The 19th annual Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards were held Thursday, March 10th in Abbotsford with organizations and individuals being recognized in six categories.

Nearly 200 guests attended in-person and 16 attendees joined virtually. Four organizations received Cultural Diversity Awards in the categories of innovative initiatives, marketing, human resources, and inclusive environments. Mia Skoone Gill was named the Youth Champion of Diversity while Nimrat Aulakh received the Champion of Diversity award.

The Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards has been one of the most attended events held in Abbotsford in the past and organizers were thrilled that recent event capacity restrictions were lifted in time to open tickets to the public in February. Returning emcee Free Lee quipped that as much as he loves take-out, he was excited for a buffet dinner again.

“It truly, absolutely, just heartens me that during those two years, we have all as a community looked after one another and we have become a stronger community despite the adversities… that were presented to us.”

Outgoing host of Virgin Radio and media personality, Nira Arora, spoke about her experiences as a visible minority in Canada.

She encouraged attendees that “it’s time to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to be an upstander rather than a bystander.”

In her closing remarks, Manpreet Grewal, the Director of Multicultural and Immigrant Integration Services at Archway thanked the sponsors, production team and the organizing committee for being flexible as they planned the event. Grewal mentioned what a joy it was to see people in flesh and blood and know there was a whole person beyond the torso shown in video calls.

The event was held at a smaller scale this year to be cautious, but Grewal said that next year they hoped to “see the full force of physical energy and human interaction.”

Since 2003, community members have nominated businesses, programs, initiatives, schools and leaders that build inclusive and diverse communities in Abbotsford, Mission, Langley and Chilliwack. Archway Community Services presents the event in partnership with the Mission and Chilliwack Community Services as well as the Langley New Directions English Language School.

Speaker Nira Arora

Outgoing host of Virgin Radio and media personality, Nira Arora was the keynote speaker

“It truly, absolutely, just heartens me that during those two years, we have all as a community looked after one another and we have become a stronger community despite the adversities.”
Fred Lee

Event Emcee

“It’s time to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. You need to be an upstander rather than a bystander.”
Nira Arora

Keynote Speaker

2022 Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards Recipients

Nimrat Aulakh, Champion of Diversity

Nimrat Aulakh is a registered nurse, non-profit founder, board member and volunteer at multiple organizations.

In her professional life she works at the Seabird Island Indian Reserve and at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital. She also works as a youth support worker proving life skills for at-risk youth and those with special needs.

After being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago, Nimrat realized that others in the South Asian community often did not receive enough support due to a lack of knowledge, stigma associated with any illness, language barriers or cultural stereotypes. In response, she founded “Be Better Together Chronic Illness Society.”

She facilitated support groups, one-to-one peer support and raised awareness. She became an Ambassador with Multiple Sclerosis Canada and a member of “Women Against MS” who organize an annual fundraising gala.

She is a board member with the Lily Rose Children’s Society which helps children overcome poverty in Uganda, Kenya and India. As a board member with Langley Pos-Abilities she audits facilities and suggest changes to ensure they are accessible to people with disabilities.

She facilities monthly workshops at the Salvation Army to teach life skills to those experiencing homelessness. Nimrat also volunteers at the Crisis Centre to provide support to individuals experiencing a mental or physical crisis.

Aulakh thanked her “family, friends and the community for always pushing me to do my best.”

Youth Champion of Diversity – Mia Skoone Gill

Mia Skoone Gill is a grade 12 student who is an active volunteer, city youth counsellor, youth parliamentarian, UN Canadian youth delegate, and youth ambassador of Canada and the USA.

Additionally, Mia is a competitive swimmer who volunteers with the Special Olympics BC and Abbotsford Mini Olympians. She volunteers as the Social Education Lead at the Kids Play Foundation and helps organize some of BC’s only free summer camps for underprivileged youth in the Fraser Valley.

She is a Foundry Youth Ambassador and spearheaded new initiatives to bridge the gap in people of colour accessing mental health support. She organizes the annual Diwali celebrations at Foundry, language accessibility prospects and more. She helped organize the first Peer Support Group at her school to help students learn self-regulation and peer mentorship while achieving academic credits.

Her community service focuses on longevity and inclusivity to ensure the efforts leave a meaningful impact where she goes. As a South-Asian child she didn’t see her culture, history and art being represented at school so she arranged for dialogues with teachers and administrators. She helped secure funding that enabled the Crayon Project to donate over one thousand crayons to Abbotsford youth and led to many schools expanding their foreign art units.

