A group picture of the Toronto Local Champions

Local Champions 

Local Champions is a one year capacity building program designed to provide seasoned grassroots leaders with the vocabulary, context and tools so that they can influence the systems that affect them.

Local Champions come from across the City of Toronto and reside in one of Toronto’s 31 Neighbourhood Improvement Areas or 8 Emerging Neighbourhoods. Local Champions is a key part of Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020.

Each year the Centre for Connected Communities brings in a new cohort of 25 grassroots leaders. Following a series of learning and community organizing opportunities, the Local Champions program graduates participants into the Local Champions Network.

For more information on the Local Champions program, please contact Gillian Perera.

Local Champions Network

The Local Champions Network (LCN) is an autonomous group of skilled, passionate community builders from across Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. Combining hyperlocal perspective with an understanding of municipal systems, LCN members build bridges between neighbourhoods and the systems and decision-making processes that impact them.

Centre for Connected Communities supports the Local Champions Network by providing:

  • Connection to ongoing capacity building opportunities
  • Connections to people/resources/tools that will help Local Champions Network members meet their individual and collective goals
  • Direct connections with opportunities (paid and unpaid) for Local Champions to influence the systems that affect people in marginalized communities
  • Facilitation of annual collective priority setting processes
  • Facilitation of one additional annual event
  • Referrals to relevant potential employment opportunities as they arise

For more information or to discuss how the Local Champions Network can add value to your work, please contact Sarah Luca.

Local Champions in the Media


Photo by: Richard Lautens/Toronto Start

Noel Livingston

Artifact: Digging in


Photo by: Rhonda Teitel-Payne/OALA

Ismail Afrah


Ismail Afrah is passionate about learning and creating changes in the City and for his community of Regent Park. While his preferred areas of study have been philosophy and religion, in the last year, he has fallen in love with community-building. Ismail’s first role began as volunteering with the Regent Park Neighbourhood Association. He later worked as a part-time recreational worker and now, has most recently, become a full-time social development coordinator working on the redevelopment of his neighbourhood. With so many changes and opportunities arising since he embarked on this journey, he attributes a lot of his progress to the power of relationships and social networks. Ismail identifies as a twin who learns by thinking out loud; he invites others to think out loud with him for the purposes of learning from each other and together.

Issaq Ahmed

Issaq Ahmed envisions a thriving and productive community and is passionate about creating and unveiling opportunities for residents that would not have otherwise been available. He is a member of the resident advisory board for the City of Toronto’s TSNS 2020, his neighbourhood Event Planning Committee, and plans and implements ideas that would benefit the community, including former and current residents. Issaq defines success as bringing people together in a capacity that builds bonds and not only in the form of a charity. His optimism is infectious and he strives to create loving energy that influences others in a beautiful way. Issaq is currently filming and editing a documentary on the lives and experiences of members in his community called Project Susan.

Raekwon Banaby


Raekwon Banaby is a member of the Downsview-Roding community. He is most passionate about the members of his community and supports them to access the tools and resources necessary to achieve their goals. Raekwon has been a member of the TSNS 2020 Resident Advisory Committee and is currently the Chief Operations Officer at 360 Degrees Chiefs. He exemplifies resilience and perseverance; despite hardships, Raekwon manages to keep a positive face in any situation.

Alicia Bartholomew


Alicia Bartholomew is a member of the Glenfield-Jane Heights community. She is passionate about maintaining community safety and supporting youth to reach their full potential. Alicia is currently working as a Youth Outreach Worker and a critical voice on behalf of her community.

Angie Buado


Angie Buado has always wanted to make a difference for her community, whether in a small or big way. Since 2013, she has played an instrumental role at the Bathurst-Finch Hub having been a part of the resident leadership group of Action for Neighbourhood Change, chair of the Social and Event Committee, as well as being a panel member of Resident Action Grant (RAG) program of United Way Toronto. As the founding member and coordinator of Friends of Earl Bales, Angie has created partnerships to revitalize Earl Bales Park and hosted events through North York’s Cultural Hot Spot Initiative, Live Green’s Clean Toronto Together Initiative and many more. She was selected as a panelist for CivicAction 2015 Boot Camp as a speaker on public spaces, physical activity, and health and was one of 15 recipients of the 2018 Community Award - York Centre.

