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Kelowna hands out its 2017 civic awards

Gary Benson and Kelly Traverner named Man and Woman of the Year.
Gary Benson and Kelly Traverner have been named Kelowna’s 2017 Man and Woman of the Year. —Image credit: Mark of Distinction

A tireless volunteer who has spend numerous hours helping the homeless and exploited women in the community and a civic-minded lawyer have been named Kelowna’s 2017 woman and man of the year.

Kelly Traverner, a volunteer with HOPE Outreach and the safe house for women, House of Hope, was awarded the Sarah Donalda Treadgold Woman of the Year Award Wednesday night at the 42nd annual Kelowna Civic Awards ceremony.

Traverner and Benson were two of 18 award recipients Wednesday.

Sarah Donalda Treadgold Woman of the Year Award: Kelly Traverner

H-O-P-E not only stands for Helping Out People Exploited but also spells HOPE, and hope is exactly what Kelly Traverner has been offering Kelowna women since 2013 as a volunteer with HOPE Outreach and the safe house, House of Hope. In 2016, she spent over 200 hours doing night time street outreach work for homeless and exploited women, planning and executing fundraisers for the organization and training new volunteers as well as managing all of their social media and marketing.

Kelly also founded Kelowna’s largest annual International Women’s Day event in 2016 and helped facilitate and create the Let’s Get Consensual campaign with the Sexual Assault and Awareness Club at UBC Okanagan.

Working with the United Way, Kelly facilitated a Homeless Simulation to help educate the community. For the past 3 years, she’s participated in the Five Days For Homeless campaign at UBCO, sleeping outside with other volunteers.

In addition to all this, Kelly volunteered to support the provincial Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope and took on her office’s representation on the B.C .Cancer Foundation’s Discovery Luncheon planning committee and the sponsorship of Okanagan College’s Silver Surfer program for seniors.

Fred Macklin Man of The Year Award: Gary Benson

The saying, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time, they just have the heart,” has been used to describe Garry Benson, who manages to volunteer well over 400 hours of his time each year.

In 2016, some of those hours were spent as a director of both the Uptown Rutland Business Association and the Rutland Park Society as well as a director of East Meets West Orphan Foundation. More hours went towards being past chair and director of the Economic Development Commission, being a founding member of H.E.L.P BC and a member of the Central Okanagan Indian Friendship Centre and volunteer with the Hope and Heal Foundation.

Garry has donated over 1500 hours of pro-bono legal counsel to people and organizations in need including the Knights of Columbus, Housing Society, Serbian Society and First Nations groups.

As the head of TRUST, The Rutland Unified Stakeholder’s Team, monies for Roxby Square, Highway 33 and Centennial Park improvements were made possible.

Whether it’s donating his board room for the Uptown Rutland Business Association’s monthly meetings or volunteering as a chef at a BC Cancer Society event, Garry has found a way to make time for them all.

Anita Tozer Memorial Award: Murli Pendharkar

When it comes to investing in our future, what better way to do it than through our children. Working in schools in India, China and Saskatchewan before being appointed as district superintendent of schools by the B.C. Ministry of Education in 1975, Murli Pendharker taught primarily mathematics to Grade 10, 11 and 12 students and while he also had stints as principal, teaching was what he preferred.

After three years of trouble-shooting for the ministry, Murli became the superintendent of School District 23 and retired in 1986. But clearly he wasn’t destined to sit still, as the Liberal Party of Canada approached him run for the party as a candidate in the 1988 federal election. While no successful there, he did run,and was elected, to the Central Okanagan School Board and served for nine years, including as its board chairman. He ran again for federal office for the Liberals in 2002 but failed to win the seat.

Considered a “compulsive” volunteer, Murli has worked with the Society for Community Living, RCMP Victim Services, and the Red Cross, where he served as president of the Thompson Okanagan region board. But where most of his hours were volunteered was with Rotary. As chairman of International Services, he sponsored or helped sponsor numerous community and school projects in Asia and Africa. Over the years he’s been presented the Outstanding Rotarian of the Year, District Rotarian of the Year and the Service Above Self awards by Rotary International.

