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Written by Nicole Kleinsteuber

Incredible, passionate and dedicated leaders who gave their time when COVID-19 hit to offer strength, safety and hope were honoured on Wednesday.

The Enrichment Centre For Mental Health in Belleville awarded its first-ever Connie Carson Community Champion Awards at a socially-distanced event.

Calling the award Carson’s legacy to local mental health initiatives, volunteerism, leadership and public advocacy, Executive Director Sandie Sidsworth and her team presented six awards to deserving individuals and groups. Phyllis Gravelle, Belleville Police Auxiliary Unit, Colleen and Len Wellwood, Krissy Johnston and Bridge Street United Church were honoured.  (Their stories of passion and dedication to their community during the pandemic can be read below.)

John-Ross Parks presented Carson with the first award – describing the lasting impact his Nana has had on his life by watching her put her heart and soul into a community she holds dear.

“The number one thing I learned from Nana is no matter what you do, do good work and help people,” he said in an interview following the socially-distanced ceremony.  “It has changed my life and it changed a lot of other people’s lives.  None of us would be the same without her giving us that advice.

Carson, a Quinte West resident, is a former Canadian Mental Health Association board member.  She is very active with the Three Oaks Foundation, The Children’s Safety Village and 100+ Women Who Care Quinte.  What also stood out over these past few months was Carson’s ability to spring into action when Personal Protective Gear was needed to keep frontline workers and residents safe against the spread of COVID-19.  She was fundamental in organizing a group of sewists to create masks and deliver PPE.

Parks said his Nana’s quiet leadership is something we should all strive for because she has never asked for appreciation or anything.

“In fact, usually she gives a lot more than she gets in return and I think we all need to do that no matter what it is,” he explained.  “Whether it’s volunteering, walking an older person’s dog or if you don’t have time maybe just give a little bit of money to some people that need it or some organizations that could use the support.”

“Help comes in a lot of different ways and Connie has shown us that really just do everything you can, and it matters,” he said.

Sidsworth praised Carson for her countless work on many boards and agencies however it was a personal moment between the two friends that was cause for inspiration.

Sidsworth lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  One day she and Carson were in the office when Sidsworth had a startling reflex caused by a loud noise sensitivity.

“She held my hand and said ‘I’ve got you, just breathe,’” Sidsworth recalled.  “That’s what Connie does.  She holds our hand so we can breathe.  She does it without fanfare.  She does it with grace.”

A humbled Carson called it amazing to be honoured.

“I don’t know how to describe it,” she said.  “I just feel so overwhelmed, pleased, happy and a little nervous too because I’m thinking why me?  What did I do here? But it’s lovely.”

Carson offered some wise advice for anyone thinking about getting involved in their community.

Get out there while you are young and get started,” she said.  “Start to help people.  If everybody helps somebody then we all benefit from it.  Even doing volunteer work and just helping people makes such a difference in our world.”

That’s exactly what the five individuals and groups honoured with the inaugural Connie Carson Community Awards have been doing.

Phyllis Gravelle – INCREDIBLE

Phyllis Gravell heard Brenda Snider make a request on a local radio station on behalf of the “Sewing for COVID-19 Facebook group” (started by Connie Carson) asking for help volunteering to make items for frontline essential workers to help keep them safe and their families safe.  Gravelle has been instrumental in keeping our community safe.  To date, she has sewn 600 masks, over 300 children’s masks, 45 adult gowns, 32 teen gowns, 207 scrub caps and 157 laundry bags.  Gravelle had made over 425 quilts for Sick Kids Hospital.  She has sewn clothes and dolls for the Firehall and Salvation Army so less fortunate children would have something under the Christmas tree.  She got neighbourhood children involved starting their volunteer work early having them join her in the backyard in the summer preparing dolls for next year’s donation.  Gravell joined the Canadian Air Force in 1953 becoming one of two women at CFB Trenton’s 437 Husky Squadron to reach 5,000 flying hours.  She has made over 3,574 dolls for NATO missions and continues to make more.

