Previous Recipients

Tribute Award Recipients

2018 Tribute Award of Excellence

Dr. John LaPorta Award of Excellence

To be recognized by your peers is an impressive accolade. By recognizing those who continually raise the bar for their clients, families and organizations, we shine a light on those who help us all gain greater influence for our contributions to child development. Making sure kids with special needs are empowered so they can live their best life is what drives us. And in this drive we are committed to recognizing those who are best in class, who lead the way for us all.

Dr. John LaPorta is such a leader. Empowered Kids Ontario is proud to present the Tribute Award of Excellence to Dr. La Porta this year.

For nearly twenty-five years, Dr. LaPorta has led Thames Valley Children’s Centre through growth and transformation that brought international recognition and accreditation to the centre, and increasing service almost tri-fold. Thames Valley Children’s Centre now offers services at 14 locations in Southwestern Ontario, and the London location added a 30,000 square foot third floor to accommodate growth thanks to a successful capital campaign.

Dr. LaPorta is an innovator. He established the Southwest Regional Autism Program, developed one of Canada’s first practicing pediatric clinical gait analysis labs, and in partnership with London Health Science Centre he created the Paediatric Acquired Brain Injury Outreach Program. Under his leadership the centre was Ontario’s first to establish a Client Advisory Committee—aligned with Dr. LaPorta’s philosophy that clients and families are at the heart of all a Children’s Treatment Centre does. He is well-known for creating an organizational culture in which staff and clients alike focus on their strengths and abilities. He is a recognized clinical authority and sought after speaker throughout Canada and beyond.

Thames Valley Children’s Centre is better for his years of unwavering commitment and dedication. So are all children with special needs throughout Ontario.

2018 Tribute Award – Leadership

Sue Simpson, Executive Director, Waterloo Region Family Network

A role model in achieving accessibility in the Kitchener-Waterloo community, Sue is known as the heart and soul of the Waterloo Region Family Network (WRFN). Sue has helped improve the quality of life of kids with special needs and their families in the Waterloo region. As one of the parent-founders of the WRFN, Sue is a driving force behind the many ways families are supported by the organization. She was instrumental in developing a community partnership model that includes KidsAbility, ExtendAFamily, the YMCA, and SDERC—keeping the WRFN financially sustainable and also ensuring the Network is directly connected to local agencies so families can receive the best direction and support possible. Sue applies her many skills to help families and individuals become educated, connected and empowered. Under Sue’s leadership WRFN’s family membership grew 60 per cent in the last two years, and the Network currently serves 1,600 families, connects with 115 community contacts and provides a range of valued programs and services.

A mentor, parent, advisor and advocate, Sue is a resource and champion for parents in her community as well as for parent networks across the province. Her personal and professional experience gives her great insight into the lives, challenges and opportunities for people with special needs and she is regularly and frequently sought out as a trusted advisor. 

2018 Tribute Award – Partnership

Pathways Health Centre for Children

The Aamjiwnaang First Nation

The Walpole Island First Nation

The Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation

Pathways Health Centre for Children, together with the Aamjiwnaang, Walpole Island, and the Chippewas of Kettle & Stony Point First Nation have undertaken important work to improve service delivery for children living in First Nations communities in Lambton County.

With startup funding from local industry partners Suncor, Esso, Shell, Nova Chemicals, and Arlanxeo, these partners successfully launched programs that deliver developmental services including speech therapy, physiotherapy, and occupational therapy, to kids and their families in their communities.

These innovative partnerships between Pathways Health Centre for Children and the First Nations communities have led to the development of community-driven models that are increasing access to services, ensuring children and families receive service in appropriate settings, in their own language, and delivered with and by Indigenous therapists.

Positive impacts are already reported for this initiative, which offers tremendous potential to improve developmental outcomes for children in First Nations communities in the future.

Empowered Kids Ontario is pleased to recognize the deserving partners whose dedication to children and youth is at the heart of these innovative and impactful programs.

2018 Tribute Award – Advocacy

Kevin McShan

For many Ontarians, finding a job can be difficult. Job candidates with a disability often find they have to compete, and also educate employers about accommodations they may need. Kevin McShan has fought that fight himself. Now he’s doing the same for others.

