Community / Press Release

EMSB recognizes Volunteers of Distinction and Ambassador of the Year

volunteers
Montreal - Tuesday, April 25, 2023

On the occasion of National Volunteer Week,  which was marked April 16 to 23 at schools and centres, the English Montreal School Board held a special  reception and ceremony to honour four Volunteers of Distinction and an Ambassador of the Year.

Click to see the Photo Album

Held at the St. Pius X Career Centre in Ahuntsic on April 25, the honourees, their families, EMSB commissioners and management and Parents Committee executive members were treated to a delicious buffet dinner catered by the culinary students followed by an awards ceremony, which was live streamed and can be seen at https://www.emsb.qc.ca/en-ca/emsb/about/governance/webcast. Tim Sargeant from Global Montreal served as the emcee. 

The Volunteers of Distinction were Debbie Fox and Natalie Sztych from St. Gabriel Elementary School in Pointe St. Charles and  Laura and Frank Marra from Rosemount High School. The legendary Simon Chang was honoured as the Ambassador of the Year.

Debbie Fox and Natalie Sztych

Debbie and Natalie are both former St. Gabriel students.

Debbie is a mother of two girls who lived in the neighbourhood. Her eldest daughter, Sabrina, began attending St. Gabriel in 1994. Her second, Shannon followed in 1998. Debbie began her volunteerism on school trips and with her daughters’ classes when needed. As time passed, she became part of the Parent Participation Organization (PPO), as well as Governing Board chairperson. She was a big part of the committee that worked towards saving  St. Gabriel from closure on two occasions.

When her children left for high school, Debbie remained at St. Gabriel, continuing to help serve meals with the lunch program that has been offered at the school for over two decades. She is also very involved with the Home and School Association, having assisted with many fundraisers over the years to help raise money for various activities and needs of the school such as graduation, holiday goodies, trips,  and special occasions. She has been part of the St. Gabriel school community now for 23 years. 

Natalie was born and raised in Pointe St. Charles.  She was a student at St. Gabriel from 1975 to 1981. Soon after completing her high school studies, she returned in 1998 as a volunteer. She helped tutor students in French,  English and Math. She also works as a lunch supervisor and does other volunteer work for the school, such as preparing hot lunches for the school, organizing outings and establishing a culture for special occasions like Easter, Christmas and graduation. Her skills as an artistic decorator have endowed St. Gabriel with amazing art during many special occasions. 

Natalie also helps organize special events, working hand in hand with Debbie for the Home and School Association, on fundraisers throughout the year and remains on the Governing Board. Her association with the school now goes back 24 years.  

“Volunteering at St. Gabriel School helped me stay active in my children’s day to day life,” says Debbie. “I enjoy working with children and I find it keeps me young at heart.”

Added Natalie: ‘Volunteering at St. Gabriel School gave me the opportunity to be there for my nieces every day and at the same time help my family out as their parents had to work. I love working with the children of St. Gabriel as well and find it very rewarding, personally. You learn a lot when you are with children every day.” 

Why do they stay? “After so many years you become invested in the school and the children and those you work and volunteer with closely, become your family,” responds Natalie. “We enjoy being a part of the St. Gabriel family and are proud to call it our home away from home.”

The duo have been friends for over 20 years. “We met through our volunteerism at St. Gabriel and remain friends to this day and we are happy to share this honour,” Natalie noted.

Laura and Frank Marra

Laura and Frank will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in September. Three of their children have graduated from EMSB schools and one remains in the system. As a result they have been involved with a number of schools as volunteers for the past 21 years: the former General Vanier Elementary in St. Léonard, Vincent Massey Collegiate and Rosemount High School.

Amanda recently obtained her Master’s Degree from Concordia University in drama therapy. Joseph is studying at McGill University in Math, and a minor in Physics.  Eliana is enrolled in the paramedic program at John Abbott College. Eva is in Secondary III at Rosemount High School. Like her siblings, she has a love for music, which the school specializes in.

Besides serving and even chairing Governing Boards and PPOs,  the Marras have been involved in every facet of volunteerism at the schools their children attended: musical concert committee, fundraisers, chaperones for field trips and special events,  Science and robotics fairs, community breakfasts and more.   Presently, at Rosemount High,  Laura chairs the Parents Music Committee and is a member of the Governing Board and an alternative delegate to the EMSB Parents Committee.  Frank volunteers for the school   Music Association’s planned events and accompanies students on field trips.