Bob Giordano Memorial Award: Kendall Gross

As a football coach for Kelowna Minor Football Association, Kendall Gross works to not only inspire his team on the field, but off the field as well. His mantra, “everything counts,” is focused on the belief that every one of our actions either adds or subtracts from our goal, and is never neutral. For a team of teenage boys, this is extremely impactful.

In 2016, Kendall’s junior bantam Lions went undefeated during the tackle season, winning both the Southern Interior Football League and the provincial championship.

In addition to coaching the U-14 bantam Lions, Kendall also coached the U-14 flag football team. Out of 50 teams across the province, he led his team to a second place finish.

Kendall sits on the board of directors for Kelowna Minor Football as both a director and registrar. He spends countless hours, balancing teams with best player placement for the 600-player membership, as well as fielding registration related calls.

Kendall’s involvement with Kelowna Minor Football goes back to 2012 when he coached both the U-10 team and the U-10 flag football team to provincial championships. During 2016, Kendall donated more than 400 hours to Kelowna Minor Football.

Bryan Couling Memorial Award—Athletic Team of the Year: Kelowna Senior Secondary Owls AAAA Senior Boys Basketball Team

Vancouver Sun reporter Mike Beamish described the Okanagan as, “a region known for crushing grapes and apples, but not necessarily high school basketball opponents. Until now.”

The KSS Owls’ undefeated regular season boasted a perfect 23 in the wins column, and a grape shaped zero in losses. Not only did the Owls crush their opponents like grapes, they made them “whine” by winning games by an average of 24 points—and by 45 points or more against other valley teams.

En route to provincials, the Owls won the Top Ten Classic, Legal Beagle and Western Canada Tournament. By winning the BC High School AAAA Championship, they became the first Okanagan team in the tournament’s 71 year history to win the provincial title. Coach Harry Parmar was awarded Coach of the Tournament.

The only three losses suffered all entire season came at the hands of American teams they faced at a tournament in Edmonton.

The Owls are ranked the third best high school basketball team in Canada – the only two higher ranked teams being in Ontario and that is only because the Owls never got a chance to play them.

Female Athlete of the Year Award: Taylor Ruck

Despite living in Arizona, Taylor Ruck has chosen to swim for Team Canada. Born in Kelowna, she has spent her summers training with the Aqua Jets, and has always called Kelowna home.

Her first opportunity to sport the Maple Leaf came at the Singapore 2015 FINA World Junior Championships, where she won six medals, including gold in both the 100-metre and 200-metre freestyle events, breaking championship records in both.

2016 started off with her being named Youth Female Swimmer of the Year by Swimming Canada. Then, we all held our breath as Taylor, Penny Oleksiak and the rest of Team Canada’s four-by-100-metre relay team won our first medal of the Rio 2016 Olympics, followed by a second medal in the four-by-200-metres final.

After leaving Rio, it was on to the FINA World Championships, where Taylor won bronze in 200-metre freestyle, smashing the Canadian record by nearly two seconds and setting a new junior world record. Taylor then reunited with Penny Oleksiak and fellow team members to win Team Canada’s first gold in the four-by-200-metre freestyle relay, with Taylor having the fastest split of the field. At the 2016 Short Course World Championships, she won gold again in the four-by-200-metre, as well as bronze in the 200-metre freestyle.

Male Athlete of the Year Award: Rostam Turner

Capital News reporter Warren Henderson wrote, “In 2016, it seemed the sky was the limit for Rostam Turner.” But clearly, not even the sky could hold back this Kelowna decathlete as he threw javelins and discus, then soared into the air in pole vault, gaining personal bests at each competition throughout the season.

The 2016 round of competitions for Rostam began with a big track meet in California, where he racked up seven personal bests in all ten events to finish with 7,466 points. Three weeks later, representing Team Canada, the nationally fourth-ranked athlete ran, jumped, hurdled and tossed his way into winning the silver medal at the Pan American Cup in Ottawa with another personal best score of 7,565 points.