A natural leader, Kevin is devoting his career to promoting equality and building awareness of the untapped market of skilled individuals with disabilities. After graduating from St. Clair College where he studied Journalism, Kevin became involved in several local campaigns, created his own media consulting business, and produced the 2Man Advantage sports podcast. He served as a program development facilitator at WEareABLE, a Windsor-Essex initiative aimed at educating local business and hiring managers about the benefits of hiring individuals with disabilities.

Earlier this year, Kevin was appointed by the province and by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to be Ambassador for Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities in the Windsor-Essex region, rolling out the province’s access talent strategy and the online DiscoverAbility network, a hub for employers seeking qualified job candidates. In the role of what CBC calls “talent ambassador,” Kevin educates employers about hiring people with disabilities, and is having great success matching individuals with employers. Kevin explains that these initiatives aim to place candidates with disabilities in 56,000 jobs, reducing the unemployment rate for those with disabilities by 30 per cent in companies that have 20 or more employees. His goal is to break down barriers to employment for the nine per cent, or one in seven, with a disability, ensuring their financial, personal and social independence, and the opportunity to make a contribution.

2018 Tribute Award – Advocacy

Dear Everybody Campaign, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital

In the second year of a five-year campaign, Dear Everybody features young advocates taking a stand, letting the world know they are not defined by their disabilities.

HBKR CEO Julia Hanigsberg describes the campaign as a national movement, started by the hospital in partnership with kids and youth, to raise awareness of disability stigma and designed to change perceptions, and more importantly get people to take action to create a more equitable society.

In Canada today there are more than 400,000 children and youth up to age 24 living with a disability. The Canadian Human Rights Commission notes disability is the most cited reason for discrimination in the country—at 59 per cent. HBKR research demonstrates this reality: 53 per cent of kids with special needs have zero or one close friend, and they are two to three times more likely to be bullied than kids without a disability. Only 49 per cent of people age 25 to 63 with disabilities are employed, compared to 76 per cent of those without disabilities.

Dear Everybody gives young people a platform to raise awareness about the stigma and barriers they face every day. The campaign reaches people through displays, advertising, news stories and social media and focuses on issues including employment, bullying, friendship, education and health care.

Common misperceptions including underestimating kids with special needs when it comes to their ability to learn, and study. The campaign demonstrates how kids and youth with special needs are like everyone else.

While just in year two, the campaign has already been elevating conversation about disability stigma.

2017 Award of Excellence

Lorraine Sunstrum-Mann

As CEO of Grandview Children’s Centre, Ms. Sunstrum-Mann has made contributions that will have a lasting and meaningful impact on the Durham Region, on the network of Ontario’s CTCs, and on the lives of kids with special needs and their families. She is well-regarded for building capacity within the Grandview Kids leadership team and also across the province. Under her leadership the Grandview Kids medical team has cut wait times for assessments by more than two-thirds, and increased visits to 250 a day across six sites with a staff of 150 professionals. Always putting the child first, Ms. Sunstrum-Mann has set the stage for collaborative thinking for years to come. She is an unwavering advocate for kids with medical complexity, and is actively involved in local, provincial and national forums. Faced with the challenge of insufficient and inadequate space, Ms. Sunstrum-Mann envisioned and developed a multi-site model to provide service throughout the region, and she has successfully brought partners on side with these plans for a new facility supporting research, care and inclusion for kids with special needs in the Durham Region.

2017 Tribute Award for Leadership

Dr. Ronit Mesterman

Dr. Ronit Mesterman, Medical Director for Developmental Services and Regional Autism Spectrum Disorder Services, McMaster Children’s Hospital

Dr. Mesterman is founding Chair of the Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA) network, representing clinicians, researchers and leaders across Ontario who work with kids with special needs. Since its founding in 2011, PONDA has become uniquely positioned to contribute to discussions with policy makers, professionals and caregivers, to address the challenges in caring for kids with special needs and their families, seeking to optimize services across the province so kids with special needs live their best lives.

