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Bees and kids big winners at Orillia's Choice Awards

'There are people ... who want to make a difference and there are people who want to support them,' said judge of unique Sunshine Initiative event

Kids may have been the biggest winners at Orillia’s Choice Awards, but event attendees unanimously supported a project aimed at reviving the bee population.

Nine-year-old Alida Tomasini and Ava Shami were awarded a total of $650, with $500 coming in the wake of a challenge from Coun. Ralph Cipolla.

Cipolla donated $100 and asked others to match it. Don Porter, who donated the use of the Geneva for the evening, did just that. Subsequently, Mayor Steve Clarke and Councillors Pat Hehn and David Campbell also each put up $100.

“It’s good,” said Tomasini, after hearing the results. “I didn’t think people would be as excited as I was.”

The elementary school students pitched starting a Junior Sunshine Initiative, a smaller version of the Sunshine Initiative, which holds a yearly Citizens’ Forum and is the driving force behind Orillia's Choice Awards.

The two friends said they want to bring together other students who have ideas about making Orillia a better place. They were seeking public and monetary support at the awards held at Geneva Event Centre Thursday night.

Tomasini and Shami are looking for adult support in organizing meetings, a place where they can meet, and a group of high school students to mentor them with carrying out initiatives.

Although they weren’t voted for the People’s Choice Awards, they received support from the crowd.

“A Grade 5 teacher came up to me and told me she put her ballot in my idea because she hopes her students can join in,” said Tomasini.

The popular award went to an idea pitched by Jeannine Hutty, who was representing a committee that wants to make Orillia a Bee City.

“Without bees, we will have no seeds, no fruits, or any other resource for food,” she said, talking to the 50 or so citizens gathered at the venue. “We want to educate people to plant bee-friendly plants at homes and also at the city.”

Hutty said she and her committee have already received support from the city; Mayor Steve Clarke has declared June 17-23 as Bee City Week.

“We want to develop awareness in people about natural ways of getting rid of weeds,” said Hutty. “Don’t use the nasty things you get at the hardware store.”

She had come prepared to share a weed-killer recipe made using vinegar and salt. Her goal is to make Orillia a Bee City, as declared by the non-profit Bee City Canada.

A trio of judges - city councillor Jay Fallis, Orillia Today reporter Frank Matys, and Orillia Youth Centre staffer Tyhme Thompson - granted $350 to the project. An anonymous donator upped their total to $400.

The money is supposed to go towards advertising, having a flag made, and preparing educational material to get residents involved.

Lee Kelly, who was attending the event, said the awards are a great way to give people with ideas a platform to present.

“(Orillia) is a great place, but there’s lots we can do to improve it,” said the Orillia resident, who added she voted for the Bee City project. “The fact that the city is receptive to this and the mayor has spearheaded it is great.”

The judges’ top choice for the night, however, was an age-friendly community project pitched by Louise Cohen.

“This is so that old people can actively participate in all community activities, stay healthy, stay connected and access supports they need,” Cohen said.

The project, said Cohen, would focus on creating an age-friendly strategy for Orillia. This can be done by using templates already created by the County of Simcoe or World Health Organization, she noted.

Cohen said she was happy to have received the funds to take the initiative forward.

Thompson, who was judging the event, said it was great to see so many people come out.

“There are people out there in Orillia who want to make a difference,” she said. “And there are people who want to support them.”

Two other projects were also presented during the two-hour event.

David Stinson talked about Ward Walks, creating videos of people identifying a useful walk, a safe walk, a comfortable walk, and an interesting walk. They could then share these videos on a YouTube or anther social media platform. Stinson and his group was awarded $250.

As well, Orillia resident Kathy Manners talked about adopting a cycling project that initiated in Denmark. The proposal was to adopt an idea called Cycling Without Age, which brings together the passion of cycling and connecting with seniors in nursing homes. Manners was given $300 as seed money for the idea.


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Mehreen Shahid

About the Author: Mehreen Shahid

Mehreen Shahid covers municipal issues in Cambridge
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