A brighter London celebrated at 10th Pillar Community Innovation Awards

pillarEach year London shows up to make the community brighter and at the 10th annual Pillar Community Innovation Awards the shine continued as several bright lights were recognized.

More than 800 guests witnessed the illumination of these stories on Nov. 23 at the London Convention Centre.

In the audience were the 12 finalists whose commitment to the community was shared with the crowd.

“Seeing many of these finalists’ in action and reminded again by the video stories, brings me back to the roots of why we started down this road,” said Pillar’s executive director Michelle Baldwin. “All of our 120 finalists over the 10 years of these awards solidifies the fact that the London community is composed of so many remarkable individuals and organizations that are making a significant, lasting impact.”

The true highlight, and the most anticipated, part of the evening was the announcement of this year’s Pillar Community Innovation Award recipients.

The four award categories included Community Innovation, Community Leadership, Community Impact, and Community Collaboration.

The 2016 outstanding award recipients included:

  • Community Innovation: Thames Valley District School Board’s GENTLE Reception Centre Program
  • Community Leadership: John Leitch
  • Community Impact: Pathways Skill and Development Placement Centre
  • Community Collaboration: Intergenerational Choir Project (Alzheimer Society London Middlesex, Medway High School and Sisters of St. Joseph)

In addition to a custom award designed by Metal In Fusion, award recipients received $2,500 to be directed to the registered charity of their choice.

“These stories tell us about the volunteer service and accomplishments of a truly inspirational group of individuals, businesses and organizations in our community,” said awards co-chairs Harry Joosten and Kathleen Murphy in a joint statement. “While one purpose of these awards is to recognize them, Pillar also hopes to stimulate and motivate the rest of us to follow their lead and expand on their contributions, each according to our own capacities and passions.”

Visit www.pillarnonprofit.ca for more details.

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VegFest London building upon growing vegan curiosity

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The VegFest London committee, including (clockwise from lower left) Abby McCuaig, Joan Bongers, Mel Gamsby, Krista Kankula, Brittany Bragg and Amber Gionet, helped make the Forest City’s annual vegan festival the most successful edition yet.

When Krista Kankula was launching VegFest London, people openly doubted the idea and speculated a city known for its annual ribfest would never embrace a vegan festival.

She remembers some people saying she’d be lucky to get more than “a couple hundred people.”

Well the inaugural festival drew 2,500 people and was followed in 2015 by about 5,000 attendees.

As the doors opened on the third annual VegFest London, held Nov. 12, at the Western Fair Progress Building, it became quickly apparent Kankula’s vision was — pardon the pun — bearing fruit.

Proof of that success is reflected in the 500 people who came through the doors in the festival’s first 10 minutes on the way to a record crowd of 7,500 participants.

“For me, it’s a really positive sign people are open and curious and want to learn more about what veganism is,” said Kankula, VegFest London chair. “People are curious about how they can make changes that will impact their lives, but will also impact animals, our environment, everything we share this planet with.”

VegFest London, backed by 40 volunteers and 125 vegan-friendly vendors, drew packed crowds of Londoners and out-of-town visitors alike.

Two of those visitors included Kassidy McMullin, from Bolton, and Tom Blake, from Burlington.

Herself a vegetarian, McMullin said her love of animals is one reason she supports events like VegFest.

However, she also finds herself becoming more upset with how old-style family farm operations have slowly transformed into an agricultural industry that is negatively impacting the global environment.

“As with everything, there’s a lot to learn about it, but it’s now something I’m thinking about more,” she said. “It’s in the back of my mind; when you eat something or do anything, how will this impact the environment? It’s something I’m embracing, but also I think more people are learning about.”

Blake said he was impressed with all the different products and food choices available in a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle.

Still “a bit on the fence,” about veganism, he admitted to thinking more about trying to make alternative food choices “down the line.”

Helping people make those choices is something Jenna Goodhand has dedicated herself to in recent years.

Goodhand, director of Saving Lives with Forks and Knives, launched the business in 2013 as an educational program she uses to help people transition to a plant-based diet.

A vegan for 16 years, and a VegFest London vendor since the beginning, Goodhand said although her primary focus is to get society eating more plant-based foods, the growing support for the festival proves the vegan lifestyle has become a mainstream choice.