2016 Award of Excellence

Dr. Mary Thain


 From left to right: Kent Stringham, Board of Directors - Five Counties Children's Centre, Dr. Mary Thain, Diane Pick, Chief Executive Officer - Five Counties Children's Centre

Dr. Mary Thain has been the Medical Director of Five Counties Children’s Centre in Peterborough for more than 40 years. She has been their only physician and has established the standard for excellence in rural medical services. Her extensive physician networks and lifelong commitment to continuous learning has ensured that the care and treatment that children receive in the Peterborough area is the leading edge. The care and expertise that she provides allows families to remain close to home and benefit from the latest treatments.

In addition to her local leadership, Dr. Thain served as Chair of the Medical Directors meeting at the OACRS conference for many years. This leadership has fostered both communication and collaboration amongst the physicians and has led to several joint initiatives including a peer review system for physicians and the development of a diagnostic database. Dr. Thain is a Developmental Paediatrician that has made significant contributions to promoting excellence in health care to children with disabilities both in her community and the province. 

2016 Leadership Award

James Robinson Public School 


From left to right: Laura Meffen, Parent - James Robinson Public School, Lara Chebaro, Former Principal - James Robinson Public School, Deb Manni, Teacher - James Robinson Public School

James Robinson Public School is a known for its culture of inclusivity and collaboration. Located in south-east Markham, it is the first school in the York Region District School Board to build a universally accessible eco schoolyard that allows children of all abilities to play together in an outdoor classroom, accessible garden and play area. The school has also installed a paved learning trail and accessible outdoor amphitheatre. This space ensures the children with special needs including those with multiple needs can be included in activities such as gym and recess.

Recently the school converted their library in to a universally accessible learning space, allowing students with differing physical, sensory and learning and/or mental health challenges to create, re-purpose, explore, invent and innovate. To support their students with multiple exceptionalities the school fosters partnerships with families and other service providers in order to provide the best support to students. The culture of inclusivity extends beyond the specialty classrooms and hallways.  

2016 Partnership Award

Smilezone Foundation


Jennifer Churchill, Chief Executive Officer, OACRS with Adam Graves, Co-Founder, Smilezone Foundation

Smilezone Foundation is an independent charity committed to “putting smiles on children’s faces.” The charity, founded by Adam Graves and Scott Bachly, established the overarching mission of assisting children, and their families, who are facing difficult times and health challenges. Smilezone’s mission is to create, build and transform areas in hospitals, private treatment and development centres, and children’s clinics, in order to improve the lives of children facing illness, disabilities, and physical and emotional obstacles—ultimately putting a smile on their faces.

Since its inception, Smilezone has partnered with a number of children’s treatment centres across the province. Their work is not only a cosmetic refresh of various spaces but a functional improvement as well. Centres have indicated, “As agencies we provide the day to day clinical service for our clients, Smilezone complements our work by providing a holistic experience from the moment the child walks through the door.” Smilezone has brought an incredible lasting impact to our sector that truly does allow each of our Centres to help our kids realize their potential. 


2015 Advocacy Award

Dr. Peter Rosenbaum

Throughout his career Peter Rosenbaum has made an enormous impact for children with disabilities and their families not only in the province of Ontario but across the country and around the world. The focus of his work: helping kids to be kids first.

Over the past several decades, Peter has been engaged many Children’s Treatment Centres in establishing and implementing best practices in family-centred care, including the role of a key worker, and measuring progress using the Measure of Processes of Care (MPOC). We have benefited from Peter’s work on outcome measurement and classification and his vision for a system that focuses on quality of life for kids with disabilities. Throughout his career, his has patiently and persistently challenged us to practice with “quality of life” foremost in our work with kids and families.

When we have asked for help, he has responded with warmth, honesty and the best knowledge and support he can provide. He has advocated on behalf of children, youth and families with knowledge, passion, persistence, humour and innovation, in a way that makes us all better in serving kids and families.


