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Urban Hero Awards celebrate Toronto's doers of good deeds

Sixteen winners were recognized for work in their community

Hero. A small word that has a big meaning.

Sixteen such people were honoured Thursday, Oct. 19 at the 2017 Urban Hero Awards gala, which celebrates community ‘heroes’ for their inspiring work, leadership, and good deeds in Toronto.

Created by Metroland Media Toronto in 2009, which publishes the Mirror, Guardian, and Villager newspapers, this year saw 65 nominations submitted by the public in eight categories: Arts, Business, Education, Environment, Good Neighbour, Health, Social Issues, and Sports. Eight winners were selected by Metroland Media Toronto staff, and for the first time, the awards included a ‘People’s Choice’ online voting round, which saw another eight nominees with the most votes across the categories declared People’s Choice winners. Some 16,000 unique votes were cast.

Surrounded by supporters and well-wishers, each winner received a framed write-up, which resembled the front page of a newspaper, highlighting their accomplishments during a three-course dinner at York Mills Gallery on Leslie Street, south of Hwy. 401.

“A hearty congratulations to the recipients,” said Dana Robbins, publisher of Metroland Media Toronto, noting each winner made a difference to the people in their neighbourhoods.

Dikema Etto doesn’t place much value on being an Urban Hero.

“Helping others, to me, gives me much joy,” said the Good Neighbour category winner. “It’s better to give than to receive.”

For the past eight years, the Scarborough resident has picked up and distributed food and care items twice a month to homeless people downtown through StreetFeed.

“They genuinely appreciate you coming out,” Etto said. “There’s something special about it. It’s not being a hero. The whole phrase is meaningless. It’s about how can I improve your life and make a positive change. It’s about helping others feel awesome. You never know what impact you leave on others.”

He also created A Fresh Start, a drive to distribute personal care items to Syrian refugees in Canada.

Used car dealership owner Nasser Rad and his staff were looking for ways to help people in need when his wife came up with an idea: why not give away cars to people who could otherwise not afford one?

Since the Care to Share program’s launch in 2015, North York based Autorama has given away 10 free cars.

Rad, who won the People’s Choice for Business, isn’t a stranger to hard times. He arrived in Canada as a refugee from Iran 27 years ago with no money and only a drive to succeed in his pockets.

“You have to help people who are not fortunate in life,” he said.

And if entrepreneurs are struggling to come up with ideas for their business, Rad offers a simple solution: “Ask your wife.”

José Alberto Flores credits his mother for his resilience.

When he moved to Toronto from El Salvador 24 years ago, he spoke little English but was fortunate to have a strong support network of teachers who wanted him to succeed.

Now, the People’s Choice winner in Education and vice-principal of Bishop Marrocco/Thomas Merton Catholic Secondary School and Regional Arts Centre in Bloor West Village is paying it forward by focusing on student success.

“Life is not easy, there will be obstacles along the way,” he said. “You have to keep moving forward.”

The full list of 2017 Urban Hero Award winners are:

  • Arts: Louise Garfield

    People’s Choice: Oksana Hrycyna

  • Business: David Hicks and his team at Canadian Tire

    People’s Choice: Nasser Rad

  • Education: Esther Leung Tou and the staff at Park Lane school

    People’s Choice: José Alberto Flores

  • Environment: Alice Cheng

    People’s Choice: Johann Fisch

  • Good Neighbour: Dikema Etto

    People’s Choice: Martha Nyame

  • Health: Everton Gooden

    People’s Choice: Sharon Nyarko

  • Social Issues: Nicole German

    People’s Choice: Paul Dowsett

  • Sports: Jennifer Smith

    People’s Choice: Jamal Campbell

In previous years, the Urban Hero Awards were held in Etobicoke, Scarborough, and North York. This year, in conjunction with Canada 150 celebrations, the program was open to everyone in the city.

Sponsors of this year’s event were Canadian Tire, Healthy Planet, Newad, Humber College Lakeshore Campus, Rajasri CPA, and Dr. Amanpreet Chopra.

For information or to submit a nomination for next year, visit www.urbanheroes.ca.

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