For the sixth year, I have the honour of recognizing women-identified folks in Kitchener-Waterloo who positively impact our community through their leadership.
This year, ten women and girls are being recognized through the Leading Women and Leading Girls Building Communities Recognition Program: Cait Glasson, Joanne Hepditch, Lori Hodgson, Diane Matyas, Janet McLaughlin, Fran Pappert-Shannon, Thea Ross, Emma Smith, Leon Tsai, and Samantha Estoesta Williams.
Lori is the volunteer coordinator for the Nutrition for Learning (NFL) program at Westvale Public School in Waterloo. Alongside her student volunteer Thea Ross, Lori faithfully orders the food, completes the paperwork associated with the NFL program and works to ensure the snacks are distributed to each classroom every day. Thea is a Grade 6 student and lead volunteer for the Nutrition for Learning Program (NFL) at Westvale Public School in Waterloo. Thea works alongside the Lori to ensure that over 300 students have access to a healthy meal every single school day.
I first met Joanne when she was volunteering at the City of Waterloo’s Adult Recreation Centre to make sure low-income seniors have access to a hot lunch and friendly conversation. Joanne also volunteers at the St. John’s Soup Kitchen, which is part of the Working Centre, Canadian Blood Services KW and other local organizations.
As a Trans advocate, Cait’s lived experiences have proven invaluable to educate politicians and community members alike. SPECTRUM is Waterloo Region’s Rainbow Community Space, and Cait serves on their Board of Directors and works with the Aging with Pride Committee, which aims to make aware the needs of LGBTQ+ older adults by providing Cultural-Awareness Training Sessions to local senior-serving organizations.
Emma has served as co-president of the University of Waterloo's Aboriginal Student Association (ASA) for two years and continues to be a voice on behalf of the 135 self-identified Indigenous students at her school. Emma was also a conference facilitator for the University of Waterloo’s Integrating Knowledges Summit. In this role, she helped plan and execute a three day conference in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action.
Leon is a Trans Woman and LGBTQ+ advocate who has worked with local schools to share her lived experience. In March of 2017, Leon spoke to over 120 administrators and superintendents from the Waterloo Region District School Board over the course of two days. Leon’s presentation on Administrative Procedure and Guidelines for the Accommodation of Persons Who Identify as Transgender received a standing ovation both times.
Janet is a health studies professor, mother of two, and a strong advocate for children with autism and their families. After the Liberal government announced that children with autism over the age of five would be cut off from therapy, Janet used considerable skills and talent to raise awareness and build alliances among the autism communities. She organized other parents to share their stories and made many trips to Queen’s Park to share her own story until the Liberal government reversed their decision.
In 2009, Fran converted to Islam and became one of the key founders of the Coalition of Muslim Women in Kitchener-Waterloo (CMW). For just under a decade, her expertise has proven invaluable from coordinating their first event, “Day of Dialogue with Muslim Women” to a more recent gender equality, LGBTQ+ inclusive group called “K-W El-Tawhid Juma Circle.” Fran has also volunteered as the Co-Chair of the Patient and Family Advisory Council at the Grand River Hospital Regional Cancer Centre.
Samantha’s extensive volunteer work is focused on the goal of improving the lives of Trans, non-binary and queer folks in Waterloo Region. Samantha co-created an alternative queer community space called Plan B Co-operative KW. Through her non-profit, she facilitates QT2Sl+ Garment Drives, QT clothing swaps, workshops, and other queer-centered community events.
Diane served as the Director for the Waterloo chapter of Canadian Women in Technology (CANWIT-WR). The CanWIT chapter provides networking opportunities, support and mentorship to encourage more women to immerse themselves in technology-related work. She is also the founder and funder of a local International Women’s Day Waterloo Region event which celebrates local women with a special focus on technology and engineering.
Please join me in celebrating these local leaders on Friday, April 13th at 12:00 pm at Knox Church in Waterloo as they receive acknowledgement from the Leading Women and Leading Girls Building Communities Recognition Program.
Catherine Fife, MPP