Wabano’s volunteer co-ordinator gets Ontario honour
She has drawn dozens of volunteers to the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health since taking over as volunteer co-ordinator four years ago and helped launch a thriving chocolate-based social enterprise.
Now, Pierrette Vezina has been recognized for her contributions.
Vezina, 57, received the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship last month from Ontario Lt.-Gov. Elizabeth Dowdeswell. The medal, Ontario’s second-highest civilian honour, recognizes individuals for their outstanding contributions to the well-being of their communities.
Allison Fisher, executive director of Wabano, said Vezina “embodies the spirit of the community. Her tireless work to provide a place of belonging for volunteers of all ages is a testament to her complete dedication to the heart of what Wabano represents.”
Vezina, who is Métis, said she began volunteering at Wabano after retiring from a career with the City of Ottawa working with seniors. “It called to me,” she said of the centre.
Among her initiatives at the community health centre is Wabano Fine Chocolates, which Vezina says is the first Indigenous social enterprise in Canada, as far as she knows. The project helps train volunteers in chocolate-making and raises money to support programs.
Vezina, who is a trained chocolate maker, said it began as a small project to make gifts, but has taken off. The chocolates come with a story about Aboriginal culture.
Erin MacDonald, head of human resources, noted that the volunteer program includes people from every walk of life and every country.
“If someone has a barrier to volunteer (including physical and mental disabilities), she offers supported opportunities in her mentorship program in order to ensure everyone has the opportunity to feel the purpose that volunteering can offer,” MacDonald said.
Vezina said she was humbled by the honour.
Wabano is one of 10 Aboriginal health centres across the province that provide a wide range of medical and social services, supports, community programming and youth programs.