United Way gives top honour to WCDR

OTTAWA – Last Thursday (May 16) West Carleton Disaster Relief (WCDR) was bestowed with the United Way Ottawa’s top award. Honoured, the WCDR says there’s still a lot of work to do and a long way still to go.

At the 19th annual Community Builder of the Year Awards Gala held at the Shaw Centre in downtown Ottawa, United Way Ottawa honoured the achievements of seven individuals, organizations and agencies “taking exceptional strides to improve lives, break down barriers and create opportunities for people in Ottawa.”

More than 650 people, from all corners of the city, attended the event.

The biggest honour of the night is the Community Builder of the Year Award, presented to two volunteer organizations that grew, literally overnight, to form a local, organized response to tornadoes that had ripped through and devastated their communities on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018.

It went to WCDR and the Trend-Arlington Community Association.

Both are still hard at work on the file, and the WCDR has added a new file to its folder, providing volunteer support to those affected by extreme flooding this spring – the second time in two years.

WCDR vice president Angela Bernhardt said it was an honour for the recognition although it was a difficult award to accept.

“It did feel a little uncomfortable to receive an award for something were not done working on yet,” Bernhardt told West Carleton Online yesterday (May 21).

The WCDR is a group of volunteers made up of the various West Carleton community association board members and some very experienced local disaster relief volunteers from the former Constance Bay Flood Relief – created after 2017 flooding. The group has assisted the disaster-affected anyway it can. Its fundraising efforts have been incredible, raising more than $600,000 for tornado relief so far. The WCDR was efficient at getting resources to those who needed them most when professional organizations stumbled in that regard. The WCDR’s local knowledge has given it the experience to focus their help where it’s needed most (for complete coverage of the WCDR’s exploits over the last eight months, click here).

“In the immediate aftermath of the tornadoes, these groups emerged as trusted advocates for their communities as the response and recovery efforts unfolded,” the United Way said of the community builder award recipients. “Both have become models for how a community can quickly organize to ensure residents are supported, connected, and cared for.”

“One of the biggest things for me personally is how strong one or just a few voices can be, how much impact you can have,” Bernhardt said at the gala. “Something like this changes a community forever, and I think probably five months ago we saw that as a bad thing. As time progresses, as much as it’s been a slow rebuild, I truly believe that because of the connections the people made, the showing of strength, it will be forever changed for the better.”

The gala was a nice break from the discussions the volunteers of the WCDR have when they normally meet. Although avoiding shop talk was impossible.

“We had a nice visit with Trend-Arlington,” Bernhadt said. “Our (United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau) friends are here and won an award (Healthy People, Strong Communities Award). They’re the ones who have been feeding us during the flood. To have them, and all the other award winners here in the same room is inspiring.”

But it was only a break and the WCDR, and probably all the other award recipients in the room are back at it already.

“There’s still lots to do,” Berhardt said. “We’re committed to continuing to helping affected families of both the tornado and the flood.

The gala also raised $8,344 for OrKidstra—an organization that empowers kids from under-served areas of Ottawa by teaching life skills through music.

Other award winners include:

  • From Poverty to Possibility award: Making Voices Count
  • Community Impact award: Hydro Ottawa
  • GenNext award: Corey Ellis and Alida Burke, co-founders of Growcer
  • All That Kids Can Be award: Costco Wholesale
  • Ambassador award: Erin Benjamin
  • Healthy People, Strong Community award: United Muslim Organizations of Ottawa-Gatineau