Contributed by: Matthew Rachmat

We recently held our Believe, Engage, and Inspire Awards ceremony to recognize and celebrate some amazing people who are connected to our organization, sector, and community. During the ceremony, the committee decided to award Rosemary Schwarz with the Believe Award, Sharon Smiley with the Inspire Award, and the SIXPO Team with the Engage Award.

Amanda Kim nominated Rosemary for her exceptional leadership of the Brewery Creek community garden these past two years. In addition to managing posAbilities’ two community garden plots, she also holds monthly meetings with several of our programs. Her work is key to keeping the garden running smoothly. Rosemary tackles everything from coordinating planting and garden maintenance schedules, to managing the weekly water schedule to ensure everyone has access to water.

She also ensures that posAbilities meets all of its community garden contribution requirements. In fact, Rosemary arranged a meeting with one of our residential programs during her time off so that she could participate in the garden cleaning party. Now that’s dedication!

Amanda describes Rosemary as “one of the main contacts with the garden committee,” and it’s easy to see why. She’s always eager to share her love of gardening with others and even runs small workshops, including the scavenger hunts.”

Amanda ended her account with this anecdote:

“Last year, Rosemary applied for a neighborhood small grant to host a garden party for the neighborhood – she had a bee trivia spin-the-wheel game, took pictures of the different vegetables/plants/flowers for people to find in a scavenger hunt style, vegetable prints for anyone who wanted to do them, a compost information session, and had small snacks/refreshments along with live music and prizes for the two games. Everyone had a great time at this event. Rosemary has been doing all of this on top of her regular job duties as the Community Inclusion Coordinator.”

Thank you, Rosemary, for all that you have done that embodies the spirit of the Believe Award!

Next up, was the Inspire award, which was given to Sharon Smiley for inclusion, person-centered thinking, and excellence. Sharon was nominated by Brooke Oxley, who explained that:

“Sharon wanted to bridge community connecting work (Building Caring Communities) to Sexual Health Educator work (Real-Talk) in some capacity, so when Options for Sexual Health received a grant to make the SIXpo (Sexuality, Inclusion, Exploration – expo) festival happen, Sharon was a natural fit for the co-ordination role.”

Brooke then shared some of Sharon’s responsibilities for the past year and a half, which included soliciting, convening and facilitating steering committee meetings of self-advocates (participants), ensuring their voices were heard, and taking their input and final say on key decisions. Sharon also worked with partner agencies to solicit in-kind donations of staff hours and the creation of secondment agreements. Sharon played a crucial role in promoting a sociocracy organizing model by forming circles and ensuring that participants were represented in each of them. Circle members contributed to work that inspired and engaged them. Throughout the event organizing process, Sharon was a resource person and a supporter, answering questions and promoting reflection and growth. Sharon also helped create a job description for a production coordinator, and ensured that participants were involved in the interview and selection process. Outside of the organizing team, Sharon built a variety of community partnerships, securing sponsorships and donations from Techlink and Microsoft to name two…

Brooke shared some insights about the values Sharon embodied:

  • Inclusion and Equity — “This came up as Sharon solicited staff, self-advocates (participants), and community volunteers. Sharon wanted to ensure that people involved in organizing SIXPO reflected the diverse community that we live in.”
  • Accountability  “Sharon kept organized and on task, responsive to people through in-person meetings, email/text, and over the phone.”
  • Care — “I saw a lot of care and concern for the people that Sharon [built relationships with] – making space for people’s feelings, clearing the air, and being responsive to people’s needs. Sharon also had a great understanding of ‘reasonable pace’ and ensured others were not burning out due to their work with SIXpo.”
  • Reflection, Learning, and Growth — “Sharon is a reflective person, and in this role, I could see Sharon considering things from many angles, asking big questions, listening to others, and taking in feedback. Post SIXpo, I see Sharon bringing humility and a desire to improve, rooted in a value of fairness and finding a reciprocal learning space.”

To conclude, Brooke mentioned that SIXpo couldn’t have happened without Sharon’s “superb” help in finding the right people for the event, “ensuring self-advocate voices were present and centered, and always continuing to fan the flames of SIXpo.”

Last but not least, the Engage award went to Team SIXpo. This award recognized the team’s demonstration of inclusion, person-centered thinking, learning, and excellence. The team consisted of Emily Seselja, BoBae Kim, Dylan Carney, and Samantha Gregory. Sharon Smiley and Brooke Oxley gave us an inside scoop on how the SIXpo team earned their nomination.

When Emily’s colleagues talked about her, they highlighted her crucial role in booking workshop presenters, keynote speakers and collaborating with participants. During challenging times, Emily stepped up and cheered up her team, always keeping their spirits high. She was able to stay responsive to the “access needs of workshop presenters and keynote speakers by mobilizing community’s contributions.”  A specific example highlighting Emily’s essential role in the team was her active role in helping a person served have a better hotel experience. The guest had a wheelchair and was facing problems accessing the bed due to the bed lift not being attached properly. With Emily’s assistance, the hotel and the guest were able to find a solution to the accessibility issue. The hotel staff, including the manager, worked tirelessly to ensure they were as accessible as possible. They listened attentively to the guest’s needs and asked for ways they could improve accessibility. They even enlisted the help of their engineering department to dismantle the bed. Despite struggling to make the necessary adjustments, the hotel eventually upgraded the guest to one of the nicest waterfront hotels in Vancouver that could accommodate their equipment.  Additionally, the hotel provided over $100 worth of food vouchers to the guest. Thanks to the help of Emily and the hotel, the guest left with a great impression of their experience at the hotel and Emily.

BoBae’s contributions were equally remarkable! She provided vital outreach and engagement support during the lead-up to SIXpo, scheduling presentations at staff meetings, group homes, and day programs across the partnering agencies. Thanks to BoBae’s efforts, the team was able to raise “over $8000 in community sponsorships, including donations, prizes, and even in-kind donations like subsidized costs for a DJ.” She used a relational and community-based approach with donors to establish a strong rapport for the future. She also tapped into her personal relationships in the community, utilizing their varying strengths and gifts. For example, BoBae’s mother is to thank for all the sandwiches and mocha donuts the SIXPO party had!

Sharon and Brooke were blown away by Dylan’s upbeat personality and how he always managed to bring a smile to everyone’s face, even during challenging times. He also played a key role in facilitating monthly circle lead roundtable meetings and bringing fresh perspectives to the steering committee meetings.

Speaking of leaders, Samantha was an absolute star as the Lead of the Wellness Circle. She brought together an amazing team and created a space for all to contribute. With Samantha’s help and the dedication of the Wellness circle “the wellness area of SIXpo was a rejuvenating, wellness centre point for the whole festival.” Team members shared that building this festival was a healing journey.

Ultimately, we had a wonderful ceremony that recognized some of the amazing people of posAbilities, individuals who have contributed so much to our organization, sector, and community.

We can’t wait to see what stories emerge at the next awards! To nominate a colleague or team, check out the process and forms on ShareVision. Submissions are due anytime up to October 12, 2023.