Pillar awards honour Londoners making a difference

Pillar 2017
The team at Pillar Nonprofit Network again led the way in honouring Londoners making a difference in the Forest City at the Pillar Community Innovation Awards on Nov. 22.

There was a definite buzz in the air as the Pillar Community Innovation Awards once again celebrated those individuals and organizations making London a brighter and more successful city.

Held Nov. 22 at the London Convention Centre, the highlight of the evening for the more than 850 people in attendance was the announcement of the award recipients in the four categories of Innovation, Leadership, Impact and Collaboration and a new category — Community Choice.

Pillar Nonprofit Network Executive Director Michelle Baldwin expresses her appreciation for the continued support of the event.

“Each year our goal is to share and highlight our award recipients,” she said. “This year clearly did this and showed how individuals, organizations and collaborations are bringing heart and solutions to our community.”

Pillar Community Innovation Awards recipients included:

  • Community Innovation: (+) Positive Voice at Nokee Kwe — a program created to support urban Aboriginal women in creating positive narratives and community connections.
  • Community Leadership: Justin Tiseo — leader and creator of John Paul II Catholic Secondary School’s ONERUN, turning a one-day fundraiser for cancer patient care into a city-wide, week long initiative engaging high school students and raising over $260,000 to date.
  • Community Impact: Community Engaged Learning at Western University — the courses and programs aim to help students strengthen their sense of civic responsibility and understanding of social justice, while giving students the hands-on experiences to connect what they’re learning in the classroom, to what’s happening outside of it.
  • Community Collaboration: Baby’s Book Bag: Literacy Right from the Start — created by London’s Child and Youth Network Literacy Team, with help from Kiwanis Club of Forest City-London, this initiative provides new and expectant parents in London with a free literacy bag containing practical, hands-on tools and information to use as soon as their baby is born.
  • Community Choice: Childreach’s WILD CHILD Outdoor Playgroup — an effort to motivate children and families to immerse themselves back into nature and outdoor activities, while improving the social, emotional, and physical well-being of children, which comes from outdoor play.

VegFest London keeps growing the plant-based lifestyle

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The VegFest London team were kept busy during the festival’s fourth edition, Nov. 11, with an expected 9,000 people coming through the doors at the Metroland Media Agriplex.

Harold Brown spent half his life in the cattle farming business, and another three working in the dairy industry, so to some it might seem strange he has been vegan for more than 20 years.

Brown — founder of the website FarmKind (which is designed to help farmers transition from animal focused to plant-based farming) and a public speaker with extensive experience as an animal advocate — was one of a dozen speakers at the fourth annual VegFest London.

Taking place Nov. 11 at the Metroland Media Agriplex, the festival was expected to draw some 9,000 people to sample vegan food, interact with some 130 vendors and participate in the numerous public workshops.

For Brown, who grew up in south central Michigan and now lives in western New York State, the scope of VegFest London was pleasantly surprising.

“I do a fair number of these festivals every year . . . this is huge. For London, better than a quarter-million people, I would say a VegFest I saw with as many people would be in Cleveland, Ohio, but you’re talking about a city of over one million people,” he said. “This turnout is phenomenal. It’s on par with any number of bigger cities and that speaks to the interest here. By and large, I think the community here is really curious and this is the place to come and learn.”

That was the case for Londoners Kara Walls, Kristin McGowan and Brianne Vidler.

McGowan and Vidler were making their third trip to VegFest and while not vegans themselves, they were interested in learning more about the vegan food options that were available to them.

McGowan said she believes the turnout at the festival is proof the vegan message is growing in London.

It certain was with Walls.

“I go just to see what’s new. I’m also not vegan. I’m more on the food side, the different options available,” she said. “I’m not a big meat eater, never have been, so I want to learn about the different options. I’m very surprised by all the options and by how many people are here today.”

The enjoyment shared by the three women was reflected many times over in conversations Krista Kankula had over the course of the day.

Kankula, VegFest London founder, said she was “blown away” with the turnout for year four.

A good indication for the enthusiasm was the number of people lined up at the doors to the Agriplex waiting for the 10 a.m. opening.

Swag bags were prepared for the first 500 people and Kankula said they were grabbed up even faster than last year.

“There is definitely huge growth. We’re seeing the public recognize that when they hear how many vendors we have and how many people are expected. They say, ‘Wow, that’s a significant event,’” she said. “People see this veganism thing that some might still see as a fringe movement, is growing and there is a lot to choose from out there. That’s what people see when they walk into the space.”

The move into the Agriplex was a big success for this year’s festival.

