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Community Safety Leaders

Don Wadel, Community Safety Leader

When Don Wadel looks back on his career in corrections and at the John Howard Society, he’ll no doubt remember the tragedies along with the triumphs. As Don will tell you, anyone in his line of work gets marked by such incidents, and becomes more determined to keep communities safe.

Don’s career started in Alberta in 1974, where he worked as a jail guard and established programs at the Calgary Correctional Centre. By 1986, he joined the John Howard Society of Ottawa as Executive Director. A year earlier, Celia Ruygrok, a young halfway house staff member, was brutally murdered by a resident. It was a tragedy that marked the John Howard Society to its core. Already dealing with internal challenges, including low staff morale and high turnover, the organization needed a lifeline. And that lifeline was Don.

Don immediately began building an agency that became second to none in Canada – first, by providing services to offenders and ex-offenders, and more recently, to women, girls and the mentally challenged. He has guided the organization to become a leader by developing a series of programs aimed at the city’s most vulnerable citizens. In doing so, Don has successfully helped to prevent criminal behaviour and assist former offenders to become law abiding citizens.

One key project, in place since 2000, has been the provision of housing to homeless ex-offenders and parolees. Why? As Don will tell you, successful reintegration into society is all about keeping high risk people stable, safe and law-abiding. Previously, the agency had a hard time finding housing that would accept former offenders, and offer proper monitoring. Today, there are six residences. The environment is safe. Staff offer support, teach basic skills, and address substance abuse and mental health issues. It’s a change in direction that has vastly improved relations with the police, social agencies and others in the community.

For the 25 years Don has been at the helm of The John Howard Society of Ottawa, he has made research and evaluation key components of the agency’s work. He has implemented tools that take a more critical look at client needs, and respond to the very things that put them at risk. In embracing new evidence-based practices founded in research, he helped change the way his team works with people and reduced the risk to the community. As Don says, “What we do works. We see the proof of it every day.”

Within the organization, he has successfully built a team of loyal employees and created an atmosphere that respects and welcomes their opinions. Take it from one of his team members, who says, “Don is without exception the reason I continue to be here. I have been spoiled by opportunity and leadership, and the sheer possibilities and promise of working by his example.”

He has also created strong ties with the community. In fact, building bridges is one of Don’s greatest strengths. He has worked to connect the agency with community safety causes, such as working with people affected by trauma and tragedy—women, children and society’s most vulnerable. And he has forged closer ties with the police, community groups and social agencies.

Through Don’s leadership, he has helped educate the community and cement the John Howard Society’s reputation as an important part of creating safer, healthier communities.

What drives him? According to those who know him best, he believes in the value of the work, and in the absolute necessity of it. He also has a true unwavering belief in the value of all human beings, regardless of where they come from or what they’ve done. That’s because he’s focused on what they are capable of achieving for themselves, their families and their community.

Ask Don, and he’ll tell you this is not about him. The John Howard Society’s success is about the incredible people that make up its staff and Board of Directors. He credits the Board with having great vision, commitment and professional expertise. He says he’s also blessed with a talented team that is well-informed, and focused on nurturing strong relationships with police, probation and parole officers, and the community in order to keep high risk people on track.

However, to quote a member of the Board of Directors, “It is difficult to imagine how we ever could have hired a better Executive Director, and it is difficult to imagine that there could be a more deserving recipient of this award.”

Abid Jan, Community Safety Leader

In 2004, Abid Jan took on a big challenge. Working at the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre, Abid was asked to conduct community leadership training. The problem was there were no community members willing to participate. Abid started looking into this and quickly discovered a high level of fear and intimidation among community members whose lives were being terrorized by gangs and violence in their neighbourhood.

Upon learning this, Abid decided it was time to take action. He researched existing and successful crime prevention and community engagement models from the United States, the United Kingdom and others and with the help and collaboration of his community, he put together a plan. That plan became No Community Left Behind, an innovative program that encourages social development planning at the neighbourhood level in order to reduce and prevent violent crime, drug abuse, and gang activity in high-crime neighbourhoods.

The program works on a collaborative model in which police, service providers and city staff and city councillors work together with residents to address issues the community identifies. The program was piloted in the Banff-Ledbury neighbourhood, and a community action process was undertaken to understand the problems and then address them.

The process began with an assessment survey that engaged residents to recognize the assets in their community and to identify solutions to their problems. Police officers were involved from this first step in order to establish trust. Public information sessions with both service providers and community members were also held to let people know what resources were available to them. Multicultural dinners, held once a week, helped integrate the community by breaking the ice between community members.

