Etobicoke Guardian celebrates 2015 Urban Heroes at annual ceremony

The 2015 Urban Hero Award winners gather for a group photo following the presentation ceremony held Monday at The Old Mill.
2015 Etobicoke winners

Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran is arguably most famous in the English-speaking world for his 1923 inspirational fiction, The Prophet.  

But Monday night, it was the philosophically minded writer’s thoughts on altruism that best reflected the selfless works of 14 individuals, two organizations and two businesses in Etobicoke honoured at Old Mill Toronto during The Etobicoke Guardian’s  seventh annual Urban Hero Awards. 

“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy,” Gibran once said. 

The Urban Hero Award recognizes local residents, groups and businesses who make Etobicoke a better place to live, work and play. 

“It takes great character and compassion to give of oneself without expecting anything in return. And for that, you’re all heroes in our books,” said Georgia Balogiannis, Etobicoke Guardian news editor and awards’ night MC. 

The Etobicoke Guardian  has honoured 122 Urban Heroes since the awards’ inception. 

Each spring, the newspaper solicits nominations from the public in search of outstanding examples of people who give back at the grassroots level. Then newspaper staff select the winners based on the value of impact the individual or group has on a person, group or cause in Etobicoke. 

Cheryl Phillips, regional director of advertising with Metroland Media Toronto, which publishes The Etobicoke Guardian,  noted the company has grown its Urban Hero program, which originated in Etobicoke, to highlight the accomplishments of people in North York and Scarborough. 

“And from the stories I see in The Guardian, as well as what I hear from our editorial and sales staff, (Etobicoke) was the best part of the city to develop an awards program like this,” Phillips said. 

“There seems to be no shortage of good work happening here, and as a community organization, this is exactly what we stand for. Celebrating the people and groups that strengthen our neighbourhoods and stand as inspirations for us all.” 

The Guardian  recognized Urban Heroes in seven categories: arts and culture; business; community; education; environment; health and sciences and sports.  

ARTS AND CULTURE 

MABELLEarts received the night’s first honour for its work connecting more than 1,000 residents of the highrise central Etobicoke neighbourhood through accessible arts initiatives, and making the local park a cultural hub. 

Mary and Bill Wilson won for organizing jazz concerts for the past 20 years that fundraised more than $50,000 for local groups, including Youth Without Shelter, Women’s Habitat, Out of the Cold, LAMP and Stonegate community health centres.  

BUSINESS 

COBS BREAD Humbertown took the first of two business awards of the night for donating daily the entirety of its unsold, fresh bread products to local charities, like the Salvation Army, Franklin Horner Community Centre and breakfast and lunch programs at local schools. 

Courtesy Chevrolet won for fundraising $10,000 both of the past two years to send young, seriously ill children and their families to a Florida theme park in partnership with the non-profit charity, Make-A-Wish. Dealership staff plan to continue the program.  

COMMUNITY 

The West Toronto Office of the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Deborah Lombard Ryall, Krys Angel, Navaratnam Karunaratnarajah and Cara Wigle shared the honours in the awards’ community category.  

The Buddhist foundation’s volunteers provide winter clothing to Rexdale kids, donate hundreds of TTC tokens to women’s shelters and fund a literacy program for Somali youth. Most recently, it sent 10 volunteers to Nepal to aid earthquake disaster relief efforts. 

Lombard Ryall was recognized for providing full-time care for her 91-year-old friend following an accident.  

Angel’s extensive work at Franklin Horner Community Centre gained a nod. She is the centre’s chair, but does everything from flower planting to organizing the Christmas lunch, helping improve the building and training leaders in budgeting and strategic planning.  

Karunaratnarajah supports youth, women and seniors and runs and after-school and music program at North Kipling Community Centre as president of the Tamil Seniors Group of Etobicoke. 

Wigle won for her “giving spirit” in her work with St. Margaret’s Church’s Out of the Cold program serving meals, sewing, making cakes and finding gifts for Christmas dinner guests. 

EDUCATION 

In education, Shobha Adore and Zlatka Boudakova took the honours. 

Adore is executive director of Braeburn Neighbourhood Place, which runs breakfast and after-school programs, a childcare centre and summer camp, a food security program and a community garden. 

Boudakova is a recently retired school board music teacher who taught at more than a dozen local schools in the past 20 years. Her students call her “a mentor through music, but also for life.”  

ENVIRONMENT 

Barbara Keaveney and Monika Meulman took the Urban Hero Award in the environment category. 

Keaveney has organized the Citizens Concerned About the Future of the Etobicoke Waterfront bird walks for more than a decade, and now helps organize the annual bird festival in Colonel Samuel Smith Park. 

Last year, approximately 1,800 local students took part in a nature program in the park she initiated with the Humber Arboretum. 

Meulman is founder and chair of the Lakeshore Environmental Gardening Society, and called a “dynamic leader with natural, positive energy” by her nominators.  

HEALTH AND SCIENCES 

Anthony Aquan-Assee, Jennifer Churchill and William Roland were named in the health and sciences category. 

Aquan-Assee volunteers every weekend at the neuro-trauma intensive care unit at St. Michael’s Hospital. He gives back to the medical team who saved his life 18 years ago when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a motorcycle accident. 

As Home Instead Senior Care education co-ordinator, Churchill trains caregivers supporting loved ones at homes, and also trains caregivers in the community for free. 

At age 70, Roland suffered a heart attack, a jaw bone infection and a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Eight months later, he completed the Rome Marathon in seven hours as a member of Team Diabetes. Since, he has run five marathons and raised more than $85,000 for the Canadian Diabetes Association. 

SPORTS 

Jay Mandarino and Stan Palmateer scored in the sports category. 

Mandarino offers discounted skateboard programs to children with autism, ADHD, Asperger’s and Down Syndrome at his CJ Skateboard Park and School, as runs a program for kids battling cancer. 

Palmateer’s 26-year and running annual 24-hour tennis marathon at the Mimico Tennis Club has raised more than $125,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Players sign up a year in advance to play Palmateer, a Mimico native. 

Canadian Tire — The Queensway, Giant Tire, Humber College, Humbertown Shopping Centre, Dr. Amanpreet Chopra and Metroland Media Toronto sponsored the 2015 Urban Hero Awards. 

The Etobicoke Guardian is one of nine community newspapers across Toronto published by Metroland Media Toronto.