Immigrants, community leaders and champions were honoured by the County of Simcoe at the sixth annual Newcomer Recognition Awards on Thursday night at Tangle Creek Golf and Country Club in Thornton.
The awards ceremony recognized community members who purposefully take action to enhance the lives of newcomers in Simcoe County.
“This is one of my favourite events as we celebrate our growing diversity in Simcoe County and recognize residents who help facilitate change in our communities,” said Deputy Warden Terry Dowdall. “Our region is one of the top places in Ontario to live, work and raise a family, and led by our Local Immigration Partnership, we look forward to working with our partners to further our programs, increase support services and create welcoming communities.”
Simcoe County will have 800,000 residents by 2040. Right now, 62,000 immigrants call Simcoe County home.
Award recipients were nominated by their peers in 12 categories through an open nomination process.
The story of each award winner was inspiring, with most winners singing the praises of the role the county had in their success.
Jacqueline O’Keeffe - Immigrant Youth Award
O’Keeffe arrived in Canada at six years old from Ireland.
She is now a Grade 10 student at Barrie North Collegiate, and is the guidance department’s go-to person when a newcomer comes to the school to help them integrate, due to her fluency in English, Russian, French and American Sign Language. She is currently learning Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.
She volunteers at the Barrie Learning Centre, helping newcomer students learn English. She has also acted as a youth ambassador to Barrie’s sister city in Japan.
“I would just like to say how grateful I am to receive this award,” said O’Keeffe. “I am extremely honoured to have my work appreciated.”
“This award will only continue to motivate me and my work, and to achieve my dreams.”
Ulisses Schimmels - Immigrant Mentor Award
Schimmels and his wife arrived in Barrie one year ago after immigrating from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
They sold all their possessions, including Schimmels’ 18-year-old business and his sail boat to take a chance on Canada, and never looked back.
Schimmels started a Portugese/English blog to detail their journey, giving tips and tricks to others who might take the leap. The Schimmels also began attending the English Conversation Program at the Barrie Public Library.
The program’s success has been attributed to residents like Schimmels who attend regularly to give others a sense of belonging, offering mentorship to other immigrants in similar situations.
“It’s not so easy to live in another country,” said Schimmels. “Especially when you have to speak another language. It’s a very big challenge.”
“I remember my first day in this program. I was encouraged when I saw so many volunteers. I thought, at that time, that I have to do something,” he said. “I would like to say thank you to all my new friends, my Canadian friends, and the volunteers. It’s an important job for us.”
“I would also like to say thank you to my wife... she’s the one who always believes in my crazy ideas,” said Schimmels, to laughter from the audience.
Karandeep Singh - Immigrant Artist Award
Singh started with a Bhangra Crew in his homeland of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Bhangra dance is a cultural dance typically done during harvest time, but is also used to celebrate a happy occasion.
When Singh came over the Canada to attend Georgian College in Barrie for a business diploma two years ago, he decided he wanted to start an Ontario version of the Bhangra Crew, pulling on other international students at the college to join.
“There are a lot of Indian and Punjabi students over here,” said Singh. “I thought, why not start this? This is something I can share with people, and I would love to do that.”
The idea flourished, and now the dance crew of six teaches lessons in Bhangra dance in Barrie, free to Georgian College students, and at a small cost to any other members of the community who would like to try their hand at it.
“Honestly, when I started this, I wasn’t interested in getting my reputation high or anything like that,” says Singh. “It was just about promoting Bhangra. I wanted to put Barrie on a map of world Bhangra.”
Two members of the crew were recently selected for a regional Bhangra competition that happened in Brampton.
“It feels great. Everyone’s hard work paid off,” says Singh. “(My team) is really supportive. They have helped me come this far... they have been with me from the first day. If I was doing this alone, I would not have come this far.”
Rosa Diaz - Immigrant Entrepreneur Award
Diaz was born in Peru. In 2006, she moved to Toronto to pursue a diploma in business and marketing from George Brown College. She also has a certificate in immigration laws, policies and procedures from the University of British Columbia.
In 2016, Diaz opened Roadmap to Canada Immigration Services in Barrie, an organization that provides advice on immigration processes, mentorship and assists clients in getting ready for their new lives in Canada.
“This was a wonderful surprise. Thank you so much,” said Diaz. “I want to thank my husband, Alan. I know it’s not easy to be married to an entrepreneur. I thank you for your patience and for taking care of our children when I have to work long nights.”
“It’s a lot of hard work. There are a lot of ups and downs. You have to wear so many hats, and it can be a little bit exhausting,” she said. “But being part of the dream of someone to come to Canada to change their life; it’s just worthwhile.”
Barrie Public Library - Culturally Diverse Workforce Award
The Barrie Public Library has one of the most culturally diverse volunteer teams in Simcoe County.
Emily Fleming, the library’s volunteer co-ordinator, works with about 150 volunteers from teens to seniors. Library management has encouraged development of an equitable volunteer workforce through their volunteer hiring process.
Fleming accepted the award on behalf of the library.
“I’m honoured to be accepting this award... but this award has nothing to do with me, really,” said Fleming. “It has everything to do with our newcomers and volunteers. They help us in so many ways at the library.”
“This award is because of your courage and your willingness to become a part of the community which we call Barrie,” she said.
Black Bear Flooring - Welcoming Work Environment Award
In 1929, Peter Thompson and sons started Black Bear Flooring.
