Calgary’s 2022 Citizen of the Year Jane Wachowich had no idea she’d been nominated.
When she was invited to a Zoom call with Mayor Jyoti Gondek, Wachowich just assumed it was about pressing social issues. After all, Wachowich has been a stalwart in providing a space for young at-risk Calgarians as the Executive Director of Youth Centres of Calgary (YCC).
Then, when she saw the invite was about the Calgary Awards, she figured maybe her opinion would be sought on particular Citizen of the Year candidates.
“When she announced them to the group, I was sideswiped, because I didn’t have any idea that I had been nominated,” Wachowich told LiveWire Calgary.
“My colleagues and friends and people in the community that nominated me, principals and donors didn’t tell me because they knew that I’d be too uncomfortable and would decline.”
Roughly 12 years ago, Wachowich, a lawyer and businessperson by trade, took over the director’s role of a youth centre in Mayland Heights. It’s there she began developing a model that would eventually evolve into the YCC.
The YCC began in 2019 after Wachowich bought, rezoned and renovated a home in Ogden. It was set up as a youth centre for the area. Up to 45 kids – 80 per cent from the Ogden area – attend daily, for free. They are provided healthy meals, homework help, sports activities, music and more.
During the pandemic, Wachowich used the Ogden base to help distribute commercial kitchen lunch bags and groceries for curbside pickup. It later expanded to aid 10 neighbourhoods.
“We’ve done this work for a long time. I love it all,” Wachowich said.
“Meeting the needs of kids and families who would otherwise be falling through the cracks in the system, if we can shine the light on people who do not have the light on that. Then it makes it all worthwhile.”
Recognition is validation, builds credibility
Nominations for the Calgary Awards close Feb. 1 at 11:59 p.m. Established in 1994, the Calgary Awards recognize the outstanding achievements and contributions made by citizens.
Annually, citizens, corporations, community groups and other organizations are nominated for the 13 available awards.
Wachowich said that on a personal level being nominated is an honour.
“I think it’s important to celebrate moments, and people, and good people, and people who can rally others,” she said.
Calgary city councillor Kourtney Penner said the Calgary Awards really recognize community members and what they bring to the city. She said for many of them, there’s longevity to their work in the city. Often, they’re Calgarians that go above and beyond to make an impact.
“I think what this really goes to highlight is those who step out and shine above,” she said.
“They may work outside of the system a little bit and maybe aren’t necessarily part of the framework.”
The recognition is validation for work that Wachowich said is already known as valid. It helps lend credibility to their organization – particularly among potential donors.
“It’s certainly not about me and a pat on my back at all. We’re a massive group of people all trying to make a difference in the community,” she said.
“I think anyone who wins this award, I’m guessing, is motivated to do the work regardless of whether it’s heralded or unheralded.”
To that end, Wachowich said so many people are doing unsung work in the city – award or not. They’re doing it despite the naysayers.
Nominating them is an act of kindness, she said.
“It’s an act of kindness to celebrate the people who do good work.”