The larger space (compared to previous years at the Western Fair District’s Progress Building) meant the VegFest organizing team were able to set up the festival with larger isles, a centralized dining area, and two stages for the various stage presentations.

The hope would be that people came away from their interactions with the vendors, speakers, and even their fellow festival-goers, was they would come away with the resources they need to consider a move towards a plant-based lifestyle.

“If they’re not already eating plant based, maybe they’re leaning into that a bit more if that’s what’s resonating with them,” she said. “I hope people are leaving knowing they have the resources to make positive changes and got to sample some really great food.”

Foundation grants $1 million to fund impactful change

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Taking place Nov. 8 at Goodwill Industries, London Community Foundation hosted its fifth annual Community Vitality Celebration where more than $1 million in grants were handed out. Among those representing recipients were (from left) Lori Hassall (CMHA Middlesex), Chuck Lazenby (Unity Project), Brian Meehan (Museum London) and Steve Cordes (Youth Opportunities Unlimited).

While some groups try to inspire change through words of support, London Community Foundation (LCF) has once again put its money on the line to fund real change.

Taking place Nov. 8 at Goodwill Industries on Horton Street, LCF hosted its fifth annual Community Vitality Celebration where more than $1 million in grants were handed out.

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

Funded by LCF’s Smart & Caring Community Fund, the Community Vitality program strives to build a stronger and more vibrant London and Middlesex area by investing in initiatives designed to “move the needle” on the region’s most pressing issues.

“The foundation is getting more and more strategic and is really focusing the community grant applications to be focused and highly impactful and collaborative and innovative,” said LCF President and CEO Martha Powell. “I think we’re developing really strong ties with the city, with the agencies in town, and we can shift real change.”

Community Vitality recipients included:

  • Museum London — Centre at the Forks: $175,000 over two years to engage London and area Indigenous community leaders, organizations and individuals as co-creators of community outreach and cultural activities
  • Canadian Mental Health Association Middlesex; USC Western; Society of Graduate Students – Western University; King’s University College; Western University; Fanshawe College — Bridging Community & Campus Services to Support Students’ Mental Health: $238,181 over three years to address a growing trend of post-secondary youth in distress
  • Unity Project for Relief of Homelessness in London — Adapting Housing First to the Emergency Shelter Context: $200,108 over three years to allow for adoption of a Housing First approach to its emergency shelter
  • Youth Opportunities Unlimited — The New Addition: $206,253 over three years to allow the organization to redesign its youth service model to a Housing First approach as a means to ending youth homelessness in the community.

Museum London Executive Director and Chief Curator Brian Meehan said he was thrilled to be part of the evening’s program, but even if they weren’t among the recipients, he’d be applauding the “game-changing” aspect of the Community Vitality grant program.

“I think their focus on what they call game changing or community building initiatives, well you can only have that kind of impact if you have a good amount of resources at hand,” Meehan said. “I think it was a smart move to concentrate a good amount of money in the hands of organizations who could really deliver some change.”

Unity Project Executive Director Chuck Lazenby said her organization has always been “really appreciative” of the way LCF operates.

Investing in larger sums of money over time, Lazenby said, gives organizations an opportunity for sustainability.

But additionally, if they need further funds, they then have the opportunity to demonstrate their programs work, which can then be leveraged for additional funding.

“They take risks, calculated risks to be sure, but they are one of the few folks out there asking, ‘What’s new, what’s different,’ and then they’re taking a risk on those projects,” Lazenby said. “We see people experiencing homelessness, certainly a lot of those folks, a large majority of those folks have mental health issues they’re working through, substance use issues they’re working through . . . and when we see other people prioritizing that, then we know we’re on the right path together.”

Additionally, LCF honoured individuals who have demonstrated dedication to community improvement.

The awards honoured at this year’s celebration included the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, Vital People Award, Ivey Unsung Heroes Award, and the J. Allyn Taylor Award for Community Service.

As honoured as the recipients were, Powell was equally excited when thinking about the meaning of the evening from the LCF’s perspective.

“There was a time when we first started talking leadership where we kind of pointed to ourselves and said we are leaders,” she said. “I argued that until the community points to us and says we’re leaders, you aren’t a leader. Well they are doing that now.”

Families rally to protest autism services wait lists

Autism rally
Local families marched from Victoria Park to the office of London North Centre MPP Deb Matthews where they rallied against lengthy wait times for access to autism services.

Local mother and autism activist Jessica Ashton was joined by dozens of families for a rally at Victoria Park on Nov. 8 to protest long waits for families to access autism services.