Saving his best for last, Rostam then went on to the North American Central American and Caribbean Track and Field Championship where he capped off the season by winning gold, setting both an NACAC U23 record and another personal best.

A KSS graduate, Rostam is currently attending University of Toronto, where he also competes with the Varsity Blues track and field team.

Female Augie Ciancone Memorial Award: Ashlyn Day

Being part of a provincial winning team is something very few athletes get to experience. For Ashlyn Day, however, it’s become almost commonplace, having won eight of them during her years at Immaculata, with soccer season still to go.

Ashlyn is a true triple threat in high school sports, excelling in volleyball, basketball and soccer. Accolades span from Athlete of the Year to MVP at the B.C. Catholics basketball tournament and named a first team all-star at provincials. Selected as one of the top 15 players in the province, she spent two years on the B.C. provincial basketball team. She is also a former Kelowna United soccer player and has earned MVP and all-star designations in all three sports.

A team player off the field as well, Ashlyn is a member of the student council, volunteers doing score-keeping, audio/visual at assemblies, and has helped with basketball camps.

Academically, Ashlyn has a 3.6 GPA and will be heading to University of Victoria next year as part of their basketball team.

Male Augie Ciancone Memorial Award: Fynn McCarthy

It’s rare to find an athlete competing at top level in three or more sports, but Fynn McCarthy found a way to excel at four. Although he has dropped rep baseball, he still competes at the top tier in volleyball, hockey and basketball.

As a member of the Kelowna Volleyball Club team and co-captain of George Elliot Senior Boys’ teams, Fynn’s athletic ability attracted attention. Named to Team BC three years in a row, last summer, he stepped up to play on the U-18 national youth volleyball team. He was named the second best player in the province and was given a scholarship to play for UBC in Vancouver next year.

In high school basketball, Fynn was the top scorer and rebounder on the team, with the talent to play at the post-secondary level. He is also assistant captain on his midget rep hockey team.

Despite the tremendous commitment to train and compete in three sports, Fynn has volunteered as an instructor for the Lake Country U-15 Volleyball team and as a course usher for the school’s Terry Fox run, all while maintaining excellent grades.

Young Female Volunteer of the Year Award: Gabriela Rubio

When Gabriela Rubio started volunteering as a candystriper at the age of 12, it seemed to ignite a passion for giving back to the community that snowballs every year. In 2016, the time she spent volunteering with her church, school and community totaled more than 1,600 hours.

Over one thousand of those volunteer hours were spent as a cabin leader and assistant lifeguard at Gardom Lake Bible Camp, with nearly 200 more hours spent as a barista and cashier at Kelowna General Hospital’s Perking Lot Coffee Shop and 85 more manning the hospital’s information desk.

As an active member of Girl Guides of Canada, Gabriela has achieved her Canada Cord and Chief Commissioner’s Gold Award. For a second time, she has been selected to represent Canadian Girl Guides – this time for the international Swiss Challenge in Switzerland. She has also been chosen to attend the Ignite Inspire Innovate Girl Guide conference in Toronto.

At Okanagan Mission Secondary, Gabriele is on grad council, has established and organized the first OKM Table Tennis Club and through the OKM Leadership Excellence Program, has volunteered at numerous school events. She was also selected to attend the B.C. Student Leaders Conference this year.

Young Male Volunteer of the Year Award: Andrew Kates

“Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community,” is a saying Andrew Kates likes to quote when asked why he volunteers – something he does on a regular basis.

From the Gospel Mission and Kelowna Food Bank to Okanagan Dragon Boat Club and Okanagan Pride Society, Andrew has been a coveted volunteer over the past few years. He’s also volunteered at the Fat Cat Children’s Festival and at his karate dojo.

A student at Okanagan Mission Secondary, Andrew is a member of the Leadership Class and Interact Club as well as the Student Youth Volunteer Challenge. And while many are grateful for the time he volunteers, his ability to inspire others to volunteer has become even more valuable.

