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Immigrant strides celebrated at Newcomer Recognition Awards (8 photos)

Seventh annual awards took place at Tangle Creek Golf and Country Club on Thursday night

A splash of colour and music kicked off the seventh annual Newcomer Recognition Awards last night.

The seventh annual awards took place at Tangle Creek Golf and Country Club on Thursday night, recognizing the efforts of community champions and local immigrants who work to make Simcoe County a better place.

“Congratulations to this year’s award winners,” said Simcoe County Warden George Cornell. “Our growing communities benefit greatly from the diverse talents, knowledge and skills of more than 62,000 immigrants who now call Simcoe County home. This event is a great opportunity to recognize local community champions, hear their stories and learn from their experiences of living in and contributing to our county.”

The Ethnic Mosaic Alliance (EMA) hosted a silent auction to kick off a fundraising campaign to build a multicultural centre in the county. To read our full story on their ask of county council, click here.

“I know we can’t make our dream a reality without your support,” said EMA president Shelley Sarin. “We have a long road ahead and I look for your support for future generations who want to call Simcoe County home.”

Sarin said the group’s goal is to have the new multicultural centre built by 2027.

Twelve awards were given out to celebrate the achievements of local immigrants, businesses and community champions.

Immigrant Youth - Lu-Han Wang

Lu-Han Wang is a third-year international student from Taiwan studying at Lakehead University in Orillia. Wang helped start a peer mentoring program designed to support new international students at the Orillia campus. She now mentors 20 new international students. A member of the Lakehead University Multicultural Association (LUMA), Wang also helped plan events on campus to increase cultural diversity and inclusion awareness.

Immigrant Mentor - Bolu Fabanwo

Fabanwo came to Canada from Nigeria as an International student at Lakehead University in Orillia, graduating in 2019 with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree, majoring in Business Administration.

During his studies at Lakehead, he founded and acted as president of the Lakehead University Multicultural Association (LUMA). Under Bolu’s leadership, LUMA’s membership has increased to become the largest club on the Orillia campus at more than 50 student members. In 2017, he received a Lakehead Leadership award for diversity and inclusion. As an international student, Fabanwo uses his own experiences establishing himself in Simcoe County and the City of Orillia to help and mentor others who are in similar situations.

Immigrant Artist - Safani Gunasekera

Safani Gunasekera was born in Sri Lanka and immigrated to Canada in 2005. She moved to Simcoe County in 2014, and now resides in Bradford West Gwillimbury.

Gunasekera has a passion for wildlife photography, recently chronicling the adventures of a beaver family as they built a dam in a local subdivision reservoir. Gunasekera is an active and founding member of the Passion Made Studio Art Tour in Bradford West Gwillimbury.

“Thank you for recognizing my work,” said Gunasekera. “Being recognized for my talent and finding my passion is the best thing that could happen to me in Canada.”

Immigrant Entrepreneur - Paola Osorio Silk

Paola Osorio Silk was born in Mexico. She graduated from the University of the Gulf of Mexico and came to Canada after she graduated.

Silk has always had a passion for fashion. Leaving behind her hospitality career, Silk made the life-changing decision to pursue her passion for fashion and create an e-commerce store, Shilango. She employs artisans giving them a fair wage. She uses organic and vegan materials like hazelnut shells, orange peels, and cantaloupe seeds, to create environmentally friendly and cultural clothing.

Silk met with business international students at Lakehead University in June to share her experiences as an entrepreneur in Canada. She mentors new entrepreneurs through programming offered by the City of Barrie. Most recently, Silk facilitated workshops on environmental sustainability at the Barrie Public Library.

“What an honour it is to be up here,” said Silk. “Thank you to Simcoe County for opening the doors to me and my family.”

Culturally Diverse Workforce - Innovative Automation

Innovative Automation is a privately owned company based in Barrie. They provide factory automation solutions to different industries, including the automotive, electronics, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and plastics sectors. Innovative currently has 11 per cent of employees who are foreign trained. Their employees speak 15 languages including Latvian, Dutch, Afrikaans, Cantonese, Mandarin, French, Kannada, and Hindi.

The company increases employment opportunities for immigrants in Simcoe County by maintaining an active presence in the community. The company also gives back to the community by paying each employee for two days of giving their time in a volunteer capacity.