In her acceptance speech, Gill said, “my fellow nominees inspire me every day” and thanked her friends, family and mentors. “I promise to keep doing everything I can to support my community in whatever any capacity that I can, because I know you all will too.”

Marketing – Recreation Excellence

Recreation Excellence operates multiple facilities in Western Canada including Chilliwack’s recreation facilities.

The success of the company is based on the roots of why it was formed: to serve people in caring ways so that they, too, can enjoy breakthroughs and life enhancing moments as they live their lives.

They market in diverse, inclusive and inspiring ways to show that all bodies are welcome at their facilities and classes.

Each of their social media posts are designed with inclusivity in mind and these best practices and initiatives have created a beautiful portfolio of PEOPLE. They ensure that all genders, ages, abilities, body types, ethnicities, religions, sexual-orientation and socio-economic backgrounds are represented visually with the images.

They further live out their core values of Safety, Appreciation, Caring and Learning through free online fitness classes accessible to all ages and abilities, motivational messages, water safety tips as well as contests and other engagement pieces to encourage people to get active.

“We’re really thrilled to be part of this group of pretty amazing people,” said Dominque MacDonald.

Inclusive Environment – Systems Business Coach Inc.

Since 2008, Systems Business Coach Inc. has provided small business owners with education, coaching and training to help their companies scale and grow. While based in Langley, they employ coaches around the world. They believe that with a diverse team of coaches they are better suited to support small business owners who may want a coach who relates to their experiences.

To fulfill their promise “to listen and together find a way” they practice a “no judgment” philosophy.

All their materials were created to serve people with different physical, mental and learning abilities including clients with autism, bipolar and ADHD. To ensure their images were free of micro-aggressions, they recently hired a professor to review their guide and also consulted with a LGBTQ+ Chamber of Commerce.

The company is female-owned with a management team led by women. Their team is comprised of people of different cultures, genders and nationalities. They actively hire students and newcomers to Canada and seek opportunities to hire women in emerging economies.

Their inclusive and understanding work environment accommodates staff’s need for mental health breaks and family responsibilities.

It’s their goal that every individual in their global community feels seen, heard and understood.

“Diversity is a given, we’re all different, but inclusion is a choice,” said founder Beverlee Rasmussen.

Innovative Initiative – Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association

Kindness Chain Chilliwack Association is a non-profit organization run entirely by more than 125 volunteers. Since launching, they have concentrated on three major projects. The “Sharing is Caring” initiative delivers free groceries and hot meals to low-income, marginalized or homeless community members. They also provide water in the summer and winter kits in the winter those living on the street.

A second project, “Deep Sea Pearls” helps seniors with daily chores, free groceries, greeting cards on holidays along with BBQs and Music events.

They recognize cultural events like Ramadan, Christmas, Easter, Eid and Valentines with special meals and events. Organizers are observing positive changes in residents as they become exposed and more accepting of other cultures.

The third initiative is called “Healthier Planet”. Volunteers gather to clean-up the downtown and local lakes or rivers. They also provide outdoor awareness programs like hiking day camps and environmental awareness workshops.

They respond to events like the flooding crisis where they partnered with Islamic Relief Canada to help flood evacuees and arranged meals for evacuees at a local church.

The association strongly believes in diversity and inclusion and has a diverse team of volunteers reflecting the community they serve. Their motto is “Serve the Community We Live In.”

Effective Human Resources Strategies – Otter Co-op

Otter Co-op has been a part of the Lower Mainland community since 1922. The Otter Co-op brand encompasses food and pharmacy stores, The Angy Otter liquor stores, a feed and hardware store, a brewery and gas stations.

Their diverse portfolio is staffed with an equally diverse set of almost 800 team members. They are locally-minded and community invested with over a quarter million dollars donated to local charities in the last year. They are committed to a diverse and supportive working environment based on their core company values of Integrity, Community and Excellence.

Otter Co-op embraces diversity and inclusion and are working hard to create a workplace that is as diverse as the communities they serve. They support and provide an environment which allows all staff to bring their whole selves to work. They place a high value on attracting talent who are committed to living the brand values.

Otter Co-op’s Inspire Leadership program is one of many resources available to leaders of all levels and is a powerful testament to their collective and ongoing journey to embrace diversity, inclusion, culture, and experience.

“Please don’t let it stop here,” said Lee. “Remember the stories and start that conversation. We are better together.”

Those who missed the live show can watch it air on Sunday, March 20th at 8:00pm on Shaw Multicultural Channel 4 Vancouver.

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