BC Achievement Foundation names Recipients of the 20th annual Community Award

Vancouver, BC (May 2, 2023): The recipients of the 20th annual Community Award were named by Premier David Eby and Walter Pela, Chair of the BC Achievement Foundation. The program, presented by BC Achievement – an independent foundation that honours excellence and inspires achievement throughout the province – recognizes extraordinary British Columbians who build better, stronger and more resilient communities.

“This year’s Community Award recipients demonstrate exceptional commitment to making their communities – and our province – healthier, happier and more hopeful,” said Premier David Eby. “From ambitious students to established entrepreneurs, the honourees show us how everyone can have a hand in building a stronger BC. Their stories are sure to inspire British Columbians across the province.”

We are privileged to showcase and celebrate the contributions of these outstanding recipients who shine as examples of leadership, dedication and selflessness,” said Walter Pela, Chair of the BC Achievement Foundation. “Communities are shaped and strengthened by people who willingly share their talents, passion and time in the service of others,” he added.

The Community Award recipients are selected by an independent jury panel, whose 2023 members include Mayor Sarrah Storey of Fraser Lake, Mayor Maja Tait of Sooke, and past recipients Kal Dosanjh of Surrey, Julie Fowler of Penticton, and Sqwulutsultun William Yoachim of Nanaimo. This year’s recipients include:

Connie Cocchia, West Vancouver
Dr. Amy Gilchrist, Victoria
Jack Gin, Burnaby
James Harry Sr., Burnaby
Kat Hartwig, Brisco
Simon Daniel James, Bowen Island
David Lemon, Delta
Meeka Morgan, Ashcroft
Gerry Nellestijn, Salmo
Kim North, Lillooet
Don Philip Peters, North Vancouver
Stephanie Quon, Vancouver
Esther Rausenberg, Vancouver
Sahara Shaik, Vancouver
Jessie Sutherland, Richmond
Upkar Singh Tatlay, Surrey
Gary Thandi, Surrey
Kiranjot Kaur Toor, Surrey
Spencer van Vloten, Vancouver
Kihlyahda Christian White & Candace Weir-White, Masset

The Mitchell Award designate of the Community Award is selected by the BC Achievement Foundation Board in consultation with the program’s community. The award recognizes an individual who, through their work and/or volunteer activities, demonstrates an unwavering commitment to elevating people around them. This year’s Mitchell Award of Distinction recipient is Kat Hartwig of Brisco, a champion of environmental conservation, whose selfless leadership style empowers others to lead and excel. 

The 2023 Community Award recipients will be recognized in a formal presentation ceremony held in Victoria, BC, on May 10 in the presence of the Honourable Janet Austin, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. The Community Award ceremony will be live-streamed on BC Achievement’s website, through its Vidflex platform. Watch live beginning at 2:00 p.m. on May 10! The presentation ceremony will also be aired on TELUS’ Optik TV Channel 126 – Indigenous Voices and Channel 345 – Community Connections after the event.

Each awardee will receive a certificate and medallion designed by Robert Davidson, OC, OBC. They will also be celebrated through an online campaign #shinethelightbc to commemorate their excellence and inspirational achievements positively impacting British Columbians. 

Interviews with representatives of the BC Achievement Foundation, as well as Community Award recipients, are available upon request. Awardee bios and high resolution images are available here.

For more information about the BC Achievement Foundation or Community Award program, please visit www.bcachievement.com.

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About BC Achievement
BC Achievement is an independent foundation established in 2003 that celebrates the spirit of excellence in our province and serves to honour the best of British Columbia. By recognizing the accomplishments of our province’s entrepreneurs, artists, community leaders, youth and volunteers, its award programs pay tribute to exceptional people, doing exceptional work, while carving a path forward for others to follow. www.bcachievement.com

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2023 Community Award Recipients – Backgrounders

Connie Cocchia, West Vancouver

Connie Cocchia’s advocacy within the autism community has helped change the lives of countless individuals and families. When few resources existed for those who have a sibling with autism, she created Growing Together. Anchored in personal experience, Connie built a sibling support group with tenacity and compassion aimed to connect siblings. Growing Together has hosted various sibling panels, workshops, fundraised and built a Games Room in Pacific Autism Family Network’s Hub. Growing Together also hosts an Annual Sibling Support Day, which has provided thousands of families with an inclusive movie theatre experience. 