Jason Collette

Jason Collette is a member of the Eglinton East community. He is passionate about raising awareness on climate change and improving solid waste practices. Jason is currently a 3Rs Ambassador that promotes residents of apartments, condos and co-ops to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Phylicia Davis


Phylicia Davis is the founder and project lead of the KGO Adult Literacy Program, a community-based organization that supports adults 21 and older with their literacy and numeracy skills in East Scarborough. She is a recipient of the Youth Volunteer Award by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and Leading Women Award from the Ministry for Status of Women. Phylicia is a graduate with her Masters in Education focusing on Adult Education and Community Development from the University of Toronto and is an Instructor Coordinator with Frontier College. In addition, she co-chaired the Spotlight on Literacy Planning Committee for 5 years and was published in media discussing the importance of adult literacy on a national scale. Phylicia is currently a board member with Parkdale Project Read.

Ko Hosoya


Ko Hosoya is passionate about accessibility issues. She recognizes the many physical barriers that community members are affected by and advocates for improving communities to have safer access by all. Ko is the co-founder of Barrier Free Hunt, an event that advocates for accessibility issues and has performed several accessibility assessments throughout the University of Toronto, St. George campus. She is a regular contributor at community meetings on affordable housing, decent work and community assets and is helping to develop a mental health support group with other women in her community. Ko is currently volunteering with the Harm Reduction Program at Parkdale Community Health Centre.

Nancy Guan


Nancy Guan is a resident of the Steeles-L’Amoreaux neighbourhood and has a strong desire to help others. She organizes events and activities in her neighbourhood such as gardening workshops and has been a member of several resident groups. Nancy also provides language interpretation service to those in need and high-risk families. Past and present, she has had roles with Agincourt Community Service Association, Centre for Immigration of Chinese Service, Action for Neighbourhood Change - North Scarborough, Steeles/L’Amoreaux Strength in Partnership, and Chester Le Community Corner. Her proud moments come from seeing the members of her community happy and enjoying life. Nancy is a lifelong learner that values honesty and humility.

Tahereh Jalili


Tahereh Jalili is a member of the Eglinton East neighbourhood. She can’t recall a time in her life that she wasn’t active in community-building work. Once settling in Canada, however, finding opportunities to get involved in her community proved difficult. Tahereh recognizes the importance of community connectedness in order for everyone to feel welcomed and supported. She believes that the real change begins to happen when everyone has the opportunity to be actively involved. One of her proudest moments was supporting the development of a borrowing system that successfully provided children and youth access to books and literature. From not knowing a word of English, to upgrading her high school diploma in Canada, to ultimately pursuing post-secondary education, Tahereh is proud of her journey.

Sonia Kumar


Sonia Kumar recognizes that there is a gap between the services and supports available to residents and what residents are aware of and able to access. Her community-building journey began by connecting her neighbours to the resources they needed. Sonia is a proud member of the Rexdale community and contributor to North Etobicoke Resident Council. She does community outreach and helps to organize events such as Rexdale Got Talent. Sonia’s accomplishments include a collective of newcomer and immigrant parents she helped form to provide free and affordable child-minding for each other. The support network now consists of 15 families who have all received first aid training and food handlers certificates. Sonia is a caring and compassionate person who believes it’s sometimes the small things that help people when they need it most.

Ann Lapenna


Ann Lapenna proudly stands up for her community and voices their needs. She understands the challenges that residents of TCHC buildings are faced with, especially, seniors who don’t have access to community activities. When she doesn’t see change, Ann is a self-starter who gets things going. She recently helped form a knitting group in her building. As an Ambassador with Parkdale Activity Center (PARC), she has completed several courses that helped develop her skills to connect with people and speak publicly. Recently, Ann was featured in several media channels for her speech at the launch of FoodReach. Next on her agenda is working towards getting a projector to host movie nights in her building.

Mahedar Mellkamu


Mahedar Mellkamu represents the Kingston-Galloway area. She strives to ignite dialogue about mental health in the East African community to establish healthy communities and families fostered through mental wellness. At her first event titled Kitchen Table Talk, the community’s feedback was that they felt safe, nurtured and loved which was a very proud moment for her. Mahedar’s community-building goal is to provide a platform to those that have been silenced around mental health topics of discussion.

Anisa Mohamed


Anisa Mohamed is passionate about her community and it returning to the safe and positive neighbourhood that she was raised in. Through her own journey and it’s obstacles, she understands the importance of being aware of the opportunities and resources available. Anisa organizes local events like scholarship application workshops and health days, as well as advocates for investment in her community; having sensored lights installed and receiving resources to obtain a storage unit and outdoor equipment for community events in the absence of community space. She has contributed to projects such as the You(the) Change Pilot and Youth Governance Consultation and helped to create the Ardwick Weekly Drop-in After School Program, which provides hot meals, learning activities and homework help once a week. Anisa attributes her studies in computer science as the push to become a leader that stands for what’s right and challenges what’s happening around her. She is currently filming a documentary that aims to change the negative perspective that society has on youth who grow up in social housing.

