City of Kingston announces 2024 Civic Award recipients

Kingston City Hall. Photo by Samantha Butler-Hassan

The City of Kingston is recognizing seven outstanding community volunteers with its Civic Awards, and will celebrate them at a ceremony later this month.

According to a release from the City of Kingston, these annual awards celebrate residents who generously donate their time to the community in culture, heritage, recreation, sports, health, education, environment, safety or business.

“This year’s ceremony is particularly special because it marks 25 years of the Civic Awards,” said Mayor Bryan Paterson. “These award recipients, though they donate their time to different causes, share something in common: they demonstrate what it means to go above and beyond for others. Their kindness and generosity ripple through the community, enhancing the quality of life for those around them. Congratulations to all and thank you for all you do!”

On Wednesday, July 3, 2024, the City released the following details on the recipients:

First Capital Distinguished Citizen

Yessica Rivera Belsham

Yessica’s commitment to community service spans decades in the arts, culture, health and wellness sectors. She previously immersed herself in healthcare volunteerism by serving on executive teams for various nursing conferences and symposiums in addition to being of service as an executive member for the Gerontological Nursing Association of Ontario; Registered Nursing Association of Ontario – Kingston Chapter; Palliative Care Nursing Interest Group; and Mental Health Nursing Interest Group. For many years, she was also an avid volunteer for Hospice Kingston with in-home hospice and grief and bereavement support.

During the last decade, Yessica collaborated with and was a part of many teams for a variety of local events including Kingston Community Health Centre special events; Kingston National Indigenous Peoples Day; Sisters in Spirit Tributes to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit Peoples (MMIWG2S+); Katarokwi Indigenous Day of Wellness; Memorial Butterfly Release; World Turtle Day Celebration and more. Since 2014, she has been the catalyst of the annual Día de Los Muertos Kingston Community Celebration of Life, Earth Day Kingston Celebration as well as Kingston International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Yessica continues to build more community connections as these events evolve. This year also marks ten years of Yessica facilitating the open community Ollin Drum Circles, raising community spirit and encouraging self-expression through connecting to various peoples, rhythms, songs and drums from around the world. Her nominators recognize her for celebrating diversity, accessibility and inclusivity in her work.

Honourable Achievement

Matt Dubblestein

If you ask Matt Dubblestein’s friends and colleagues, they’d probably tell you “volunteer” is a four-letter word spelled M-A-T-T.

He has been a mentor with Big Brothers, Big Sisters (BBBS) of Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington for nearly 20 years. According to the agency, Matt has been “an incalculably positive influence” as a mentor for local youth, and in his roles as a previous board member and BBBS president.

Among other titles, he is the current Dean of Awesome for Awesome Kingston, a grassroots community organization that donates $1,000 microgrant each month to individuals or groups making Kingston a better place. Matt was a past participant in the Easter Seals Dancing with the Stars – Kingston fundraiser and he assists with many other annual events, including Amazing Race Kingston, Relay for Life and the Queen’s University Nut Drive.

His generous contributions have helped many local organizations improve the lives of others in the community.

Saeid and Merola Tahamtan

Saeid and Merola opened Kingston’s first community fridge, which offers fresh and pantry foods to those who need them, in the west end of Kingston. Their motto for the program is, “take what you need, give what you can”. Where possible, they also deliver items to those who can’t easily travel to the fridge.

They sustain the project by growing and donating fresh produce and hosting several fundraisers, including a barbeque and their ‘Share the Love’ cookie sale and art auction. Merola’s well-loved sugar cookies were also a feature of the cookie drive fundraiser the Tahamtans held for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

In addition to their joint efforts, Saeid is a member of Rotary Club of Cataraqui-Kingston and a board member of Ryandale Transitional Housing. Merola has organized several fundraisers at the school where she teaches, including a sock drive, a mitten tree (for donations of toques, gloves and mittens), food drives and a “cake walk” dessert fundraiser with proceeds to Epilepsy Kingston. She also volunteers with Motionball Kingston, a national non-profit empowering young Canadians to be leaders in their communities.

Youth Volunteerism

Arzoi Bajwa

Despite a demanding international baccalaureate school schedule, Arzoi has managed to volunteer extensively for a range of activities. She shares her love and aptitude for science and math by offering free tutoring a couple of hours per week during the school year. As co-president of the school’s science club, Arzoi also fosters students’ curiosity in fun, weekly meetings and events such as Physics Brawl, an international physics tournament. She is a dedicated athlete, encouraging younger students to stay active and develop skills by running a bi-weekly sports program for Module Vanier.

Her efforts are felt in the community as well, thanks to her many event contributions to the Indian Canadian Association of Kingston. She regularly helps backstage to coordinate events and has raised hundreds of dollars during fundraisers by using her artistic skills to provide henna and face art.

Daniel Wang

A personal family tragedy underlies Daniel’s motivation to volunteer with a variety of health initiatives. After his mother’s passing in 2012, Daniel reflected on the valuable impact the hospital volunteers had on his family’s experience. He remembers how challenging cancer treatments were for her, which prompted him to spend 80+ hours over the past year sitting with chemotherapy patients at Kingston General Hospital.

As Ceremonies and Awareness Coordinator for Queen’s University Relay for Life, he raises awareness by educating others about symptoms and early detection screening. He also organizes the event’s opening and closing ceremonies; altogether, the event raised a national post-secondary record-breaking $182,000 for the Canadian Cancer Society. As a member of the Tri-colour Classic Executive Committee, he is helping raise money for pediatric cancer research at SickKids Hospital through a charity basketball game.

In the past year, he has also volunteered over 200 hours with Compass Community Services Teleconnect program, offering support to individuals struggling with their mental health. Finally, as a competitive athlete growing up, Daniel finds it rewarding to share his passion for sport as an assistant coach for U11 Kingston Impact Basketball Academy.

Léane Paquette

At 11 years old, Léane has already been a regular member of the school’s Humanitarian Club for several years. Both at school and at home, she helps work on the club’s various fundraising and charitable projects. She and other members create and sell ‘Amis de Poches’ (or Pocket Buddies) wool dolls, with proceeds sent to humanitarian associations locally and abroad.

She also regularly helps with the Cover Us, Adopt a Blanket initiative by knitting blankets for unhoused people in Kingston. Her generosity is widely felt at school, where she cheerfully helps organize lost-and-found items, assists lunch monitors in classrooms with younger students and distributes healthy snacks from the Food Sharing Project to classrooms.

According to the release, award recipients will be celebrated at a ceremony during the Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2024, City Council meeting. Watch the City of Kingston’s social media channels for updates recognizing each recipient and their significant contributions to the community.

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