Connie combined her advocacy and profession as a filmmaker to write, direct, and produce her first feature film When Time Got Louder. The film had its World Premiere at the prestigious Frameline International LGBTQ+ Film Festival in San Francisco, followed by the Canadian Premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Connie’s efforts for inclusion are shown through authentic casting and including members of the autism and LGBTQ+ community both in front and behind the camera. The film has been featured in over twenty international film festivals, won numerous awards, and received incredible reviews for its authentic and deeply moving narrative. Her film continues to enlighten audiences on the profound impact autism has on families, the importance of inclusion, and the unconditional love between siblings.

Dr. Amy Gilchrist, Victoria

Dr. Amy Gilchrist is a naturopathic physician and Clinical Director of the Family Naturopathic Clinic (FNC), a teaching facility that offers free naturopathic care to young, low-income families. With a diverse background in the areas of education, poverty reduction, and naturopathic medicine, Dr. Gilchrist has dedicated her career to improving the lives of those in need.

In 2007, Dr. Gilchrist founded FNC as a pilot project to provide accessible naturopathic healthcare. She expanded FNC to become a teaching clinic, facilitating much needed pediatric care experience to naturopathic interns supervised by licensed naturopathic doctors. Student interns at FNC gain clinical experiences important to completing their education and insight into providing care to those living in low-income, marginalized communities. Over the past 15 years, FNC has served more than 5000 patients in the community and provided clinical training to more than 300 interns because of Dr. Gilchrist’s vision and innovative leadership.

Jack Gin, Burnaby

Jack Gin has dedicated an exceptional amount of time to uncovering and telling the story of Frederick Lee, a fallen member (1917) of the Kamloops Rocky Mountain Rangers. Jack’s award-winning documentary Finding Fred Lee, tells of Frederick’s unique experience as one of only a few Chinese Canadians in the military in World War I. Through years of research and heartfelt storytelling, Jack has been able to inform the community of Kamloops about a long-lost son, and an underknown reserve army regiment.

In addition to putting the film together, Jack ensured that Frederick Lee’s origins were included at the Hill 70 Memorial in France and its feature walkway named after him. Sharing Frederick’s sacrifice has instilled pride within the Chinese community in Kamloops and Vancouver while raising awareness. Jack has made Frederick’s story, and that of the Rangers, part of local memorial efforts in schools. Thanks to Jack’s efforts, students learn about Frederick’s participation in World War I and how he made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

James Harry Sr., Burnaby

James Harry Sr. has consistently dedicated himself to building more resilient communities in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) neighbourhood and in Indigenous communities across British Columbia. James works with conviction to provide holistic and culturally relevant supports to Indigenous people struggling with addiction, mental health and homelessness. In 2017, James became the Haisla First Nation’s first urban outreach and peer support worker. In his role, James has implemented a trauma-informed approach centered around trust and respect for cultural considerations.

In 2020, when navigating two public health crises, COVID-19 and an increasingly toxic drug supply, James mobilized a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members to establish the All Nations Outreach Society (ANOS). ANOS continues to expand the scope and scale of culturally relevant supports available to people in the DTES. At the beginning of the pandemic, ANOS started its Feed the People program and quickly grew in size thanks to the support from other Nations and businesses. The volunteer-driven program now feeds over 300 people a week. James’ work sets an example and encourages Nations to come together, share their resources, and support each other in providing for their most vulnerable members.

Kat Hartwig, Brisco

As the founder and Executive Director of Living Lakes Canada, Kat Hartwig has demonstrated unwavering commitment to freshwater protection in B.C. for the past two decades. Recognizing that global water challenges caused by climate change need to be addressed at local community levels, Kat’s desire to empower communities to find climate adaptation strategies has tripled water monitoring activities in the Columbia Basin alone. She had an instrumental role in many large-scale, environmental conservation initiatives. Kat was one of the initiators of the Jumbo Wild campaign, a key grizzly bear and wildlife corridor located in the Purcell Mountains. She continues large-scale conservation work for the Columbia Wetlands, one of the longest undisturbed wetland ecosystems remaining in North America.

Her work has had positive effects locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.  Kat contributes advice to many groups including Global Water Futures, BC Water Leaders Consortium, and the Canadian Water Coalition. She sits on the board of German-based Global Nature Fund, the parent organization of Living Lakes International. An advocate for the inclusion of Indigenous voices in water management and Indigenous Knowledge in water policy and science, Kat has prioritized strong working relationships with First Nations. Her commitment to water stewardship is interwoven with a desire to empower young people to make a meaningful contribution towards addressing the climate and biodiversity crisis facing their generation.  