2015 Leadership Award

Judy Sharpe

Over the past decade Judy Sharpe, Executive Director of One Kids Place worked fervently and adeptly to fulfill the strategic vision of families and community members of Nippising-Muskoka- Parry Sound to establish a Children’s Treatment Centre. Starting with just 3 staff, under Judy’s leadership One Kids Place has grown to 72 full time and 27 part time staff. Judy’s leadership and integrity are evident in her ability to effectively bring services under one roof in order to better support children and families in her community. Judy is admired by her colleagues across the province for her leadership, hard work and commitment to families. She is recognized as an innovator and change agent. Many describe her as a leader who is dynamic and leads with respect, fairness and grace.



2015 Award of Excellence

Louise Paul

Louise Paul is the past Chair of the OACRS Board of Directors and is the Executive Director of the Children’s Treatment Network. Louise was the first Executive Director in over 10 years to take on the role of OACRS Board Chair, her commitment to the association and the importance of speaking in a united voice is always evident. She wears many hats- often at the same time, including those of strategist and mentor. Louise is trusted by government, respected by her colleagues and admired by many. During this past year she has gone above and beyond to provide support to the association as a whole. OACRS is a stronger organization as a result of her leadership.



2014 Leadership Award

Dorothy Harvey

Dorothy Harvey exemplifies what it means to be a leader in health care. Across the province, Dorothy's colleagues recognize her as someone who facilitates change, is a champion of children, youth and adults with special needs and as a clinician who is always challenging us to improve. She is an amazing blend of technical savvy, clinical expertise and great leadership with an eye on the horizon. Dorothy says her role as a mother grounds her in her daily work - putting from and centre her connection to why CTCs do what they do. 

Dorothy is an active member and leader in many OACRS-based provincial working groups, task forces, and pilot projects. For many years, she has been a leader in designing and promoting the annual OACRS Conference. Her leadership has helped build and strengthen the critical connection between front-line staff across the sector to increase our capacity to develop and deliver quality and specialized service for children, youth and families.

2013 Leadership Award

Patricia Baldwin

Over a decade ago, as a result of her interest in supporting the self-determination of youth with disabilities, Patricia Baldwin began a journey that would lead to one of the most fundamental shifts in how therapists approach their work with clients at Thames Valley Children’s Centre in London, Ontario.

As a champion of the relationship-centred practice service delivery model, Patricia introduced, trained and then embedded the use of Solution-Focused Coaching (SFC) an evidence-based model which focuses on a strengths based, collaborative, and goal-oriented approach when working with children and youth with disabilities and the key adults in their lives.

Patricia has provided SFC training to 6 other OACRS organizations and 9 service agencies that have all identified staff to continue building internal capacity. Thanks to Patricia, well over 300 paediatric rehabilitation specialists are using Solution-Focused Coaching today. 


2013 Award Of Excellence

Linda Kenny (left)

As CEO of OACRS, Linda energized the children's rehab sector. She focused on the association's role as a provincial advocate for children and youth with disabilities and the need for an integrated and streamlined service delivery system.  

Linda fostered a culture of engagement with members, governments and other stakeholders. She pushed the association to think differently about how to work with government. She moved the sector beyond the thinking of "what's good for the sector" to positioning us to frame all that we do in terms of what's best for kids and families. She recognized significant contributions made by individuals and organizations for leadership, excellence and innovation that support OACRS' mandate. The Tribute Awards are testament to Linda's legacy of partnerships and participation in the work of OACRS.

Caroline Stone (right)

Caroline knows first-hand the challenge of raising a children with special needs. It was while she was advocating for her daughter, Shannon, she realized the need to advocate on a provincial level, which brought her to become a member of the OACRS Board of Directors. For the past seven years, Caroline has been instrumental in setting up governance policies and practices consistent with best practices of board accountability and transparency. In her understated but incredibly persuasive manner, she was always able to link her experiences to what parents celebrate and struggle with day-to-day in raising a child with special needs. She speaks passionately about how CTCs and OACRS are essential to the service system in raising the bar to help every child reach his or her potential.


2012 Leadership Award Recipients

Stephen Swatridge (left) and Anne Huot (right)

Stephen Swatridge chaired the Project Executive Committee. His leadership of the executive team for the project ensured an effective, transparent and accountable governance structure to ensure that all the participating centres were moving forward in the same direction.