Andrew also volunteers his musical talents playing at events like the Gutsy Walk for Crohns and Colitis, Christmas is Coming for the food bank, as well as Wentworth Music Concerts that have raised money for the Kelowna General Hospital and the unveiling of his school’s renovations.

Honour in the Arts Award: Karen Close

With the cost of art supplies, classes, and the need for a space where it’s OK to make a bit of a mess, there are many who just don’t get the chance to paint. But since Karen Close started heART Fit back in February 2008, the opportunity of creating your own art has been given to everyone. Each Tuesday, a diverse group of artists from myriad backgrounds meet at the Rotary Centre for the Arts – whether they can afford to contribute financially or not – forging friendships that defy social barriers and bring people together to share in the joy of creating.

The success of Karen’s weekly heART Fit group at the RCA soon expanded to include heART Fit programs for the Senior’s Learning in Retirement Society and Karen has been invited to speak about the programs’ success at conferences across the country.

In 2011, Karen created the free online publication Sageing With Creative Spirit, Grace and Gratitude: The Journal of Creative Aging. As editor, she combines articles on local artists that deal with aging and creativity.

Karen was the key organizer of Creative Aging Day held in June at the Rotary Centre for the Arts and has been nominated for the L’Oreal Women of Worth Award.

Teen Honour in the Arts Award: Andrew Kates

Jazz musician Andrew Kates started 2016 on a high note that just keeps building in a glorious crescendo. He started by winning the Outstanding Performer Award in Idaho’s Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, then won the Outstanding Soloist Award at the BC Interior Jazz Festival two months later along with the Outstanding Senior Jazz Ensemble and was invited to compete at Music Fest Canada. In March 2017, he went on a ten-day tour of Holland and Germany, where he performed in conjunction with local orchestras paying tribute to soldiers who participated in the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War.

As both an accomplished jazz pianist and trumpet player, he volunteered his talents to play events such as the Crones and Colitis Gutsy Walk, Inn From the Cold’s fundraiser, a Remembrance Day Ceremony, the International Choir’s Christmas Benefit concert and for patients at KGH, shut-ins at Mission Villa and more. At the Christmas Benefit Concert, performers were offered a $100 honorarium and Andrew donated his back to the food bank.

Andrew also participates in the Wentworth Music program that raises funds for a variety of organizations through their concerts.

At Okanagan Mission Secondary, Andrew performs regularly at assemblies and concerts as well as volunteering to provide private lessons to students who need the extra support.

Central Okanagan Foundation Volunteer Organization of the Year Award: Kelowna Gospel Mission

While our homeless population tends to find themselves excluded and unwanted at most places in the City, at Kelowna Gospel Mission they are welcomed through the doors with a warm smile and a cup of coffee. In 2016, nearly 315,000 cups of coffee – and countless more smiles – were given out to warm the guests who arrived at the Gospel Mission.

More than 42,000 volunteer hours were logged as the Mission served up more than 170,000 meals and filled their 100 bed facility to capacity almost every night, totaling almost 35,000 beds offered over the course of the year. Care also included access to showers, laundry, clothing, haircuts and addiction recovery as well as connecting their guests to social services and housing.

In 2016 they assessed 380 new clients, housed 250 men and women and provided more than 2000 free dental visits. They also constructed a transitional storage shed, providing a safe place for their guests to park their shopping carts.

Whether it’s to lend an ear, give a hug or just offer the simple warmth of a cup of coffee, the Kelowna Gospel Mission offers the less fortunate a place to call home.

Corporate Community of the Year Award - Small /Medium Business: Third Space Coffee Inc.

From the outside, Third Space Coffee looks like a funky place to grab a latte, but designed as a place to build relationships, potential and wholeness, there’s a lot more than just a great coffee inside.

With 100% of its profits reinvested into its core services of counseling, coaching and chaplaincy, Third Space focuses on wellness of spirit, mind and body, with services including life guidance from registered counselors, professional development coaching and chaplains to encourage spiritual exploration.