Simon Daniel James, Bowen Island

Simon Daniel James, also known as Winadzi, is an internationally renowned artist who works across many mediums. A member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation, Simon began carving cedar at the age of 15 and trained under the guidance of his father. Simon has worked on numerous community engagement and public art projects across Canada, the USA and Japan. His impact on local communities and students is immeasurable as he uses his creativity and compassion to inspire and nurture young learners.

In addition to carving and physical art, Simon is a gifted filmmaker and storyteller. He attended The Vancouver Film School and has worked with National Geographic’s All Roads Film Festival since 2004. He was the first recipient of the National Geographic All Roads Film Grant for Raven Tales, a ground-breaking, animated Indigenous storytelling series. As the co-creator and co-producer of Raven Tales, Simon uses his unique gifts to share and pass down stories through an innate visual and oral tradition.

David Lemon, Delta

In 2006, David Lemon founded the non-profit Health Arts Society (BC), which through its Concerts in Care program has become one of the largest performing arts organizations in the province. It has now reached over 600,000 people in care facilities, mostly frail elders. This often-overlooked segment of the population, on its inevitable trajectory of ageing, has been able to enjoy in their residences exceptional concerts typically performed by one to four paid musicians. During the pandemic these were facilitated through online streaming, making the concerts even more accessible.

David has attracted significant involvement from some of Canada’s best known concert artists, arts organizations, luminaries, funders, and volunteers. He, and his colleagues have raised the funds needed to deliver top-notch musical experiences to individuals who might not otherwise be able to enjoy them. David has also led replication of the BC society’s success throughout Canada. Now there are seven sister societies covering ten provinces, gathered together under a national association, of which David is founder and chair.

Meeka Morgan, Ashcroft

Meeka Morgan has given thousands of hours volunteering as the founding Artistic Director of Tl’kemtsin 2 Rivers Remix (2RMX), BC’s first Indigenous-led festival of contemporary Indigenous music and culture. Under Meeka’s guidance, 2RMX has become one of the largest all-Indigenous contemporary music festivals in Canada. 2RMX has remained a free, grassroots event reflecting the diversity of all Nations, and to date more than 100 Indigenous artists have been showcased.

In 2021, a fire destroyed much of the festival site, along with homes and equipment. Meeka persevered and delivered the 2RMX Movable Feast, an Indigenized re-imagining of cultural presentation that enables small Indigenous communities to actively participate in creating their own local cultural events with the support of 2RMX. The Movable Feast collaborated in 2022 with eight different small Indigenous communities to showcase local artists alongside national award-winning Indigenous artists. Meeka’s passion for music and community link back to her own band, The Melawmen Collective, and her master’s thesis that investigated how the Secwepemc people maintained a sense of family in the 1950s and 1960s despite residential schools.

Gerry Nellestijn, Salmo

Gerry Nellestijn is a founder and trailblazing force behind the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society (SWSS), an organization that promotes research, awareness and restoration of threatened fish and wildlife and their habitat in the Salmo watershed and beyond. Described as the lynchpin of SWSS, Gerry has worked to change attitudes within the local community by using his skills to leverage funding support to ensure critical instream habitat restoration work in the Salmo watershed. This has led to several long-term fisheries monitoring projects being funded for over 20 years while protecting the watershed for generations to come.

Gerry has organized and coordinated the multi-stakeholder Watershed Technical Committee and the Watershed Planning Team to produce a comprehensive action-based Salmo/Pend d’Orielle River Watershed-based Sustainability Plan Report: Setting Watershed Priorities. In addition, he has volunteered as a director for the Columbia Kootenay Fisheries Renewal Program and the White Sturgeon Recovery Initiative, and is a Salmon Ambassador for the Ktunaxa Nation, touring elementary, high schools and colleges in the region to talk about salmon and their recovery. Gerry is dedicated to collaborative approaches engaging stewardship ethics, principles and values.

Kim North, Lillooet

Kim North is a steadfast volunteer who has contributed to several non-profits over the years. In 2019, a need for greater collaboration in the community between nonprofit groups and other sectors was identified. True to the vision, Kim stewarded the Community Connect HUB into being with the help of many committed volunteers. The HUB, created on Main Street in Lillooet, now provides co-sharing space for multiple non-profits and builds connections across the community. Alongside the development of the HUB, Kim helped raise critical funds to open the community swimming pool. Armed with $200,000, raised in just over seven months, she was part of a group who enabled the community to say “yes” to this essential public resource. 

Kim also volunteered with Lillooet Naturalist Society and Sekw’el’was for many years to complete ecological restoration and environmental outreach projects in the region. Out of this work, Splitrock Environmental was created. Today, Splitrock is an award winning, St’at’imc-owned business, specializing in environmental services, ecological restoration, native plant propagation and production of ethnobotanical products. Kim is committed to work around truth and reconciliation, decolonization and consistently brings these important conversations to the table. 

