Celebrating the 2018 British Columbia Excellence in Autism Awards

By Becs Brocken
  • On Friday, April 20, 2018 over 100 people descended onto the Goodlife Fitness Family Autism Hub in Richmond BC to celebrate the 1st Annual British Columbia Excellence in Autism Awards.

    The British Columbia Excellence in Autism Awards were launched by AutismBC to recognize and celebrate the incredible achievements of volunteers, businesses, professionals and self-advocates who are going above and beyond to raise awareness of autism in communities across BC.

    The awards were hosted by Jake Anthony, an actor from Burnaby who is also an inspiring member of the autism community.  Jake sits on numerous committees and dedicates his time to raising greater awareness of autism within our communities.

    Nominations for awards opened in February and we were thrilled to receive over 100 nominations in the following categories; Self Advocate, Professional, Business and Volunteer of the Year.  Our judging committee representing Pacific Autism Family Network, ABLE Clinic, Vancity and Canucks Autism Network had a tough job ahead of them but shortlisted 16 individuals who were able to join us with their friends and family at the ceremony.

    The first award of the evening was presented to Nicole Provost in the category Self Advocate of the Year.  This award was presented by James Beaulieu, COO of AllWest Insurance.  Nicole was nominated for her work as founder of the Mayday Club Youth Choir, a fully inclusive choir for individuals with autism and other disabilities.

    Nicole got the inspiration for Mayday, after watching a younger child struggle with behaviour in a choir that she used to sing in as a teenager. As someone with ASD, Nicole empathized with the child and resolved to start her own choir one day. 2 years later after a lot of hard work Nicole now conducts a professional 45-voice youth choir, for individuals ages 4-30, affected by autism.  Learn more about Mayday Club Youth Choir here.

    The next award of the evening went to Dr. Grace larocci as Professional of the Year.  Dr. larocci has worked in autism research since 1992, and in 2000 joined Simon Fraser University where she founded the Autism and Developmental Disorders Lab and co-founded the Autism Mentoring Initiative (AMI), a peer mentorship program at SFU to assist students with ASD with the transition from high school-to-university. Unfortunately, Dr. Larocci couldn’t join us at the awards, but we were pleased to welcome Mandeep Gurm who accepted the award on her behalf.  The award was presented by Cindy Bratkowski, Treasurer of AutismBC.

    Business of the Year presented by Marie Gill, Senior Recruitment Consultant at Adecco was the third category of the evening and saw nominations from a variety of organizations.  This year’s winner was Sirota’s Alchymy – Martial Arts & Life Skills Centre.  Based in Surrey, Master Michael Sirota and team have been serving the Lower Mainland for 26 years educating and providing an outstanding environment for the people with disabilities to learn, bond and grow. Their special needs program is widely known and highly regarded by parents, professionals and community organizations who refer families to the program. To learn more about Sirota Alchymy please visit their website.

    Our final award of 2018 went to Abbe Gates, who was named Volunteer of the Year.  Presented by Glen Daman, President of Applewood Auto Group, Abbe was recognized for dedication to helping individuals with autism and other diverse needs achieve their absolute best. In 2007, after her then 11-year-old daughter was told by a coach in a local league that she couldn’t play because her Down syndrome was a “liability” against the team’s chances of winning, Abbe started Soccer Dogs, an inclusive soccer team where everyone is welcome, and no one will ever be turned away. To learn more about Soccer Dogs click here.

    In addition to the awards above, AutismBC was also thrilled to announce The Nina and Manuel Pickburn Award for Outstanding Contribution. This award was inspired by Nina Pickburn, who in 1975 alongside other parents founded the Pacific Association of Autistic Children, a first of its kind in British Columbia and Canada.

    If you are ever lucky enough to meet Nina, you will quickly realize she is a trailblazer, or in her own words ‘a dragon’.  Nina, like many parents, has advocated tirelessly for her son Manuel and along the way has significantly changed and challenged perceptions on what individuals with autism can achieve. Nina has dedicated her life to fostering greater awareness, understanding and inclusion for people who have disabilities and has no doubt changed the lives of many individuals and families affected by autism.

    The receipt of the Nina and Manuel Pickburn Award for Outstanding Contribution must have demonstrated a similar dedication to the advancement of autism in our province, combined with a strong sense of purpose and determination.  The recipient is someone whose vision is leading us towards an inclusive society where people on the autism spectrum can reach their full potential.

    Having spent the last 10 years of their lives, dedicated to increasing opportunities, understanding and awareness of autism within the community.  The winners of this award in the inaugural year where Wendy and Sergio Cocchia, Founders of the Pacific Autism Family Network.

    The British Columbia Excellence in Autism Awards were possible thanks to our incredible award sponsors; Applewood Auto Group, Adecco and AllWest Insurance.  We are also grateful to the Pacific Autism Family Centre, Railtown Catering, Red Truck Beer Company, Elephant Island Winery, Imagine That Events, Tree of Life, Absolute Spa, and Qualicum Beach Inn whose support with the event made it possible.