Karlene Ruddock

Karlene Ruddock represents Weston Pelham-Park and envisions it being an independent, empowered community. She enjoys teaching members of her community and has organized several life skills workshops as a result. Most recently, she facilitated a technical training about technology and witnessed how participants were truly able to recognize their potential. Karlene enjoys using her creativity to successfully bring ideas to life.

Yuzhen (Suzanna) Su


Yuzhen (Suzanna) Su is an advocate for improving mental health literacy in her neighbourhood of Steeles-L’Amoreaux. She is passionate about mental health and wellness while being an active resident leader, volunteer and part-time animator. Su has been instrumental in supporting resident groups and projects including: Beyond Academics, Silver Springs Reading Circle, Healthy Happy Friendship Association, Glendower Seniors Group, Scarborough Civic Action Network, and Steeles/L’Amoreaux Strength in Partnership. Through all of her accomplishments, the friendships and connection made in her community are the most valuable. Su is a proud recipient of the Leading Women Building Communities award and currently works with the Steeles/L’Amoreaux Neighbourhood Association and the Bay Mills Seniors Group. Her hobbies include music, cooking and gardening.

Miyadah Subrati


Miyadah Subrati is a resident of the Thorncliffe neighbourhood and is deeply committed to helping newcomers and immigrants overcome challenges they face upon joining the community. As a professional civil engineer, she has a wealth of technical experience at the international level which she brings to her role as technical advisor with development and construction projects in her neighbourhood. Miyadah serves on the Community Services Committee for Flemingdon Community Legal Services and is completing Ryerson University bridging program of Project Management for technical professionals. She is proud to approach her community work with sincerity and honesty.

Gillian Sumi


Gillian Sumi is a motivated resident of the Birchmount and Eglinton area of Southwest Scarborough. She advocates for increased accessibility and inclusion in her community. She is a member of TTC Riders, Building Bridges Across Barriers, and Building Bridges Accessibility Advisory Committee. In 2016, she joined the Scarborough Poverty Animators Network and soon after became active with the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Center in their civic engagement and advocacy work. She went on to do her first deputation on the city budget in Council Chambers at Scarborough Civic Centre. Gillian advocates for accountability and accessibility by raising awareness, writing letters and influencing social action for people living with disabilities.

Agnes Thompson


Agnes Thompson proudly represents the Kingston, Galloway and Orton Park (KGO) neighbourhood. She works at developing unity in her community and actively organizes KGO residents with that vision. She recognizes that some of her toughest battles in life developed the strength she possesses today. Receiving her first ever certificate while in the Playing For Keeps program has been one of her proudest moments. Since then, Agnes has been featured in several media publications including Toronto Foundation Vital Signs Report, CBC Metro Morning, and more. You can always find Agnes organizing fun events and hosting guests speakers for workshops in her neighbourhood.

Mary V Williams


Mary V Williams is a passionate educator, proud mother to 4 children, and grandmother of 5. She has coordinated programs, hosted events, and facilitated workshops within her community.  One of her proudest moments was receiving her Community Worker Diploma from George Brown College after making the decision to return to school as an adult learner. Mary defines success as her ability to work with other community leaders while being aware of her power to create change.

Anna Zhang


Anna Zhang is an advocate for immigrant seniors of her community. She encourages her peers to overcome the challenges they face, such as isolation due to language barriers and cultural shifts, by communicating their concerns. Over the past 10 years, Anna has volunteered as a translator and tutor for several organizations. She was a member of Toronto’s Seniors Forum and is now a member of the Accountability Table of Toronto Seniors’ Strategy 2.0. While she was honoured to receive appreciation letters from the Mayor, Anna finds her biggest reward in the relationships she’s formed through her community-building work.

Local Champions - 2017 Cohort

Sarah Ali


Sarah Ali is a dedicated community developer with over 6 years of experience. She has supported multiple neighbourhood projects and is the founder of the Back To Basics Civic Engagement workshop, a highly successful tool for change. Active on the Kingsview-The Westway Resident Advisory Committee, Sarah is a dedicated champion for her community. Whether as an outreach facilitator or youth mentor with Etobicoke Community Council she has built rapport, recruited, and mentored over 476 Etobicoke Community Council youth. Sarah is leading the Don Bosco Community Hub initiative, building local momentum and government awareness of the need for a Community Hub.