Don Philip Peters, North Vancouver

Don Peters has been at the forefront of advocating for affordable housing on the North Shore of Vancouver since 2004. As chair of the Community Housing Action Committee (CHAC), a program of North Shore Community Resources, Don has brought immense energy and enthusiasm into his work championing affordable, accessible, and appropriate housing for those most in need. Don’s innovative and collaborative approach pulls in research-informed data to build consensus and develop creative solutions. 

The City of North Vancouver is now a leader in housing delivery, notably in the number of new rental homes available to its citizens, in part due to Don’s tenacity to ensure the North Shore remains an accessible place for people to call home. Don has built relationships with municipal staff and councillors, housing operators, apartment owners, builders and developers, enabling the CHAC to engage in planning before final decisions have been made. He remains a strong voice for housing affordability and for respectful treatment of tenants, by participating in community engagement and municipal presentations.

Stephanie Quon, Vancouver

Stephanie Quon is a forward-thinking engineering student at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She founded The Sprouts Initiative in 2017, a community initiative focused on pillars of accessibility, sustainability, and community. Since its inception she has acted as the executive director of The Sprouts Initiative, raising a stunning $670,000 in funding for community projects. This work includes spearheading over 80 national community service projects and leading a team of over 300 volunteers and student leaders.

To date The Sprouts Initiative has donated over 12,000 meals to local shelters, distributed 13,000 pieces of interactive art around the world and assembled 5,500 care packages. Accessibility is a priority for Stephanie, and through The Sprouts Initiative she has supported dozens of projects in the community including installing power doors at a hospital and supplying students in need with accessible technology. Through her work with UBC Women in Engineering she has also taken on the role of event organizing and fostering STEM events for young people in addition to logging hundreds of hours as a Crisis-Line volunteer.

Esther Rausenberg, Vancouver

A long-time resident of Strathcona, and an artist herself, Esther Rausenberg established what is now known as Georgia Art Studios with her partner Richard Tetrault over 40 years ago. Along with a small group of local artists they co-founded the Eastside Culture Crawl; an open studios festival that invites the public directly into artists’ workspaces. In 2013, Esther took on the role of Artistic and Executive Director for the organization, catapulting it to success, and evolving the organization to what is now the Eastside Arts Society. Most recently, Esther has spearheaded the Eastside Arts District – the establishment of a recognized district devoted to the preservation of arts and culture spaces.

As a volunteer, Esther has given her time as a Selection Committee member for the Downtown Eastside Small Arts Grants program, bringing critical opportunities to underserved artists in the community. She also served as a member (2012- 2017) and Co-Vice Chair of the Arts and Culture Policy Council for the City of Vancouver. Esther now sits as a Trustee for The Vancouver Art Gallery and on the Board of Governors for Emily Carr University of Art & Design. 

Sahara Shaik, Vancouver

Sahara Shaik has become a leader to her peers and made lasting impacts on the community. With over 20,000 volunteer hours logged, she has given her time in nursing homes, as a mentor and coach for children with special needs and supported people experiencing homelessness in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side neighbourhood.

In 2017, Sahara became an advocate within the cooperative housing movement for lower-income Canadians, often newcomers to Canada. Through personal discovery, she identified the need for more co-operative housing models. Sahara sits on the Board of Directors for the Co-operative Housing Federation of British Columbia (CHF BC) and Canada (CHF Canada). In her work through the CHF, Sahara supports the accessibility of housing for people who are struggling to find affordable homes. Never afraid to roll up her sleeves and help out, Sahara continues to be hands on with all of her projects.

Jessie Sutherland, Richmond

An international speaker, trainer, and consultant, Jessie Sutherland works with organizations and communities to encourage diversity, build belonging and ignite intercultural collaboration. Her approach creates sustainable community change that effectively addresses complex social problems. Jessie’s work has been delivered in over eight languages and has taken her across Canada and around the world to support communities in their efforts to address challenging issues including poverty, homelessness, the overdose crisis, elder abuse, reconciliation, youth engagement and more. Many of her clients go on to win awards for their work in engaging diversity and fostering collaboration for sustainable and lasting change.

As founder of the organization Intercultural Strategies, Jessie helps leaders and groups build cultures of belonging to create change in an inclusive and positive way. She is the innovator of the award-winning Belonging Matters Conversations series and capacity-building framework designed to change mindsets, deepen interconnections, impart greater social capital and build stronger communities. Jessie is a TEDx speaker and author of the book, Worldview Skills: Transforming Conflict from the Inside Out.

