Fanshawe staff members "United" in labour appreciation

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: SARAH WELLS
Fanshawe College social media communications officer Sarah Wells has been awarded the 2021 United Way Labour Appreciation Award.

On Jan. 20, Fanshawe project coordinator Gary Siroen and social media communications officer Sarah Wells were awarded United Way Labour Appreciation Awards.

“I was completely shocked,” said Wells. “I had no idea I was even nominated. I’m such a small part of such an amazing campaign and amazing community at Fanshawe, so to be the one that’s recognized, I was floored.”

The Labour Appreciation Awards recognize union members who help make United Way workplace campaigns successful. With London having the third highest child poverty rate in Canada, the funds raised through these campaigns go to support local agencies helping those to overcome obstacles from homelessness to education barriers.

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“These hardworking activists rose above all others and offered hope, optimism, and kindness during these trying times,” reads the United Way website.

Siroen, who has served as the Ontario Public Services Union (OPSEU) Local 109 president since 2013, was recognized for his services “in the trenches” in support of labour activism and local community building. Between the Union and Fanshawe College, the United Way said, “Gary selflessly dedicates himself to helping his fellow members and is always quick to answer questions and support initiatives taking place.”

Wells was also presented the 2021 Labour Appreciation Award by OPSEU Local 109 for her dedication to Fanshawe’s annual campaign as well as the United Way. For Wells, that dedication has stretched over many years.

“My mom worked in the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB) for over 20 years,” said Wells. “She always talked about how heartbreaking it was to see kids and families not have the basic necessities to come to school or to live their daily lives.

“Anytime I have the opportunity to support those volunteering initiatives in making sure that people have what they need, that’s something small I can do to help.”

According to the United Way’s 2021 Labour Appreciation Award Winners web page, Wells is described as “always quick to pitch in when she sees a need and is committed to making an impact in the lives of the people around her.”

From poverty to possibility, the United Way focuses on creating lasting changes in communities all across Canada. In 2020, for the 11th year in a row, the College contributed more than $100,000 to the United Way.

“They help to make sure that all of our community resources have what they need to operate,” said Wells.

With this year’s campaign taking on a virtual model, Wells said the challenge was finding another way to connect the United Way’s message with students.

“We didn’t know what to expect with a digital campaign. But the community really stepped up and is supporting us beyond our wildest dreams, it’s just amazing to see.”

Reflecting on her award, Wells went on to thank her Fanshawe team.

“This is recognition for Fanshawe as a whole,” said Wells. “Our committee is amazing and the Fanshawe community, for how they step up to support the United Way year after year, is just outstanding. I’m glad to be a tiny part of that.”