“This is not a fad. Sixteen years ago, nobody knew what a vegan was. It (the turnout) says society is ready to embrace a different way of eating,” she said. “People are realizing vegan isn’t some weird thing. Now people realize vegan food is a lot of the same food everybody eats, it just excludes some things. It isn’t all tofu burgers.”

That realization by a growing segment of people is what has Abby McCuaig particularly excited.

A VegFest London committee member, McCuaig said the success of the event tells her people have not only become more supportive, but genuinely curious about veganism.

While there are certainly “die-hard vegans” who come out because the festival has grown to have such a “positive energy,” other participants walk through the doors unsure of what to expect.

“They are curious about the food or they are curious about the ethical or the environmental aspects of a plant-based diet. They are just dipping their toes in,” she said. “I think London is waking up to the vegan lifestyle and taking it on like a badge of honour. This city is becoming very vegan friendly, very quickly.”

London Community Foundation grants more than $1 million to local heroes

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The fourth annual Community Vitality Celebration took place on Nov. 10 at Goodwill Industries. London Community Foundation recognized a number of Londoners, including (from left) Murray Faulkner, Fred Galloway, Donna Bourne and Glen Pearson.

London Community Foundation (LCF) has again celebrated Londoners making a difference, not only by recognizing their accomplishments, but also by conveying to them grants worth collectively more than $1 million.

Taking place Nov. 10 at Goodwill Industries on Horton Street, LCF hosted its fourth annual Community Vitality Celebration.

In addition to funding high impact, innovative, and collaborative initiatives in both London and Middlesex County, LCF also celebrated donors, individuals and organizations who are dedicated to driving change in the community.

“These groups are really taking the lead in our community by being innovators in social change,” said LCF president & CEO Martha Powell. “Tackling issues such as homelessness, mental health, belonging, poverty, and skills training, these projects are addressing some of our community’s most critical needs in ways that have never been done before.”

The highlight of the program was once again announcement of the foundation’s Community Vitality grants.

Funded by LCF’s Smart & Caring Community Fund, the Community Vitality grant program supports innovation by investing in initiatives designed to create change in London’s most pressing issues as identified in the foundation’s biennial Vital Signs report.

The four groups receiving Community Vitality grants included:

  • Family Service Thames Valley: Transforming the System Response to Mental Health Through Cross-Sector Collaboration — $377,070 over two years;
  • Pathways Skill Development & Placement Centre: The London Community Woodshop —$190,000 over two years;
  • VHA Home HealthCare: London/Middlesex Country Hoarding Support Services Network — $186,000 over two years; and
  • Boys and Girls Club of London: Youth Zone Project — $85,200 for one year.

Additionally, the Community Vitality Celebration recognized five individuals who have demonstrated dedication to improving the community.

The Vital People Award recognizes employees at charitable organizations by providing grants toward professional development endeavours.

This year’s recipients included:

  • Brittany Kinchen, wish co-ordinator, Make-A-Wish Southwestern Ontario ($2,000);
  • Carolyn Underwood, registered social worker, Alzheimer Society London and Middlesex ($1,900);
  • Kathy Chute, program co-ordinator, Learning Disabilities Association of London Region ($2,000);
  • Sonja Dennis, director of music, Colborne Street United Church ($2,000); and
  • Sarah Mont, currently enrolled in the Social Welfare in Canada course at King’s University College ($2,000).

The evening also saw honours presented to Jeff Macoun, with the Ivey Award for Excellence (recognizing a volunteer, who has strengthened the community in London or Middlesex County) and Majd Radhaa, given the J. Allyn Taylor Award for Community Service (presented to a student who exhibits outstanding service to the community).

In addition, Donna Bourne, Murray Faulkner, Fred Galloway and Glen Pearson were honoured with the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which recognizes exceptional volunteer achievements.

“What we do at the foundation is all about building long-term community capacity while at the same time, making an impact today,” Powell said. “Community change depends on everyone. It doesn’t take much to help make a big impact.”

Special to this year’s celebration was the announcement of the funding from LCF’s Fund for Canada’s 150th in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

These grants — presented to 19 organizations — are designed to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary by honouring local history and heritage through a wide scope of projects that touch on environment, arts, culture, social services, recreation and education.

Nearly $150,000 was presented to organizations such as London Cross Cultural Learner Centre, Salthaven Wildlife and Education Centre, Pillar Nonprofit Network and Ark Aid Street Mission, Inc.