Fazilatun Nessa Babli


Fazilatun Nessa Babli is a proud community member of the Kingston Galloway Orton Park (KGO) neighbourhood where she organizes and advocates for various social justice and grassroots initiatives. She has community development experience in areas of poverty reduction, homelessness, and women and children’s health. Having had the pleasure of working with her fellow community members and stakeholders, Nessa is passionate about collaborating with others to create a collective voice in driving meaningful change.

Jacqueline Dwyer


Jacqueline Dwyer is a founder of the Black Farmers Collective with a background in community development through farming and food distribution. She prioritizes safe space for food literacy training, animation and other educational engagements that empower well-being. Jacqueline has a particular focus on increased availability of culturally appropriate foods from Africa, Caribbean, Latin, South, and Central America that can be grown in the short growing season in Canada. Jacqueline is entering the Masters, Environmental Studies program at York University in the fall of 2017, where she will continue to advocate for access to safe, clean and abundant food.

Joanne Griffith


Joanne Griffith is a resident of Malvern. Joanne has been an active and consistent voice for improvements to the local school system, including mobilizing her community to keep the local school open amidst recent cuts, advocating to abolish split grades and increase opportunities for French-language education. Joanne’s activism comes from her commitment to family, friends and community. AS well as her community organizing, Joanne has also been part of groups that have run health and wellness events, turkey drives and other activities that have increased connectedness across her community.


Miriam Hawkins


Miriam Hawkins is a resident in the Rockcliffe-Smythe community. She is a founding member of the Rockcliffe-Smythe Neighbourhood Action Partnership Table and Volunteer Director with the Rockcliffe-Smythe Community Association. Miriam focuses on building resident decision-making, inclusion and awareness. Her creation of the Association’s 2016 Outreach and Development Project helped to advance the Toronto Strong Neighbourhood Strategy 2020 goals. Since 2016, Miriam has been active on the City’s Homeless Shelter Community Liaison Committee, assisting in developing new city emergency housing plans and standards, and continues to help advise the next stages of the new Runnymede Shelter. Currently Miriam is now working with her Local Planning Table to organize a local Community Services Open House for early 2018.

Priya Hawkins


Priya Hawkins has been actively involved in her community since 2012. After fourteen years in the insurance/financial services industry, she has found her calling in community work. Priya began as Chair of the Parent Council at her children’;s school where she increased parent engagement significantly. She facilitated a Newcomer’s Cooking Program and in 2014, took on the role of Project Coordinator in her community, building the capacity of groups she worked with, and creating connections among like-minded residents. Priya is a collaborative community builder who works across sectors to achieve her goals. Priya has also facilitated Poverty Reduction Strategy sessions through United Way Toronto and York Region.

Noel Livingston


Noel Livingston is a passionate urban farmer whose passion is using local, clean food to improve well-being for marginalized communities. Noel carries a wealth of knowledge about growing cycles and how to improve food distribution channels, and is eager to share what he knows. As part of the Black Farmers’ Collective, Noel works to improve food justice for the Afro-Caribbean community and to mentor black youth to develop skills that will lead to increased food access and well-being.

Nadine Omokaro


Nadine Omokaro is a resident in the Malvern community. She is passionate about reducing neighbourhood stigma, and building a community that will be an example of strength and connection. Active in her local Parent Council, Nadine has been able to bring opportunities for local parents to be certified in Food Handlers and First-Aid/CPR training to youth 12 or older. She and her team have implemented a popular reading program and she is active on a number of committees, helping to shape the relationship between residents and local organizations and institutions.

Safia Parveen


Safia Parveen is a proud member of the Thorncliffe community. She is involved as a Community Animator for the Commitment to Community project, as well as a Peer Support Worker of AWO (Afghan Women Organization). Safia loves to help fellow community members problem solves issues in her community. She is also passionate about organizing events related to mental health and well-being. For more than two years Safia has been facilitating a "Wellness Cafe" Ladies Group three times a month, related to chronic mental health issues. Currently she is working with her neighbours to develop a list of local priorities that can be shared with political candidates and decision-makers.

Suganthine Sivakumar


Suganthine Sivakumar is a resident of the Dorset Park community. She began her community engagement with ACSA through the Action for Neighbourhood Change project in a sewing group at her building. While volunteering she realized the important of leadership in the community in which she is raising her child. She started to attend Dorset Park Neighbourhood Association meetings. Five years later she is the Project Coordinator of Dorset Park’s English Circle for Women. Suganthine has been a regular advocate for Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and believes strongly in the power of community engagement to encourage individuals to thrive and succeed.