Senior of the year


Congratulations to Esseleyne Bell - Kitchener's 2018 Senior of the Year!

Five local seniors were honoured on Saturday, May 26 at Kitchener’s Senior of the Year ceremony. The Senior of the Year Award is a provincial program that recognizes residents aged 65+ with this prestigious award.

This year’s nominees have positively impacted hundreds of lives in our community. Each of them is a role model for active living and exemplifies what it means to be a community builder.

The award was presented as part of the Living Well Expo held May 26 at Kitchener City Hall. The Living Well Expo is an annual event that help adults over 55 continue to live healthy, active lives.

Nominations for Kitchener's 2019 Senior of the Year Award will open February 4th, 2019.  Subscribe to this page below for updates.
Nominee Profiles
Esseleyne Bell – nominated by Annemarie Klingen and Nicky Amos

After many years working at St. Mary’s Hospital, Esseleyne retired and went into business of her own. She is currently owner and cook of the Caribbean Kitchen at the Kitchener Market. Esseleyne donates food to those in need and caters funerals free of cost for those in the Caribbean community and for customers that she has grown to know over the years of running her restaurant who came in hungry and needing a meal. She also annually donates Jamaican Patties for “One Thousand Dinners” at Cameron Heights High School. Esseleyne also provides a home away from home for many overseas students, some from as far away as China, all of whom are still in touch with her no matter where they are in the world.

Esseleyne volunteers with The Aids Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo Area (ACCKWA), Congress of Black Women of Waterloo Region and is very involved in the Caribbean Canadian Cultural Association (CCAWR). She also cooks for the Out of the Cold, is an outreach support for shut-ins by preparing meals, driving to appointments and visiting those who are isolated. Esseleyne is also a founding and very active member of the Manatha Lutheran Church, endearing a strong Caribbean presence. Esseleyne spearheads the annual picnic, plans the annual Christmas dinner, organizes the black history month community gathering and dinner, organizes bus trips to historic sites and donates and serves refreshments after Sunday services. Esseleyne always tries to lift the spirits of those around her.

What Others are Saying About Esseleyne:
“She loves to give, works hard, and always tries to lift the spirits of those around her.” -Nicky Amos
“A warm, kind, extremely generous and compassionate person, Esseleyne is a wonderful woman in many ways and is loved by everyone who has had the good fortune to encounter her.” -Chloe Callender
“In this community she sees herself as being able to act as a connector, a caregiver and a contributor.” -Annemarie Klingen

Wanda Cakebread – nominated by Gehan Sabry

As a retired teacher, Wanda has been involved with many different causes. She was President of the Waterloo Region Holocaust Education Committee, Treasurer of the 100 Women Who Care-Wilmot, a member of L’Arche, Lay Associate of the Congregation of the Resurrection, secretary and one of the founding members of the Board of Directors of CanTeach Connections, Founding member of ESL for Peace in Colombia, board member of the Wilmot Family Resources Centre, board member on the Father David Bauer Quest Program, chair of the Waterloo Region Holocaust Education Committee and committed mental health advocate.

Wanda has used her teaching background to assist teachers in El Salvador with educating their students to learn English. She travelled to El Salvador to spend time in classrooms and presented workshops to teachers. Through her involvement with ESL for Peace in Columbia, she helps students mentor other students in their schools. Friendships have developed and communication via weekly skyping have fostered connections and learning opportunities for both teachers and students. Wanda strives to provide students in these countries with the same education opportunities that her former students had. Wanda loves to travel with a purpose and spends her time learning as well as teaching and helping others.

What Others are Saying About Wanda:
“Her concerns are always with those who are struggling or isolated from the mainstream experiences of life. Injustice and conflict are issues which Wanda wants to resolve or eradicate.” -Gehan Sabry
“Wanda has enriched the social and cultural life of her community by sharing her experiences with others.” -Dr. Dwyer Sullivan
“Wanda is a respected retired educator and former school chaplain who has promoted peace through her many charitable and school efforts.” - Bob Vrbanac

Wayne Ernst – nominated by Carolyn Dirks

After some health challenges, Wayne decided to dedicate his time to support a cause that is important to him personally. His support and dedication have had a significant positive impact for people dealing with life-threatening illness. In 2010, Wayne initiated and founded the Leukemia Awareness Fund (LAF), a not for profit organization dedicated to raising funds to support Grand River Hospital’s 6th Floor Oncology Unit. The funds donated are used to improve the lives of patients, their families and medical professionals who care for them. The funds raised largely come from the annual LAF Charity Golf Tournament which originated in 2010. LAF has donated more than $165 000 to Grand River Hospital’s 6th Floor Oncology Unit.

Wayne spends a large part of the year planning and organizing the tournament. This includes recruiting the many volunteers who help behind the scenes and on the day, negotiating fees with the venue, arranging speakers, marketing and promoting the tournament, soliciting donations of prizes, items to auction, and sponsorships from businesses and individuals. Money raised has gone to providing music therapy, education opportunities for staff, a resource centre, stethoscopes for each nurse and WIFI for patients.

