2023 Invisible Champion Award Winners
On May 12, 2023, we celebrated the Community Impact Sector Day of Recognition. The event was organized by United Way Halifax, IONS, the Bhayana Family Foundation and the province of Nova Scotia. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet new people, say hello to a few familiar faces and celebrate outstanding work that often goes unrecognized. The theme of this year’s event was “Below the Surface: Celebrating the Depth of Impact.” We heard from storytellers and speakers about just how great that impact is. We also heard how the sector could use more support.
One of the highlights was 20 new Invisible Champion Award Winners. Seventeen individuals and three organizations received awards this year, demonstrating incredible, life-changing efforts in communities across Nova Scotia. These awards are possible thanks to the Bhayana Family Foundation, which is also spearheading an effort to create a national Day of Recognition.
Here are the 2023 Invisible Champions
Rafaela Muriel Alarcon – The Club Inclusion
Rafaela came to The Club Inclusion while studying for her masters degree. She had a student visa, which limited the paid hours she could work. Rafaela put in many more hours unpaid to ensure the program participants feel safe, feel included, and have a great experience.
Vanessa Fells – African Nova Scotia Decade for People of African Decent Coalition
Vanessa works tirelessly on behalf of African Nova Scotians to ensure their voices are heard. She has successfully advocated for changes to address inequities, and has worked with educators, policy makers, people in the justice system and others to ensure community voices are heard.
Shauna Ferrar – Dartmouth Adult Services Centre
Shauna ensures program participants with intellectual disabilities have the opportunity to participate in community. She also ensures they have a voice at the table. She coaches first-voice Client Advisory Council members on how to engage senior leadership in conversations, and ensures they can bring forward their ideas and perspectives on a regular basis.
Natalie Frederick-Wilson – Centre for Women in Business
Natalie recognized a need to better support under-represented women during COVID. She created and launched a pilot project, called SPICE (specialized program in cooking entrepreneurship) to empower underrepresented women to gain financial stability with their skills as cooks. Natalie has succeeded in developing stronger relationships with underrepresented women in the community.
Michelle Labine – Couch of HOPE
After opening her own private counselling practice in 2020, Michelle realized that therapy is not available to those without financial privilege. She began building a team of interns pursuing their masters in counselling psychology and created Couch of HOPE. Couch of HOPE offers counselling services to those who cannot afford it. They have offered nearly 2000 hours of free counselling services to those who need it.
Mukthar Limpao – L’Arche Cape Breton
Mukthar is deeply connected to the core members of the organization, people with intellectual disabilities. He often advocates on their behalf, and includes them in collaboration and decision making. He is known for giving special recognition to the value core members bring to the table.
Mike Little – TEAM Work Cooperative
Mike has been a major collaborator in a new innovative project for persons with disabilities to start a new business in Nova Scotia. He has provided leadership, knowledge, training, and significant time and effort making sure this project serves Nova Scotian’s facing barriers to employment gain re-entry to the labour market by starting their own business.
Krista Maynard – YWCA Halifax
Krista’s strong leadership and dedication to the well-being of her colleagues is admired. It often helps keeps an often stressful childcare centre running smoothly. Krista is precisely the type of person who is the backbone of the social service and nonprofit sector. She is caring, compassionate, hardworking, loyal, and smart.
Gillian Morrissey – The John Howard Society of Nova Scotia
Gillian is passionate about social justice and committed to understanding the complex nature of crime and its causes. She is committed to building relationships, and is empathetic and an active listener, which helps her build trust with the people she serves.
Abdelkarim Musa – ISANS
Musa helps new immigrants settle in Nova Scotia. He is a former refugee, and he has dedicated his life to supporting refugees – even when it takes him well outside work hours. Musa never stops, and he treats each new refugee as family. His compassion for others is part of the reason so many refugees have chosen to stay in our province.
Twyla Nichols – YWCA Halifax
Twyla is a cook at YWCA’s Spryfield Early Childhood Learning Centre. In her role, she recognizes the many different cultures of the families of the centre. She strives to make sure the children all see their cultures represented in the meals they share together. Twyla has a nutrition degree, is an advocate for food security and a mentor for community members who want to learn to eat well on a limited budget.
Samantha Paul – Wekope’kwitk Mijipjeweyuo’kuom Society Millbrook Food Bank
Samantha undertakes many roles for the foodbank, from delivery to seniors of food orders to every day tasks of organization. She has been a critical part of the food bank’s expansion and improvements. Samantha is deeply committed to her First Nations community, and freely gives her time and compassion for others.
Julie Slen – Shelter Nova Scotia
Julie is the face of the Homelessness Hub. What started as a small pilot project has grown into a thriving service, supporting hundreds of unhoused people weekly under her leadership. Julie believes in client centered care, building meaningful relationships with the clients she serves and connecting them to the services they need.
Irma Snyder – Eastern Shore Musquodoboit Valley Literacy Network
Irma is a patient, kind and understanding teacher. With decades of experience and wisdom to share and retired from the public school system, Irma supports her adult students to succeed, no matter the pace. Life’s circumstances have often placed barriers on her students. Irma ensures they feel valued and included, builds confidence and helps students understand their own strength.
Lisa Snyder – LEA Place Women’s Resource Centre
Lisa never shies away from a challenge. She always finds ways to contribute creative ideas and solutions. She is an amazing advocate for the women she serves, and her deep community connections help ensure the right supports and services are in place when needed. Her kindness and compassion helps women feel safe and comfortable, which is essential in a small community.
Karen Vaughan – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Pictou County
Karen has taken additional roles acting as support for families and youth that need advocacy around education. She spends countless hours helping people navigate very complex systems, and she meets people where they are in their journey. Karen is the rock, the voice of reason, the listener and most importantly she allows people to do their best work by giving them the support they need.
Benny Welter-Nolan – Visual Arts Nova Scotia
In their role, Benny has delivered multiple programs that supported and prioritized underserved equity-deserving artists. They have recruited the most diverse board ever for the organization, shifted the organization’s values to prioritize equity, sustainability and connection, and have created a succession plan. Benny’s leadership played a key role in sustaining funding for the arts from the municipality.
Africadian Empowerment Academy
Africadian Empowerment Academy was founded on the principle of giving people of African decent access to education and training to help empower them and change their lives. They work with community to provide access to low-cost and affordable courses in the trades. The programs and services are led-by-and-for Black and African Nova Scotians, fulfilling the promise of “nothing for us, without us.”
Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank
Parker Street is well-known in community, having served individuals and families in HRM for 40 years. provides 60-80 food boxes a day, in addition to providing furniture, emergency assistance, an annual tax clinic, a school backpack program and much more. As needs in the community change, they have created new programs like a technology assistance program and a birthday club. Parker Street Food & Furniture Bank was also a recipient of a bursary valued at $5,000 from Davis Pier, for consulting and advisory services.
Riverview Home Volunteer Association
This volunteer organization is committed to creating inclusion, community and self-worth. They have fundraised for several projects offering transportation for people with disabilities, and arts and music therapy for those with communication challenges. This summer, they’ve rented a fully-accessible cottage so that participants can enjoy a vacation with family and friends.