Each year, the company ships about 25 million feet of lumber. In 2016 and 2017, the company hired two Syrian refugees through an Ontario employment program. Black Bear Flooring worked to understand their new employee’s challenges and employed an Arabic translator during orientation and training to ease the transition. They also assisted in the employee’s ESL studies by providing work-specific terms to their tutor.
Accepting the award on behalf of the company was Rolands Deglau, maintenance and yard supervisor for Black Bear Flooring.
“It’s been a rewarding couple of years with the men we hired,” said Deglau. “It’s a good thing for the younger generation at the yard to understand how much adversity (the refugees) have been through.”
“They work hard, and they’re so happy to be here,” he said. “We’re so lucky to have them here.”
Simcoe County Library Co-operative – Marketing and Outreach Award
The Simcoe County Library Co-operative recently implemented the Immigrant Hub Project to support the settlement and integration of immigrants in response to the rapidly changing demographics in Simcoe County.
The project used a variety of marketing tools in local libraries, and was translated into 14 languages. The Hub is considered a safe space for local immigrants to seek out information and connect with other community members. Each library has a multicultural liaison who advocates for newcomers. The program also provided sensitivity training for all library staff at its member libraries, which include the Collingwood Public Library and the Bradford West-Gwillimbury Public Library.
Lynda Reid and Ruth Sawyer accepted the award on behalf of the co-operative.
“It’s really exciting and rewarding to be a part of this project, that has been going on for a couple of years now,” said Reid. “It’s innovative. It’s intended to help create diverse and welcoming communities.”
Chris Hadfield Public School - Multiculturalism through Education Award (school)
According to the 2016 census, Bradford West-Gwillimbury experienced the fastest population growth in Simcoe County at 27.5%. Over the past 10 years, Bradford’s immigrant population has increased by 97%.
Administration and staff at Chris Hadfield adapted to this change by making newcomers feel included and supported.
Vice Principal Natalie Edgar, who also accepted the award, made sure to procure a variety of new books to ensure diverse representation. The collection has since been expanded to all schools in Simcoe County.
The staff at Chris Hadfield also host coffee houses to get to know families and invited them to share their culture and language. Administrators also reached out directly to newcomers to invite them to participate in school council.
“Chris Hadfield... is arguably the most diverse school in the county and this grants our staff incredible opportunities,” said Edgar. “This offers us rich opportunities for our learning.”
“I humbly accept this award,” she said.
Brandy Mullen - Multiculturalism through Education Award (educator)
Mullen works at Georgian College as an internationalization lead in the international education department. Her leadership has shifted the conversation with Georgian College leadership to one of inclusivity and diversity by incorporating diversity into all aspect of curriculum and planning. She is also a member of the international relations committee with the City of Barrie.
Mullen was not able to attend the awards as she is currently in China working on a partnership so more students in Simcoe County will have the opportunity to study abroad, however she sent in a video message.
“Thank you so much for this nomination,” she said. “It truly means a lot to me and I really wish I could be there this evening.”
Leslie Palson, Dean of international education and training at Georgian College, accepted the award on Mullen’s behalf.
Judy Morozuk – Service Excellence Award (new award)
Morozuk has worked at the Barrie Public Library since 2012.
In 2015, she initiated planning that eventually led to the Barrie Conversation Circle program. Her goals for the program are to bring social connections among newcomers to decrease isolation during their transition to life in Barrie.
Over 200 participants and 20 volunteers have taken part in the program since then, and it continues to grow. Morozuk has also shared her living space with nine international Georgian College students as a host, going above and beyond the call of duty.
Morozuk made a lengthy speech thanking everyone who has helped along the way, and bestowing the virtues of helping others.
“What an honour to be here tonight,” she said. “Three years ago when I started this program in the very first circle, a woman from Sri Lanka came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Where were you seven years ago when I needed this program?’ That was when I knew I had to fight for it.”
“Thank you to the Barrie Public Library for your support, and I’m really looking forward to how we’re going to grow,” she said. “This is my favourite event of the year.”
Jessica Dinner and Emily Wolst - Youth Community Champion Award (new award)
Dinner and Wolst both work in student assistance at Lakehead University at the Orillia campus.
The university welcomed about 280 international students from Mexico over the past two months, and the duo helped to ensure their time in Orillia was memorable, organizing a variety of activities for the students during their time in the Sunshine City. Dinner and Wolst also made themselves available outside regular working hours so the students’ needs were met.
Wolst is a part-time ESL teacher and Dinner is the co-founder of the World University Service of Canada club on campus, supporting young refugees to continue their education in Canada.
“We are so grateful to the selection committee for considering us as applicants,” said Wolst. “We are very honoured to be selected as co-winners.”
“None of this would have been possible without the Lakehead staff and faculty,” she said.
Shakir Barmare - Community Champion Award
Barmare was born in Mumbai, India. He came to Canada in 2007 as a business international student at Georgian College.
Over the past several years, Barmare has hosted numerous events for charity using innovative marketing approaches, including running events to benefit COPE Service Dogs, Seasons Centre for Grieving Children, Rainbows for all Children Canada and the Women and Children’s Shelter of Barrie. He has raised over $28,000 for these causes over the past four years.
He also mentors other newcomers through Georgian College.
“We’ve hosted a lot of events in the Barrie area, catered to different cultures, so that was huge,” said Barmare. “I would like to thank Local Immigration Partnership for creating this initative.”
“This (event) is such an amazing thing,” he said.