Alisa Gil Silvestre
Born with Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, Alisa Gil Silvestre epitomizes courage and strength. From an early age, she refused to let the degenerative disease define her, learning to drive a motorized wheelchair at age 2.
After contracting a near-fatal case of pneumonia at age 14, she made the difficult decision to undergo a life-saving procedure that meant she would require 24/7 care for the rest of her life. She was determined to continue pursuing her dreams, and after four months of recovery, Alisa returned to school to graduate alongside her peers, receiving a scholarship for her achievements. In September 2017, Alisa started her degree program in Anthropology at Douglas College.
Her unsinkable spirit has motivated her not only to pursue her own vibrant future, but also to improve the world around her. She is a highly-successful volunteer fundraiser for Muscular Dystrophy Canada, Variety – the Children’s Charity, and Make a Wish Foundation, raising over $250,000 in total for these organizations. She recently led her team, Muscle Madness, to become the top fundraising team in BC for Muscular Dystrophy Canada.
Alisa has also shared her strength and inspiring story as a passionate public speaker. At just 22, she has already spoken at Fire Fighters’ Conferences, UBC Education classes and the Seating Symposium, and further contributed her voice as MC of her school’s fashion show. She is an inspiration to everyone who has the honour to hear her speak or to work with her. In the way she decisively takes the lead in her life, her fundraising team, and her community, she demonstrates the tremendous possibilities awaiting those who persevere through adversity.
Josh Dahling arrived in Canada from apartheid South Africa when he was still very young. He survived physical and sexual abuse while navigating the daily struggles of poverty and undiagnosed dyslexia. He was introduced to alcohol and cocaine in his childhood, and struggled with addictions from this very early age. While still in his adolescence, he found himself living homeless and addicted on Vancouver’s downtown eastside.
At just 20 – after several near-fatal overdoses, the death of his father and the birth of his first child – Josh found sobriety. An intensive drug and alcohol treatment program helped Josh recover his life, and inspired him to become active in the recovery community. Even twenty years later, Josh continues to face health challenges resulting from his early struggles, including fibromyalgia, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Despite these diagnoses, Josh was driven to improve himself for the benefit of both his family and community. He completed high school and a degree in social work while working three part time jobs, and supporting his three children as a single parent.
Since 2009, Josh has been instrumental in the establishment and growth of Camp Kerry Society in support of families coping with grief and loss. He is now the Director of Operations, and Director of the Society’s Youth Services, while also continuing his role as a Youth Counsellor. In addition to dedicating his professional life to improving the lives of youth and families, Josh has volunteered thousands of hours as an inspirational speaker, clothing drive organizer, and as an advocate for bereavement care – all in selfless support of people – especially youth – struggling with bereavement and addictions.
Ingrid returned to school after the age of 40 with two young children – a courageous undertaking in its own right. During her studies, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her treatment resulted in a series of rare but life-threatening illnesses (including acute myeloid leukemia and graft vs host disease). These led to several long hospital stays and a number of near-fatal incidents. Despite undergoing a series of debilitating treatments, Ingrid excelled in her education. Over the last ten years, Ingrid has successfully completed both her bachelor’s and her master’s degrees in Education.
She has passionately pursued her career as an inspiring and creative math, French, science and drama teacher, and has volunteered countless hours to improving the educational experience for people in her community. In addition to providing extra support to any learner who needs it, she has opened her classroom to train the next generation of teachers. Beyond the classroom, she leads an array of extracurricular activities to enrich the lives of her students and engage parents with their children’s education.
Ingrid has gone even further, sharing her radiant love for life and learning with hundreds of avid listeners through public speaking and participation in a survivor’s support group. She is also member of the “Spirit Abreast” dragon boat team, and has completed the Run for the Cure four times in the last eight years. She has navigated the most difficult circumstances with ease and grace. Hers is not only a story of remarkable survival; it is also a story of the transformative power of courage and compassion in the face of adversity.
Just two short years ago, Air Force veteran and West Jet Pilot Jim Ryan survived a life-threatening accident while on vacation. In one devastating moment, Jim was left paralyzed below the shoulders. With the motivation and support of his wife and four children, he underwent a grueling ten-month course of rehabilitation to regain his ability to breathe independently and begin learning to live as a quadriplegic. Since then, he has continued his rehabilitation and recovery, learning to adapt activities most of us take for granted; turning on lights, driving a vehicle, and even just crossing the street require assistance, adaptive technologies, or accessible infrastructure.
To share his progress and challenges with his friends and family, he began documenting his recovery journey on his blog (https://www.myquadriplegic.life) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/jimryanrollingthroughlife/). Through these avenues, he has serendipitously reached thousands of others with his story, advocating for accessibility and acceptance of people with disabilities, and inspiring hope for those facing adversity.
Jim’s first speaking engagement was at the Chilliwack Rotary Club. He has since become an active public speaker, sharing lectures with students at the University of the Fraser Valley and the University of British Columbia, and inspiring many others with his story of survival and recovery.
In addition to his speaking engagements, Jim actively volunteers his time to improve the lives and communities of people living with disabilities with the Rick Hanson Foundation, the Chilliwack Transportation Advisory Committee, the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre, the Neil Squire Society, and the Fire Prevention Officers Association. Jim’s tireless work as a volunteer, advocate, and inspirational speaker has transformed his community – its people and its infrastructure – to improve life for thousands of people living with disabilities.
Suzanne Venuta had a traumatic, impoverished childhood, fraught with sexual, physical and psychological abuse, compounded by a learning disability. Without adequate support, her experience with school and childhood was overwhelmingly negative. Merely surviving these horrors requires tremendous courage and strength. But Suzanne didn’t just survive. Despite her lifelong battle with the complex array of mental illnesses resulting from her early trauma (including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression and a late diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder), Suzanne overcame each setback to improve not only herself, but also her community.
As a young single mother, she worked diligently for two years to complete an Early Childhood Education program, graduating on the Dean’s list. Without an accurate diagnosis, though, Suzanne faced several devastating relapses. She turned to unhealthy coping methods, and several times found herself admitted to a psychiatric unit to stabilize.
A turning point for Suzanne came at age 44 when she finally received the correct diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder (DID), which allowed her to begin her ongoing journey of recovery. Over the last fifteen years, she has invested significant time and energy into learning about her mental illnesses and exploring healthy ways to cope with the trauma of her early life. She shares this unique combination of knowledge and experience to educate and mentor youth with DID, as well as those who provide care for people with DID.
With perseverance, Suzanne continues inspiring others by volunteering as a Peer Support Worker for Canada’s Outward Bound Women of Courage program, sharing her story through publications and speaking engagements, and actively participating with her supportive ringette team and dragon boat crew. Her generous and tenacious spirit is transforming the outlook for people living with this ruthless mental illness.