In October 2016, Third Space ran a 30-day initiative called The Gratitude Project, promoting awareness about what it means to be grateful. By partnering with nursing students at UBCO, they helped School District 23 students create cardboard puzzle pieces, which will be used by a commissioned artist to create an installation at the new RCMP building to remind officers they are admired and respected. During the month, they also raised nearly $2400 for the RCMP’s Honour House.

Third Space has entered a five-year agreement with UBCO’s nursing and social work programs for hosting forums and supporting students with practicums as well as renovating the counseling space onsite at UBCO. They are also long standing sponsors of the Kelowna Women’s Shelter.

Corporate Community of the Year Award - Large Business: Costco Wholesale Kelowna

Since opening in August 1991, Kelowna’s Costco has not only provided giant sized portions at regular sized prices but has given back to the community too. The 100% participation rate in their employee donation program means that all 430 employees – from the greeter handing you coupons on the way in, to the guy swiping your bill with a marker on the way out – contribute, raising over $93,000 each year. Employees are also encouraged to volunteer, banking hundreds of hours annually including their Reading Tutoring Program at Spring Valley Elementary School.

The Invasion Championship Wrestling event is a semi-annual fundraiser put on by Costco employee volunteers that has raised almost $100,000 over the past three years for local non- profits. Costco also holds annual fundraising campaigns for United Way, CSO, BC Children’s Hospital and the Breakfast Club of Canada.

Every year Costco donates 300 fully stocked backpacks to schools in our community for children in need and they’ve also helped to supply 175 car seats for local families that otherwise could not afford them.

For the truly marginalized, they donate bakery items daily to the Salvation Army and weekly to the Gospel Mission as well as non-perishable foods and produce to the local food bank.

Champion for the Environment Award - Individual: Nancy Mora Castro

As the Regional District of the Central Okanagan’s Regional Air Quality Coordinator, it is Nancy’s job to care about improving our air quality. But Nancy’s passion and work go far beyond her official job description as she works to snuff out the Okanagan’s nickname of Smokanagan.

As a resident of Kelowna, Nancy provided important comments during the 2016 public consultation for the Solid Fuel Burning Domestic Appliance Regulation. She is the coordinator for the Woodstove Exchange Program, and in 2016, Nancy provided guidance to Coldstream and Kamloops for their funding applications to start their own Woodstove Exchange programs – all done on her own time. She also worked with the District of Peachland to find a more environmentally friendly way to deal with large quantities of land clearing and yard waste that was being burnt.

Nancy has been involved in the Spatiotemporal Variation of PM2.5 study in the Okanagan as part of the Air Quality Technical Committee. Data obtained from this study is now being used to support new air quality initiatives to implement for the City of Kelowna.

Nancy has delivered presentations on Air Quality to the Rotary club. She practices what she preaches by riding her bike to work and is constantly educating to bring awareness on our city’s local air challenges and opportunities, all in an effort let us all breathe a little easier.

Champion for the Environment Award - Business: Spider Agile Technology

While many companies treat sustainability, as an add-on, for Spider Agile Technology, their desire to create an environmentally friendly product was a major influence in the design of their prefabricated, modular, plug-and-play wiring system that is endlessly reusable and reconfigurable.

Spider recently unveiled their single Passive Optical Network cable that can carry as much data as 96 standard copper cables, drastically reducing the amount of cabling needed for a project that could eventually find its way into our landfill.

Spider encourages their employees to reduce individual carbon footprints by offering a hybrid vehicle incentive program as well as a carpool/bike/transit program where two winners drawn randomly each month receive $100 bonuses.

The Green Learning Centre and manufacturing facility at Spider has one of the largest solar arrays in the city, providing the building with solar heated hot water. The grounds are xeriscaped and the wooden pallets that their supplies get delivered on get recycled by wood furniture makers.

As environmental responsibility and stewardship is one of their core values, Spider sponsors the Kingfisher Interpretive Centre Society that fosters hundreds of salmon before they’re released back into the Shuswap.

(Above information courtesy of the City of Kelowna.)