In honour of International Women’s Day held on March 8, we put together a list of five women who inspire us. They’re remarkable citizens and Torontonians living right here in our city who work tirelessly every day to build the best Toronto possible.
Sabina Ali: Sabina’s incredible dedication to making her neighbourhood a better place to live is truly awe-inspiring. A passionate and engaged local resident, Sabina helped transform a run-down park in her Thorncliffe Park community into a thriving neighbourhood hub. When the mother-of-four from India arrived in Toronto in 2008, the park had only two swings for kids to play on and was littered with garbage. She banded together with other residents to form the Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee and got to work right away to clean up the space, which now features a Friday night market, splash pad, tandoor oven and arts and gardening programs. In 2014, Sabina was awarded the Jane Jacob’s Prize by Spacing magazine and was also featured in the Globe and Mail as one of 10 Torontonians who got things done in 2014.
Zabeen Hirji: Zabeen is a trailblazer and community leader within, and beyond, Toronto’s corporate sector. As RBC’s Chief Human Resources Officer, she has worked tirelessly to ensure corporate citizenship is a top priority at the bank. She passionately believes in the connection between the success of individuals and the success of organizations and communities. She applies this philosophy to helping employees reach their full potential, believing that when RBCers are engaged, everyone wins: employees, clients, communities and shareholders. Both at work and in her community, Zabeen believes individuals who truly feel included are much more likely to be strong, successful contributors. At RBC, she has championed diversity and inclusion as one of the bank’s core values. “Having an inclusive workplace is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. I remember what my mother experienced arriving in Canada, being told ‘no Canadian experience, no job.’ I wanted to change that for the next generation,” she says. Zabeen has also lent her considerable talent and expertise to several community organizations where human capital development, youth and diversity prevail.
Sharon Shelton: Sharon’s commitment to her community has been a lifelong affair. When she started as executive director of Tropicana Community Services over 23 years ago, the agency was located in the basement of a strip mall. With hard work, immense dedication and community collaboration, she has led her organization through a remarkable transformation, including the opening of a beautiful new agency building last year. “Our community has finally come home,” she says. “Everyone who walks into this building feels that sense of ownership and pride. We’ve become family.” Sharon’s unwavering commitment to her own family, including her accomplished adult daughter and a 22-year-old son with a rare genetic condition, is also a lesson in love and acceptance. “We’ve had our challenges throughout the years but Tropicana has always offered a place for my children to grow, develop and thrive,” she says. “I have the best support system in the world—and that includes my family, my agency colleagues and community members.”
Jess Weber: Jess is an amazing young woman with cerebral palsy who reminds us that women and girls of all ages and abilities can create inspiring and meaningful change in their own lives—and in their communities. A tough transition from high school to adult life left Jess feeling “stuck” and having to rely on her mom for support at home and during recreational activities. She joined the March of Dimes’ LIFE program in 2013, hoping to become more independent in her wheelchair at home and out in the community. “I’ve had the chance to attend a Blue Jays game, check out the CN Tower and cheer on the Toronto Marlies,” she says. “I’m more confident, more responsible and more independent now.” With a newfound sense of autonomy, Jess decided to take what she’d learned and give back to her community. She’s a peer mentor for other LIFE program members and a strong and confident advocate for individuals living with disabilities. Way to go, Jess!
Evelyn Yuditksy: At 96 years old, Evelyn inspires us with her remarkable resilience and love of life. When she and her husband first moved to Toronto from Montreal in her early 70s, the couple felt isolated and alone. But after a cousin connected her with the Bernard Betel Centre, Evelyn quickly found her second home. She’s been volunteering with the United Way-supported agency ever since, lending her time as a public speaker and baker, among other activities. When her husband died a few years after they moved here, Evelyn relied on the agency’s supportive community to help her through a tough time. A year later she met a “handsome younger man” and fellow volunteer at the centre (“I was 80, he was 78!”) and the pair were eventually married. “I wore the most beautiful dress and we had a lovely wedding with over 100 guests,” she remembers. Evelyn recently had a hip replacement—but hasn’t let her surgery slow her down. She continues to volunteer at the agency and share her experiences as a United Way Speaker’s Bureau member. “Bernard Betel keeps me young,” she laughs.