By day Frank works at Canadian National as a team leader in the Emergency Communication Center.   Laura works as the accounting administrator Astucemedia, which specializes in live broadcast graphics.

“The teachers and staff of the EMSB prepared our children to succeed in both their academic and daily lives,” says Laura. “The EMSB provided them with interesting academic programs that included hands-on learning opportunities as well as educational, cultural and fun-filled field trips which helped to broaden their horizons and develop important life skills. All this is thanks to the dedication of exceptional teachers. We find it truly rewarding and fulfilling to feel that we make a positive impact on the school life of the students.  It is heart-warming to hear about the positive results of our participation in some of the decision-making.  Simply said, we like to see smiles on kids faces. And we believe that happy students make better learners.” 

Simon Chang

Known primarily as a Canadian fashion designer with national exposure, Simon Chang is also an innovative philanthropist who uses creativity and imagination to evoke positive change. In 2018 he founded The Simon Chang Foundation for Change, with his business consultant Faye Swift, and has since been making a unique impact on the lives of Montrealers. 

The Simon Chang Foundation for Change focuses on their Arc of Life Program, which aims to better the lives of individuals and families at each stage of the lifespan. The first stage begins with their work at  the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Sir Mortimer B. Davis Jewish General Hospital. The Moment in Time Program services the elderly and infirm at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre and the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Centre by granting wishes to residents at both locations.

Mr. Chang’s work at Inspirations falls in the middle of this arc. He has been a title sponsor of Inspirations Newspaper for the past three years and is playing a very active role in working with EMSB students who have special needs. Mr. Chang has met with students and teachers in Montreal-area schools, sharing donations of fabric and accessories, advising on projects and providing fascinating colour story and painting demonstrations.

Inspirations introduced the Simon Chang Difference Maker Award to encourage individuals who are making a difference in the special needs community, just as he is. Award recipients have included a team of puppet-making teachers at Galileo Adult Education Centre and a teaching team from Parkdale Elementary School. Prizes have ranged from granting funds for supplies and projects to arranging, in collaboration with Inspirations, a speaking tour for Steven Atme, where he addressed teachers, staff and McGill education students about his school experiences growing up as an autistic child.

Last Spring, Mr. Chang merged fashion with philanthropy as guest fashion designer at the Mackay Centre School’s Fun Fashion For All show. This EMSB school located in NDG services students aged four to 21 who are deaf, physically disabled and/or have a communication disorder.

Mr. Chang has been decorated with the Order of Canada and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Award for his outstanding philanthropic efforts and social engagement. Proud of his accomplishments, his Foundation office, located on the 15th floor of 555 Chabanel, is filled with paraphernalia highlighting his philanthropic work.

Recognizing Previous Recipients

Given the fact that the previous two events were held virtually, the 2021 and 2022 Volunteers of Distinction, Marty Nitti and Mubeenah Mughal, were also recognized at the ceremony.

Ms. Nitti  has been volunteering at Pierre Elliot Trudeau Elementary School (PET) for 23 years and continues to volunteer her time, energy and creative talents to enhance the school.  Ms. Nitti  is a loyal, devoted and hard working woman. She is the heart of the school. Over the years, she has helped students, parents, and staff members. 

Besides being a parent commissioner for the EMSB, Ms. Mughal sat on the Advisory Committee on Special Education Services (ACSES) and has been integrally involved at the schools of her own children.   She helped launch the EMSB's legal challenge to Bill 21, the controversial Quebec law that bars teachers and other people in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols.  The board's challenge is still before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

Program Sponsor

Beneva continues to serve as  the title sponsor for the EMSB’s recognition efforts for volunteers. The company offers a wide range of products and services that are designed to simplify financial choices for members working in the public and para-public sectors in over 900 public and para-public institutions across the province.  These services include: personal financial advice, savings, investments and funds; individual life and health insurance; mortgages and personal loans; insurance for automobiles, recreational vehicles, home, travel and legal access; commercial insurance; and group insurance.  La Capitale merged with SSQ to become Beneva (www.beneva.ca). 

About the English Montreal School Board

With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines, the EMSB network consists of 73 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at www.emsb.qc.ca.

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