunst have been called “the epitome of true volunteers.”

Over the years they have volunteered their time, energy, and talents to many organizations including spearheading SnowFest, and more recently volunteering countless hours to the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia.

They have lent their creative talents to assist with events and have spearheaded rebranding of events. Fundraising efforts for the Alzheimer Society of Sarnia have been very successful and Jim and Elly played a large role in that success.

They are the first to arrive at events for the set up and the last to leave, assisting with any clean-up. They quietly work behind the scenes getting things accomplished.

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