The rally follows a Nov. 2, Queen’s Park media conference with Ashton and London West MPP Peggy Sattler.

After the rally, participants marched to the office of Deputy Premier Deb Matthews where they loudly chanted their demands.

“We received over 6,000 signatures from families in our community. Services are crucial for our young children to be able to reach their full potential,” Ashton said. “All the research states time and time again that they have to be provided with intense behavioural therapy by the age of four to make an impact.

Following a yearlong wait for her son to receive a diagnosis, Ashton was devastated to learn there were nearly 1,000 children ahead of her son on the wait list for services.

Ashton’s son is three years old and number 787 on a wait list with Thames Valley Children’s Services.

With her husband Scott Miller, Ashton launched a petition campaign demanding that the government act immediately to reduce the long waits. She then delivered the petitions to Sattler and MPP Michael Coteau, Minister of Children and Youth Services, at Queen’s Park.

“Forcing young children with autism to wait years for diagnosis and treatment is completely unacceptable,” said Sattler, who attended the rally. “I want to congratulate Jessica and all those who are rallying today for their advocacy and commitment to reducing wait lists for autism services. This is important not just to families in London, but to every family in Ontario with a child with autism.”

Ashton says she organized the rally to ensure that local families have a chance to remind Matthews — as the only local Liberal representative — these waits have real consequences for her constituents.

“We need change today from our government. They have been revamping the system for years and have now come out with yet another new Ontario Autism Plan with $333 million dollars allocated to the program,” Ashton said. “This was supposed to be implemented by the end of the year, yet we are still waiting for answers while our children suffer every day.”

Abuse survivor shares her story at Shine The Light ceremony

Shine The Light1
The crowd in Victoria Park gathers around the Tree of Hope as London Abused Women’s Centre kicked off its annual Shine The Light campaign on Nov. 1.

Prior to calling London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC), Ashley Desjardine couldn’t even admit to herself she was the victim of domestic abuse.

Two years later, she stood in Victoria Park before a crowd of more than 60 people to tell her story as a survivor of abuse, highlighting the importance of understanding who was to blame for her situation.

“I truly believed it was me to blame. I just loved a man who was troubled, had anger issues, and I set him off. That kind of manipulation didn’t happen overnight,” she said. “That was a process of being completely worn down. It’s honestly heartbreaking for me to even say that. I don’t believe that I am to blame at all for that anymore.”

Desjardine served as keynote speaker at the Nov. 1 kickoff to LAWC’s Shine The Light awareness and prevention month with a Lighting of the Tree of Hope ceremony at Victoria Park.

The single tree will shine purple lights throughout the month of November as part of the Shine the Light on Woman Abuse campaign.

The goals of the campaign — spearheaded by co-ordinators Fabienne Haller and Jen Dunn — is in its eighth year raising awareness of men’s violence against women by turning cities, regions and counties purple for the month of November.

In addition to shining buildings and landmarks in purple light, the campaign has a variety of events scheduled throughout the month. A list of the events can be found on the LAWC website, http://lawc.on.ca/shinethelight.

Desjardine said she felt a sense of pride in being able to not only share her story with the community, but to be able to stand up and say after making the decision to get help, things do get better.

“I want anyone to know that if they find themselves in an abusive situation, you aren’t alone, you aren’t to blame, this does not define you. I am able to stand up here right now and tell you how much support there is,” she said, adding that if anyone knows of anyone in an abusive situation, there is one thing to do. “Please listen to the survivor and believe them and listen to them. I thank you for doing that much for me today.”

That message is one that has been in the media a great deal as of late.

Whether it is all of the people who’ve spoken out against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey or any of the local situations like Desjardine faced, Haller said LAWC’s position will be to always believe the woman coming forward.

“For the London Abused Women’s Centre, we believe the woman. That’s our stand on that. The innocent until proven guilty in court, personally there have been very difficult cases,” she said. “It’s extremely difficult to seek help and even talk about what’s going on. We are continuing to believe the woman, believe the victim, first and foremost.”

Another recent case in the news involved former Ontario premier David Peterson who recently had a sexual harassment claim against him dismissed by the courts, as well as receiving an apology for the claim having been brought foreword.

London Police Chief John Pare said he believes Shine The Light has given many women the strength to come forward.

Often women “suffer in silence,” the chief said, and so campaigns like Shine The Light spread the message that the support is out there.

“I think we can say this campaign plays a part, that people know those supports are in the community,” Pare said. “Our threshold is gathering the evidence as best we can. If we reach a threshold of reasonable grounds, we lay a charge.”