Saturday, May 16, 2015

BEK

As inviting as the beautiful loaves of fresh bread in the window of LeaH'S, Bek Zolnierczyk, works the tiny bakery on St. Clair west in Toronto.

Born in Kitchener, Ontario in 1987, Bek has worked at LeaH'S for two years. It is a small and welcoming bakery on the corning of St. Clair west and Wychwood avenue offering tempting treats and baked goods. Wedding cakes can also be created along with other custom orders.

When Bek is not behind the counter, she is a volunteer birth support worker for expecting and new parents from marginalized communities. She supports mothers in labour and provides postpartum counselling, assistance with nursing and helps clients to adjust to a new baby in the house. 

Bek is moving to Montreal this summer to take a course in her area of interest with the Montreal Birth Companions. Bek's interest is in helping women and families from the queer and trans communities as well as newcomers to Canada and people without status for whom access to healthcare is a challenge. Bek's volunteer work also extends to public education, working with queer and trans youth to provide sex education.

BEK FUN FACT: In addition to bringing up her 14-month old husky, Bek pauses to think of something fun about herself, "Oh, I'm so boring... Oh, I know! I'm really good at knitting", she says! After attempting to knit a tent for a cat, she has moved on to knitting many Harry Potter scarves for friends!

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Friday, May 15, 2015

CHARLIE

The newspaper industry is a small one. Newsroom staff move around, so chances are, Charlie Kopun is a familiar name to many newsroomers. For those who don't, Carlie is a guy who is always smiling, has a sharp wit and a keen eye.

Charlie spent almost 25 years working in Canadian newspapers great and small. His beats have included: sports editor, arts writer, weekend editor, art director and copy chief. He was a "Day Oner" at the National Post and held an number of editing positions at the national paper. 

He moved on to the Toronto Star where he served as an assistant managing editor for five years . He taught part time at Ryerson University's School of Journalism for three years and is now a professor and program co-ordinator in the School of Media Studies at Niagara College. 

CHARLIE FUN FACTS: Born in Croatia and emigrated to Canada at the age of seven, he once had a long working lunch with 1960s music icon Eric Burdon and a short gig as Wayne Gretzky's copy editor.


PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Thursday, May 14, 2015

ZAIDAH

Calmly observing the rush of passengers at Canada's largest airport, Pearson International, Zaidah Vania is not rushing. She is excited for her first visit to the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon on the west coast of the United States.

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Zaidah and her family moved to Canada in 1989, following her aunt who moved to Canada in the 1970s to work as a psychiatrist. 

A behavioural therapist, Zaidah works with children with autism at the Woodbridge private school, Shining Through, a school for children with autism.

Travelling, exploring the vast Toronto culinary landscape and reading are some of Zaidah's passions when she is not caring for the children at school.

ZAIDAH FUN FACT: Once while visiting Huntington Beach in California, Zaidah approached a slimmer Hulk Hogan to ask if she could hold the huge albino python he was carrying. The man agreed and helped drape the python over her shoulders. A petite woman, the python, slithering, was a very heavy load. She now has a new credential in her resume: Python Wrangler!

For information on Shining Through, please visit: www.shiningthrough.ca

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SANDY

Enjoying the weather outside her office, Sandy Barrett is wary of the stranger who has asked to take her photo and put it online! This is a common response to the Hello Project! But after an explanation, she is relaxed and is game - her personality is coming out!

Living in north Toronto, Sandy works as an event manager downtown. A sociable woman, she has been in the business for 30 years.

When not planning events, she is step-mom to three wonderful adult children, loves Tucker, her 2-year old chocolate lab and her cat! On weekends she drives to their cabin 3 hours north east of Toronto to ride her horse.

SANDY FUN FACT: She enjoys making wire and semi-precious stone jewellery.

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

MIKE

LAST IN A SERIES from *Working For Change.

You will never see hotdog soup on the menu in a restaurant. It was one of Mike Creek's recipes. Boil up some hotdogs, use the oily water as a broth, squeeze in some ketchup from a fast food restaurant pack and stir.  This is how one survives when one is homeless.

Mike held down good jobs and took pride in his work. He worked at a hotel in his hometown on Lake Erie from a very early age. He worked his way up from bus boy to management. With a wandering spirit and curiosity, Mike was able to afford to visit Paris, London and Morocco.

In his early 30s, Mike was working at a video reproduction company in Vancouver when he felt a pain in his side. He had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and was treated with chemotherapy. The cancer went into remission, but he was too week to work.

Mike's slide into poverty was like a creeping disease. He moved back east, living with a partner in Toronto who was abusive. Mike, a bright, kind-hearted gentle man was beaten down. He lost all hope of returning to the life he once enjoyed and where he thrived.