The program has operated in the Banff-Ledbury community since 2005 and the results have been remarkable. The biggest change has been the engagement of community members who had previously been so reluctant to participate in any social activity. The program also strengthened the trust and overall relationship between residents and police. Officers who became known in both community policing and law enforcement roles were able, with the increased cooperation of community members, to remove some of the worst elements creating the fear and crime in the neighbourhood.

In 2006 No Community Left Behind was launched in the Heatherington, Confederation Court and Russell Heights neighbourhoods. The City of Ottawa noted the success of the community engagement process in this model and has now adopted it as part of its Community Development Framework.

Armand Kayolo, Community Safety Leader

Armand Kayolo is a man known for listening with his ears, his eyes and his heart. It’s a quality that has earned him the respect and admiration of the people he has worked with since taking on his role in 2003. In a place like Overbrook, that’s no simple task. The low-income neighbourhood he serves has its share of challenges, including poverty, mental health issues, the sex trade, drugs, intimidation and violence.

When Armand first arrived, he saw people who did not know one another and did not trust one another, including the police. The Donald Street community housing complex was home to far too many problems. Residents lived in fear, and often in isolation. There were other barriers too. New Canadians and other vulnerable groups were frequently unwilling or unable to ask for help.

Armand saw an opportunity to make a difference – and he seized it as part of the City of Ottawa’s Community Development Framework. In working with local partners and residents, he developed an action plan to address the biggest problems facing his community. He worked tirelessly to build bridges between residents, police and community service providers.

Armand’s gentle guidance and empathetic, kind-hearted approach allowed him to connect personally with residents, gain their trust, and build their confidence in police and other service providers. He put communications strategies in place, along with initiatives designed to get people working together. He organized community events, tax return workshops and much more.

The result? A safer, more caring community, less tension and conflict, and greater cooperation between local residents and the police.

His impact has been equally strong in the workplace. He’s been a mentor to his staff, and a true example of selfless leadership. Armand is the first to say he does not believe in personal gifts; that this award belongs to his whole team. That’s because Armand has such a firm belief in “community”. What matters most to him is caring for “one person at a time, one family at a time” to build a stronger community.

It’s that same community that pulled together to nominate Armand for this award. Not one, not two, but four nominations were submitted, along with signatures from local residents. Their collective recognition demonstrates how deeply his presence is felt and appreciated.

As his Executive Director pointed out, “It’s truly a gift to have Armand as part of our community.”

Walter Piovesan, Community Safety Leader

Walter Piovesan has a dream—and for 27 years, he’s been working hard to achieve it. In his perfect world, every single child in this city would wake up in the morning knowing that school is a safe place to be, where there are people they can trust and who value them for who they are. Why? Walter believes schools are the centre of a community.

He knows that problems that start in school can spill out to affect an entire community. When a child’s needs are met and that child feels well-connected to the community, the chances of becoming involved in criminal or at-risk behaviours drops drastically. As the Superintendent responsible for Safe Schools with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board, Walter has worked to make those connections by meeting the needs of our youth, and bringing schools and their students closer to their communities.

Walter has been the driving force behind several new initiatives and programs which have enhanced community safety throughout the city. He’s been the catalyst behind the implementation of “restorative practices” and “cross-cultural conflict resolution” strategies in a number of schools. The programs equip high school and middle school students with the tools they need to resolve conflict productively before it escalates into violence.

He’s passionate about making our schools and communities more inclusive and welcoming. He’s championed Cultural Proficiency training for teachers, administrators and staff, as well as community partners such as the Ottawa Police Service. He also led the School Resource Officer project, which provides a dedicated officer to high priority schools to improve safety and enhance the image that police have within the wider community.

That’s not all. Bullying has been a big focus – along with the need to instill values that build character, reduce aggressive behaviour, and promote safe and healthy decision-making. He has introduced innovative programming to increase the bond young people—especially at-risk youth—feel with their communities.

Though it’s been a labour of love, he’s had help along the way. He knows his work is all about leveraging partnerships and resources in order to take a proactive approach to making communities safer. He’s partnered with health, dental and counseling service providers to give children better access to the services they need. He’s collaborated with the Boys and Girls Club to establish after-school programs, worked with Crime Prevention Ottawa on youth gang prevention, and helped create an all-day kindergarten program at the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre to help kids embrace their language and culture. He has partnered with community agencies and police. He’ll be the first to say that he alone cannot take the credit for positively impacting the lives of 65,000 students.

In the end, what’s important for Walter is what’s best for the kids. After all, they deserve it. And when he looks back on a career that has taken him from the classroom to the Superintendent’s office, he does so with a smile. In Walter’s words, “I can’t think of a better job. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.”