Women of distinction: recognizing remarkable achievements

Presented by Scotiabank, YWCA Metro Vancouver celebrates extraordinary women in Metro Vancouver with its 41st annual Women of Distinction Awards. This fundraising event honours women from diverse fields for their contributions to the community, recognizing their achievements and empowering their initiatives.

“The Women of Distinction Awards honour and celebrate the achievements of thousands of inspiring women and workplaces who are driving change in their communities,” says Amy Juschka, YWCA’s vice president of communications and advocacy.

Unifying communities

The YWCA Women of Distinction 2024. | Photo courtesy of YWCA Metro Vancouver.

Each of the nominees is also eligible to win the Connecting the Community Award, wherein the recipient is given $10,000 to donate to a YWCA program of her choosing. The programs support causes like ending gender-based violence, providing affordable housing and more. This year’s winner, selected by public vote, is Raheil Moradi.

One of Moradi’s most impactful initiatives has been founding Pay it Forward, a cause dedicated to alleviating prejudice against unhoused people. She and her volunteers reach out to unhoused individuals to share a meal, start conversation and create a compassionate, caring environment. Moradi is deeply moved by the support this initiative has received, not only for breaking down barriers but for bringing diverse people together to share their stories and experiences.

“This experience has demonstrated the power of community. It’s a reminder of the impact we can achieve when we come together with a shared purpose and a commitment to positive change,” says Moradi.

Embracing reconciliation

This year’s recipient of the Reconciliation in Action Award is Mary Gerges. She has been on her Reconciliation journey for over 15 years, acting as an advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Her goal has been to contribute her skills to building relationships, creating space for mutual understanding and striving towards Reconciliation in tangible ways.

Gerges’ recent initiative involved working with BC Housing. She aimed to find ways to restructure the request for proposal (RFP) processes to consider and promote Reconciliation, thereby eliminating barriers for Indigenous proponents.

“I do my work because I’ve witnessed the past and present impacts of colonialism. If this award gives me a greater platform to reach and mobilize folks to action, then I am grateful for it,” Gerges says.

Nurturing health and environment

Melissa Lem is the winner of the Environmental Sustainability Award. She is recognized for not only her presidency of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CARE), where she advocates for healthy policy choices, but also for her founding of PaRx, Canada’s national nature prescription program. In just three years, all practicing doctors in Canada have registered under PaRx.

Lem hopes to create an international impact with PaRx, and especially wants to provide nature prescriptions to the people who truly need it. She aims to foster a healthy, environmentally-conscious future, and to continue to connect people to nature.

“I want to inspire people to protect and restore nature to improve health. My work is only threading the needle of environmental sustainability issues that truly matter,” Lem says.

Shining youth

YWCA Metro Vancouver is also passionate about spotlighting talented youth like Stephanie Quon, this year’s Young Woman of Distinction. Over the past few years, Quon has worked on 87 accessibility projects, such as opening a sensory room at UBC, and has received over $1.32M in funding.

Quon is also the founder of The Sprouts Initiative, which works on projects related to sustainability, accessibility and community. She hopes to join larger community-based projects in the future, and pursue her passion for sustainability and social change.

“This award is an incredible honour. It motivates me to continue working towards change in the community and inspires me to dream bigger,” says Quon.

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