Belleville Police Auxiliary Unit – DEDICATED

Belleville Police Auxiliary Unit consists of a group of volunteers who epitomize dedication to this community and a passion for service.  The helped organize “Walk A Mile,” “Hometown Hockey,” Safe Streets for Halloween, Cops and Kids Fishing Derbies, and all community parades.  They raised $5,631 to help make the Field of Ability a reality for kids in need.  More recently, this dedicated group of volunteers was instrumental in improving the quality of life for many members in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In April, police constable Pat. Comeau spearheaded the idea to get his group together and deliver food to the elderly.  Over the course of four months, the group travelled over 1,750 kilometers to deliver 343 meals.  Furthermore, the team delivered teddy bears as a comfort to community members feeling isolated during this time.

Colleen and Len Wellwood – DEVOTED

Described as a pillar of support for the community Len and Colleen Wellwood have contributed thousands of hours of volunteer work to keep the area safe.  Colleen served as the Secretary of the Board for Crime Stoppers Quinte from 2001 to 2019.  She and Len have operated booths for 50/50 tickets for many organizations at local hockey games and created fundraisers for children battling cancer.  Most recently Colleen became a major supporter for Community Sewing for COVID-19 by organizing and donating items for masks in the Quinte Region on a weekly basis.  Len has assisted non=-profit groups driving trucks to their events with supplies and has assisted for many years as a volunteer with the Belleville Santa Claus parade.

Krissy Johnston – FIGHTER

Krissy Johnston created a small business called Isaiah & Co., where she designs and sews items that help many different sensory needs.  Her weighted blankets, lap pads, scarfs and small sensory items help with PTSD. Autism, Alzheimer’s and Mental Health.  Since the start of COVID, Johnston decided to sew masks and donate to anyone who needs them.  All donations she receives go to purchase more supplies.  She has donated over 2,500 masks. The volunteer firefighter was diagnosed with PTSD over two years ago and has used her experience to help others.  In her nomination letter, her mom, Nancy Tompkins described her daughter as a fighter. “She is determined not to let PTSD get in her way,” her mom wrote.  “It will only make her work harder.”

Bridge Street United Church – HOPE

Feeding the vulnerable in the community is something the Bridge Street United Church has been doing as a community group for years.  However, with the virus effectively shutting down so many support agencies, Bridge Street United Church continued on serving its lunch program.    Each person in need received a nutritious lunch, a personal greeting, and time for some brief conversation or check-ins.  From the lunch program, the volunteers have made referrals for other supports, ensured people are not lonely, advised about landlord connections or where to find shelter if someone was homeless.  Other referrals to additional food security programs were made available so hunger wasn’t part of their COVID experience. 

Tawyna Smith presents Phyllis Gravelle with her Connie Carson Community Champion Award PHOTO CREDIT Nicole Kleinsteuber

Calling Krissy Johnston a fighter and mental health survivor, Nancy Tompkins presented her daughter with a Connie Carson Community Champion Award   PHOTO CREDIT Nicole Kleinsteuber

Belleville Inspector Sheri Meeks (R) presents the Belleville Police Auxiliary with their Connie Carson Community Champion Award.  Pictured: Auxiliary Officer Paul Robichaud, Aux Officer Leigh McCormack, Aux Officer Justin Miller, PC Pat Comeau   PHOTO CREDIT Nicole Kleinsteuber

Stepping up to offer meals and hope during the pandemic, members of the Bridge Street United Church were presented with a Connie Carson Community Champion Award   PHOTO CREDIT Nicole Kleinsteuber

John-Ross Parks (R) and ECMH Executive Director Sandie Sidsworth (L) presented Connie Carson with the first Connie Carson Community Champion Award in recognition of a Lifetime of Volunteerism, Leadership and Public Advocacy   PHOTO CREDIT Nicole Kleinsteuber

John-Ross Parks shares a hug with Connie Carson after presenting her award describing the lasting impact his Nana has had on his life by watching her put her heart and soul into a community she holds dear.