“We don’t focus on where people come from; we focus on the talent,” said Innovative Automation’s president Steve Loftus. “It makes it an interesting and dynamic place to work. It’s allowed us to reach out into the world. They educate us and bring in new opportunities.”

Welcoming Work Environment / Marketing and Outreach - La Clé

La Clé provides child and family services, employment and training services as well as cultural and radio activities.

In recent years, La Clé has increased the cultural diversity of its staffing complement. Currently, La Clé has a dozen employees from various countries including Haiti, Syria, African countries, Russia and France. Immigrant employees now make up approximately 20 per cent of the organization’s workforce. They make it a priority to assess foreign credentials and place immigrant employees in the appropriate salary grid.

For many years, La Clé has worked to make sure its workplace and programing are culturally inclusive. The organization’s communication strategy represents Canada’s diversity by using photos of individuals of diverse backgrounds in its materials.

Multiculturalism through Education (School) - Lakehead University

Lakehead University’s Orillia campus’ new international program contributes to student success through creating opportunities for work experience, providing a supportive campus environment across faculty and staff departments, and facilitating opportunities for cultural education.

The Student Success Centre and international department work together to provide workshops for international students seeking to work in Simcoe County. The university provides international students with a supportive campus environment by hosting a variety of events and activities in collaboration with the Lakehead University Multicultural Association. They celebrate international holidays and the traditions of cultures represented by the students on campus. Most recently, the university launched an International Peer Mentor program.

Lakehead University Principal Dean Jobin-Bevins said this year, the school has seen a 36 per cent increase in international enrolments at the Orillia campus.

“Thank you for recognizing the strides we’ve taken as an institution,” he said.

Multiculturalism through Education (Educator) - Bethany Winger, Andrew Wilcox and Daniel Wilcox

Bethany Winger, Andrew Wilcox and Daniel Wilcox are grade six, seven and eight teachers at Timothy Christian School in Barrie.

The teachers and students created a manual/guide to inform the school community on actions that welcome Syrian refugees, which was shared with churches and a number of community organizations.

Guided by Bethany, Andrew and Daniel, the students worked together to impart knowledge, understanding and compassion to refugees who had previously been living in dangerous situations.

“We set out to show them that they belong here, and that we are a community that cares,” said Andrew Wilcox, who received the award on behalf of the group.

Service Excellence - Maureen Arbour

Maureen Arbour is the newcomer employment services co-ordinator for Georgian College’s Job Finding Club for Immigrants. The program started in 2017 under her guidance and teaches newcomers interview and resume building skills, provides job search assistance and emphasizes the value of developing a professional network. The initiative has been approved for five more years of funding by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada.

Youth Community Champion - Sarah Simpson

Sarah Simpson is a fourth-year student at Lakehead University in Orillia studying sociology and english with a desire to complete her Bachelor of Education. Simpson works as a residence advisor, striving to provide empathetic support to students of all cultural backgrounds. She co-founded the local World University Service of Canada, a group that aims to promote social justice and global development initiatives. The future goal of the group is to sponsor a refugee student to study in Canada.

In her spare time, Simpson supports youth from across Canada as a volunteer for Kids Help Phone. She also offers to help foreign-born students improve their English-language skills.

Community Champion - Katie Fraser

Katie Fraser is the international engagement specialist at Lakehead’s Orillia Campus, where she has helped increase the undergrad international student population from 10 to over 60 over the past two years. Fraser works very closely with LUMA to support and build cultural awareness on campus. Outside of LUMA, under her direction, she promotes and runs diversity-centred events, including a Diversi-TEA in which shared teas from around the world. Fraser was also involved as a fierce ambassador for the anti-racism, #ITSTARTS campaign, ensuring Lakehead was seen as a community leader.

This past summer 20 students from Costa Rica studied English and completed 30 hours of volunteer experience with different organizations in Orillia including Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Birchmere Retirement Residence, Soup Kitchen and Stephen Leacock Museum. Fraser works collaboratively with the Wellness Department to find suitable healthcare for international students. Fraser is currently introducing the SPICE (Seniors Partnering with Immigrants in Conversation Exchanges) to the Orillia Public Library with the desire to pair Lakehead’s Academic English Program students with local seniors.

Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 14 years of experience to her role as reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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