Homeless for almost two years, he slept on a friend's sofa. He once went to a Toronto men's shelter, but the conditions were horrific and the drugs too prevalent. It was safer on the streets, so he lived under a bridge in Toronto's Don Valley for a time.

In 2007, while visiting his doctor, he saw an ad for a new programme called, Voices From The Street. It was an invitation to people who had known poverty. He applied and was accepted.

His life changed again.

Mike is now the Director of Strategic Initiatives at *Working For Change, the non-profit umbrella organization for Voices From The Street. He has met with provincial cabinet ministers, sat on the board of the Toronto anti-poverty organization, won awards and has influenced public policy.

His life is flourishing.

Mike, the man a social worker predicted "would never work again" is a skilled leader in human rights, health and poverty reduction campaigns.

The 13-year-old kid, the bus boy from Port Dover is now happy, inspired and using his life's experiences to help others find their voices and their way.

MIKE FUN FACT: He now owns a condo, has his own place and recently bought a nice camera. He is interested in photography and wants to do a lot more of it when he retires in seven years.

*Working For Change provides education and employment opportunities for people disadvantaged by mental illness, addiction issues, poverty, homelessness, violence and newcomer/immigration challenges. For more formation, please visit www.workingforchange.ca  With files from Leslie Scrivener.

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Monday, May 11, 2015

DAWNMARIE

SIXTH IN A SERIES from *Working For Change.

At the age of four, Dawnmarie arrived in Canada from Jamaica. As a child she retreated into the fantastic worlds of Narnia and Nancy Drew. After reading through everything, she turned her voracious literary appetite to the encyclopedia or the Bible. These were safe places for young Dawnmarie.

At 20, Dawnmarie held a job at a call centre in Toronto, had a car and was making decent money – she was blossoming. But at the same time, her personal life began to unravel. Men in her life turned aggressive and took advantage of her. It was difficult to handle – defending herself only made matters worse and her son was taken away as well as the only bit of freedom she had to herself – her car.

The Children’s Aid Society and social assistance seemed to be at odds with each other and made things worse. “They need to work together to ensure a person’s success in their community,” she says. “It’s not that we are not intelligent or not trying enough get ahead.”

Enrolled in *Working For Change’s programme, Voices From The Street, she found the encouragement she never had when she was young. “With education we learned that these were systemic problems, not just our own lives, and we saw that, we became empowered to make change.”

Dawnmarie gave speeches at shelters, focusing on violence, and to policy makers – about the catch-22 she had to endure in regaining custody. Dawnmarie’s work has been one of stability and growth. She is now the coordinator of Voices From The Street.

“I am happy now. My children are educated and moving forward. I have a career that I love and can be proud of and where I can use my past to support others on their journey.” Her daughter is in her last year of university and her son is about to start college. “I feel I’ve made it.”


DAWN MARIE FUN FACT: She loves music. She belts it out load while driving to and from work. She’s a one-woman party!

*Working For Change provides education and employment opportunities for people disadvantaged by mental illness, addiction issues, poverty, homelessness, violence and newcomer/immigration challenges. For more formation, please visit www.workingforchange.ca  With files from Leslie Scrivener.

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN

Sunday, May 10, 2015

ACSANA

FIFTH IN A SERIES from *Working For Change.

At the age of 21, her home was broken into at gunpoint. The thug threatened to return and attack her. This was the end of the road for Acsana.

With only a small backpack containing a few shirts and a photo of her family, she fled Bangladesh for New York after her father sold what he could to purchase airfare. Eventually landing in a refugee shelter in Buffalo, New York, workers there arranged for her next move. She boarded a bus and was never told where she was going. Her journey ended in Toronto.

Alone and penniless, Acsana learned that in order to sponsor her family, she needed to earn a minimum of $56,000. She worked over 17 hours a day at three jobs, often sleeping in an old car. 

In 2003, her home in Bangladesh was attacked and her mother killed. No one was ever charged. She managed to bring her father and brother to Toronto where they now live together as a family. Her childhood and circumstances has given her the strength to face anything. “I believe in myself, I can deal with any situation given all the obstacles I have faced in life” she says.


Acsana is a quietly confident woman with a great passion for people. She attends George Brown College and is hoping to go to Ryerson next year for Social Work. Acsana found her voice while enrolled in a programme run by *Working For Change, called Women Speak Out in the Parkdale area of Toronto. Through the programme she has become an advocate for poverty, working conditions and refugee needs.

*Working For Change provides education and employment opportunities for people disadvantaged by mental illness, addiction issues, poverty, homelessness, violence and newcomer/immigration challenges. For more formation, please visit www.workingforchange.ca

PHOTO: SPENCER WYNN