What Others are Saying About Wayne:
“Wayne has shown outstanding initiative and dedication in founding and leading LAF during the past 9 years. His work has had a significant positive impact for people dealing with life-threatening illness.” -Carolyn Dirks
“We appreciate Wayne’s commitment and dedication to help Grand River Hospital bring the best health care to our community and we wish him all the best.” -Tracey Bailey
“Wayne Ernst has demonstrated an exemplary commitment to our community through his volunteer activities and has greatly benefited GRH.” -Sandra Valeriote

Carol Johnston– nominated by Julie Laderoute (City of Kitchener Peer Support Coordinator)

In the winter of 2017, Carol joined the Peer Connections program at Rockway Centre as a volunteer. A joint initiative between the Alzheimer’s Society and City of Kitchener, the program consists of two peer groups, one for care partners supporting a family member living with dementia and the other for individuals living with Dementia. Carol specifically volunteers with the group who are living with dementia. She beams with energy, enthusiasm and demonstrates genuine love and support for each and every participant in the program. Carol has a genuine way about her where she can connect with the program staff and participants, and knows exactly how to make everyone feel welcomed and comfortable.

Carol also volunteers every Friday with the Rockway Centre Tuck Shop. She prepares and serves food and beverages. When needed, she also volunteers to help in the meal program for special holiday events. Carol’s positive attitude and willingness to help out wherever she is needed is a wonderful asset to Rockway Centre.

What Others are Saying About Carol:
“Carol is a committed volunteer and we truly thank her for the energy she brings to Rockway Centre every time she walks through the door.” -Julie Laderoute
“On my first day, Carol made me feel so welcomed and comfortable, and she certainly does the same with all of our participants in the program. They are continually greeted with a warm, energetic smile and she has a genuine interest in their lives.” -Charmaye Rivest
“Her positive attitude is a real joy to have in our centre. Her sense of humour and enthusiasm fits in so well with the Rockway environment. She is a real contributor to the positive experience that our patrons have when they come for programs and activities. We are happy that Carol continues to volunteer at the Rockway Community Centre and really enjoy having her around.” -Michelle Gamauf

Heike Sixtus– nominated by Anne Cameron

Heike is a fitness instructor with the City of Kitchener, YMCA and offers personal training at the gym and in home settings. Heike’s passion for fitness started later in life. She took the training to teach fitness at age 60, when many are considering retiring, let alone taking on such a demanding challenge. Incredibly, Heike didn't start working out herself until age 42, when her last child was born. At 76, Heike has developed a devoted following and teaches 16 different fitness classes a week, including aqua fit, where no two classes are alike.

Many participants have been exercising with Heike since she started as an instructor. Her classes promote fellowship and well-being. Participants laugh and bond together as they sweat, and often stay afterwards to chat. Heike’s attention to detail is reflected in the care she takes with each participant to make sure all exercises are done correctly. She watches participants as they enter her class and gauges what they need that day. Heike motivates her participants to exercise to feel strong, and to live a healthy lifestyle. Heike has a nickname of “Nike Heike” and inspires those who think they are too old or out of shape to start to engage in a healthy lifestyle.
Heike role models that age is merely a number, and that fitness is a life long pursuit to be enjoyed and valued.

What Others are Saying About Heike:
“It is her deep dedication to promoting fitness and positive attitude that has made her a respected and admired figured in the KW area. She is truly one of our local treasures.” -Harriet Falk
“Just by living what she preaches Heike contributes to the betterment of Kitchener community. She is a role model for living well and aging well.” -Anne Cameron
“Heike is a person who men and women can look to as an example of what hard work and perseverance can accomplish.” -Mary Ball


Nomination process

Nominations for the 2019 Senior of the Year Award will open in Feb. 2019.

The following items must accompany nominations:

  • Two letters of support that demonstrate the value or impact of the nominee's contributions.

  • Up to two pages describing why the candidate deserves to Kitchener's Senior of the Year. Consideration is given based on the following:

    • Achievements and contributions in the community in areas of advocacy, initiative or leadership

    • Impact of involvement to the community; and to the organization or individuals served

    • Volunteer responsibilities, organizations and length of time served

Paper copies of the nomination form are also available (please contact Carolyn Cormier). Submit paper nomination forms to:

Carolyn Cormier
Adults 55+ Services Coordinator
Rockway Centre
1405 King St. E.
Kitchener, ON N2G 2N9

For more information, please call 519-741-2200 x5345 or email us.

Selection process
Nominations are reviewed by a selection panel, which is comprised of City of Kitchener staff, Council members, volunteers from the Mayor's Advisory Council for Kitchener Seniors (MACKS), and a representative from the Volunteer Action Centre of K-W.
Award presentation
The recipient of Kitchener's Senior of the Year Award is announced during a special presentation by Mayor Berry Vrbanovic. All nominees are recognized and presented with a certificate from Mayor Vrbanovic. Nominees and their nominators all receive a special invitation to attend the award ceremony. Guests are also welcome!
Deadline and confidentiality
Any person or organization can submit a nomination for this award. Please note that all information is confidential and protected by the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.



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