Upkar Singh Tatlay, Surrey

Upkar Singh Tatlay works to support the health and social needs of underserved, marginalized and vulnerable individuals. Upkar founded a non-profit organization providing free youth programming and, for the past decade, these programs have supported hundreds of children, youth, and families. By offering a myriad of public health and social service programs through Engaged Communities Canada Society, Upkar was able to meet the vital and growing needs of at-risk populations during the pandemic. This included the delivery of food, personal hygiene supplies and services, health education and resources, testing and vaccines, distribution of rapid COVID-19 tests, extreme weather response resources and shelter sites, and crucial youth programs.

Upkar responded to the drug toxicity crisis and developed the Overdose Intervention App, a free multi-lingual tool that walks individuals through identifying and responding to opioid poisoning. He coupled that with an educational initiative to raise awareness about the impact of the toxic drug supply in often neglected racialized communities. By rallying volunteers and delivering innovative technologies to improve health outcomes, Upkar’s impact reaches thousands of individuals across BC each year.

Gary Thandi, Surrey

Gary Thandi is the founder and executive director of Moving Forward Family Services (MFFS). MFFS is a registered non-profit agency that provides low-barrier counselling to the most vulnerable people in our communities. Gary’s innovative model uses supervised counselling school recent grads and current intern counsellors to provide free and low-cost counselling services to people who may not be able to afford private therapy or qualify for public counselling. MFFS counsels between 1,500 to 2,200 people monthly and the cost to those individuals is negligible.

MFFS reflects Gary’s strong sense of community. He seeks partners who are from traditionally marginalized communities and offers services in over 30 different languages. Gary lives his ethos that “no one will be turned away”. An orientation toward fostering multiculturalism and accessibility is the foundation for this demonstration of service, inclusion, mentorship, philanthropy, and safe connections.

Kiranjot Kaur Toor, Surrey

Kiranjot (Kiran) Kaur Toor is the co-founder and President of the KidsPlay Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides sport, education, mentorship, and counselling opportunities for youth in communities across British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario, and internationally in India and Colombia. Since inception in 2015, KidsPlay has been working to prevent children and youth from getting involved with drugs and gangs by giving them access to free programming and support services.

With a degree in Education from Simon Fraser University, Kiran uses her expertise to help keep youth engaged in sport and community projects. To date, over 100,000 youth have gone through KidsPlay’s numerous programs. Kiran has overseen all events and projects that have taken place. With roots grounded in her South Asian background and the Kalgidhar Trust, Kiran has carried across the ethics of service and faith in her work at KidsPlay to serve and support young people in her community.

Spencer van Vloten, Vancouver

Spencer van Vloten is the force behind BCDisability.com, a website that helps persons with disabilities, and their allies, connect with resources and support. Through BCDisability, Spencer has allowed thousands of British Columbians to access vital information to promote physical and mental well-being, locate funding for assistive devices, and find adapted youth programs, childcare, and education. For the past two decades Spencer has mentored youth and young adults in the community. Each year he hires a young person with a developmental disability as an intern providing them with fully paid work experience. He has also been a visible and vocal advocate serving as the chair of Community Living BC’s Vancouver Council. 

A nationally published author, Spencer writes on community inclusion- one compelling piece led to the City of Vancouver declaring October as Community Inclusion Month. Spencer’s latest endeavour is the Vancouver Community Pocketbook, a printed guide of local resources, tips and interviews to help people overcome barriers to finding community support. The book is distributed at no cost by over a dozen organizations serving underrepresented community members.  

Kihlyahda Christian White & Candace Weir-White, Masset

As Haida Cultural Ambassadors, Kihlyahda Christian White and Candace Weir-White are visionaries who merge compassion, strength and understanding to elevate their people and community. Through years of personal dedication, education and skill, they justly earned their places as cultural leaders, language carriers, mentors and community ambassadors.

Christian is a globally recognized Haida Master Carver, educator, mentor and Elder, dedicated to working with youth and Elders in intergenerational programs and venues. Candace is a Haida song and dance leader/organizer, an apprentice and learner of the language with Elders. In addition, she plans and arranges all aspects of cultural events in their community.

Christian and Candace are people who lead by doing and being. They are dedicated to learning, teaching and ensuring a future for their Haida culture. Together, they continue to seek out knowledge and wisdom; share and teach others by being leaders within their community; and strive to carry on the work, for the present and future – for the People.

BC Achievement: Elevate Excellence. Share Success. Inspire Change.

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