The Hub Volunteering to transform communities

Volunteering to transform communities

At Athabasca University, our goal is simple: Transforming Lives, Transforming Communities.

Each and every day, our students and alumni are giving selflessly of themselves and transforming their own communities, as well. Through our alumni awards, we acknowledge students who make outstanding achievements, and volunteerism is a common thread we see in most of our award winners.

To recognize Volunteer Canada’s National Volunteer Week, which is April 19-25 this year, we want to highlight the impressive contributions some of our alumni—and future alumni—have made over the past few years.

Esmail Bharwani, 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award

Esmail Bharwani, Athabasca University's 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, embodies lifelong learning.
Esmail Bharwani, Athabasca University's 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award winner, embodies lifelong learning.

Esmail Bharwani’s dedication to his family and his community is exemplified by his passion for volunteer work and his tireless commitment to giving back and making a difference in others’ lives through education. Throughout his career he gave tirelessly of himself to help others in many ways, and supported his family at every opportunity.

After he sold his practice in 1999, he went on to earn a law degree in 2004 and channeled his education and experience into helping others, including not-for-profit organizations in his community. He currently devotes much of his time to his family foundation, set up in 2011 largely with his own funds earned from accounting and law practices. It currently provides over 43 awards each year, from endowments to last in perpetuity, to help students pursue their education and improve their lives and the lives of those they touch.

Dr. Djenana Jalovcic, 2019 Volunteer Service Alumni Award

Dr. Djenana Jalovcic (EdD 2018) works to improve the lives of people with disabilities at home and abroad.
Dr. Djenana Jalovcic (EdD 2018) works to improve the lives of people with disabilities at home and abroad.

Dr. Djenana Jalovcic’s understanding of the importance of volunteering came in the 1990s, when her home city of Sarajevo was under siege during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She saw volunteerism in that city literally mean the difference between life and death, and that experience inspired her lifelong passion for volunteering.

She has given her time and passion to countless organizations over the years, currently dividing her time between the Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Bangladesh, the Canadian Society for International Health, Accessibility for All, and the Learning Disabilities Association of Kingston.

Annette Cyr, 2018 Volunteer Service Alumni Award

Annette Cyr Athabasca University Strategic pursuits - the 2018 Volunteer Service Alumni Award recipient
Annette Cyr, AU's 2018 Volunteer Service Alumni Award recipient

Annette Cyr is a savvy business woman whose grit and determination will help reduce Canada’s melanoma cases and raise awareness of the disease. She saw AU’s MBA program as a way to help her launch her consulting company and provide some added credibility, and while studying was diagnosed with melanoma.

In 2009, after collaborating with others, she helped found the Melanoma Network of Canada with $25,000 of her own money to help with start-up costs. She volunteered full-time hours for this organization while still running her own consulting company. It employs a team of four, and is the sole organization in the country focused on melanoma.

Fiona Smith, 2018 Future Alumni Award

Fiona Smith 2018 Future Alumni Award recipient Athabasca University #AthabascaU AU Online Education #OnlineEd Distance Education Transforming Lives
Fiona Smith, AU's 2018 Future Alumni Award recipient

Fiona Smith has overcome a great deal to be able to pursue a higher education, including being diagnosed with dyslexia and dyscalculia, and PTSD from childhood abuse. After being stung by a wasp in 2007, she developed Systemic Mastocytosis, a rare and incurable cellular disease that causes repeated, life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

After a two-and-a-half-year legal battle to have her disability claim accepted, she won the first case in Canada after arguing it all by herself. She decided to volunteer her time to help others with disability claims, and co-founded the Mastocytosis Society of Canada. She also volunteers her time to help newcomers, refugees and immigrants hoping to learn English and those who need support building their resume.

Anthony Montgomery, 2017 Volunteer Service Award

photo of anthony montgomery
Anthony Montgomery, Athabasca University’s 2017 Volunteer Service Award recipient

Anthony Montgomery says volunteering is in his blood and he’ll never tire of helping those in need. His volunteer work began early on in life as he helped local animal-rescue charities, and he found the same joy helping people at the Calgary Drop-In Centre and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Anthony struggled with traditional learning environments, but through AU and with support of the Accessibility Services office, for the first time he felt optimistic about being able to succeed in school. His optimism was well-placed, as he has now graduated with a bachelor of professional arts in human services, which is a nice cap to all his volunteer work.

Robin Bleich, 2017 Future Alumni Award

photo of robin bleich
Robin Bleich, Athabasca University's 2017 Future Alumni Awards recipient

Robin Bleich is an experience law-enforcement officer in Ontario’s Niagara region, and is an active volunteer there with multiple organizations including Children are Safe and the Niagara Children’s Planning Council. As an AU student, working on her bachelor of professional arts degree in criminal justice, she made invaluable contributions in her role as council member of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.

That spirit of giving back and transforming her community is also reflected in her professional work. Within the Niagara Regional Police Service, Bleich is program coordinator for the School Police Emergency Action Response (SPEAR) program. She’s also dedicated to her professional community, serving with the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Jacqui Empson-Laporte, 2016 Volunteer Service Award

photo of jacqui near a flower bush
Jacqui Empson-Laporte, AU’s 2016 Volunteer Service Alumni Award recipient

Jacqui Empson-Laporte has a bachelor of professional arts degree in governance, law and management, and has also done graduate work legislative drafting, both with Athabasca University. And this is all in the midst of raising teenage kids, working full-time with the public service in Ontario.

For her volunteering is effortless; it has been a part of her life since she was a child volunteering at her community church. She has since taken on roles as a Big Sister, a Beaver leader with Scouts Canada, and a soccer coach. In college she founded a group that helped students get work experience. And today, when she’s not working her full-time job she’s on night shifts at Victim Services of Huron County or volunteering to support low-income families with financial goal-planning.

Julie Lys, 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award

AU’s 2016 Distinguished Alumna, Julie Lys

It has been more than 10 years since Julie Lys finished her master of nursing degree at AU, and she has been hard at work transforming her community since then. She proudly champions her northern Métis heritage and works to support her community member of Fort Smith, in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories.

She has made it her life’s mission to promote education among Fort Smith’s Indigenous learners, serving with her community’s education board and helping to develop Fort Smith’s Phoenix School for youth—an alternative platform to provide students with a flexible education.

  • April 21, 2020