From the beginning, Stephen’s integrity and credibility marked him as the de facto chair of the project executive. A strong advocate for the collaboration was required to develop and implement a project of this magnitude and complexity, Stephen took on this leadership role amongst his peers. He has led the group to a greater level of trust and confidence as a sector and created and modelled a unifying force within OACRS. His commitment to our sector being “stronger as one” is a legacy that will be felt for years to come.

Anne Huot is the Project’s Director and was recognized for her leadership of the Project Steering Committee. Anne was a driving force behind the development of a sound and supportable business case in the early days, while CRISP was still a glimmer in the eyes of a few. Anne’s approach to teamwork, communication, attention to task and motivation has positioned her as a leader who is well admired by her peers. She has been pivotal in the success of this project as Chair of the Steering Committee and Project Director.

A committee colleague describes Anne as tenacious and a force for good. Her vision has always been focused on the end goal: improvement of care and service delivery for children and families.


2012 Partnership Award Recipient

Client Rehabilitation Information System Project (CRISP) Steering Committee

Since January 2011, the CRISP Steering Committee has been working develop and implement a client information system customized for the unique needs of the children’s rehabilitation sector. This dedicated team was made up of two representatives from each participating CTC, software provider GoldCare Inc. and our project management firm of Healthtech Consultants, have created a customized tool for our sector.

Regular teleconference meetings and participation in monthly meetings by all project team members was imperative and served as a strong motivator of team spirit, project excellence and planning engagement. Joint problem solving and working towards common goals in a positive, encouraging and respectful atmosphere inspired and motivated team members. Every team member had a contribution to make – leadership, practical problem solving, issue identifiers, anxiety busters, clinical expertise and technological know how.

 As a result of this tremendous commitment to CRISP, a true network has emerged. The project team has learned from challenges and best practices, resulting in a new level of support and collaboration across the sector. The team will continue to collaborate to develop standardized assessment templates for specific disciplines, sharing best practices and utilizing report data to inform CTC program planning.

Throughout this project, we have used a canoe analogy to represent the commitment, resilience and motivation for the project. To accomplish a goal of this magnitude, it required a trust, a belief that in the end everyone would be in the same canoe, would be paddling together and would be heading in the right direction – together.

The legacy of their work will live on to benefit our sector and most importantly the children and families we serve. Congratulations to the members of the OACRS CRISP Steering Committee! 


2011 Advocacy Award

Lynn Ziraldo

For the past 36 years, Lynn has been a tireless advocate for children with special needs. As the parent of two sons with special needs, Lynn has taken her knowledge and passion about services needed by kids and families to leaders, so that they can make critical decisions with the information they need. Through her involvement with the Learning Disabilities Association locally, provincially, and nationally, she has advocated for all students with special needs. And by leading and participating in local, provincial, and national boards, committees, and workshops, she has impacted education policy and practice, always focusing on equity, inclusion, and quality.

Lynn continues to be a trailblazer for families of kids with special needs, and a strong voice that urges us to work together—an optimistic, patient, respectful, (and respectfully forceful when needed), knowledgeable, humorous, and child and family-centred voice! She has used her voice to articulate social, health, education, and legal issues to educate leaders and policy-makers, and collaborates with them to find solutions. Leaders have listened to that voice, and it has made all the difference for kids with special needs.

2010 Award of Excellence


Paula Grail

Paula Grail joined the OACRS Board of Directors in 2006. Bringing a passion borne from her experience as a parent and a skill set as a successful

2010 Award of Excellence Recipient - Paula Grail (right) with Linda Kenny, CEO of OACRS
business person, Paula quickly went to work to establish a vision for OACRS that would resonate into every community in Ontario.

Upon her election to OACRS Board Chair in 2008, Paula clearly articulated her two main priorities: to bring the entire children’s rehabilitation federation together with one voice and to secure vital resources so that children and families could access services that would make a difference in their lives.

Paula’s unique style, coupled with her dogged determination, positioned OACRS to achieve both of those aspirational goals. Whether it involves telling her own very personal story, meeting with elected officials, preparing written communication, tackling uncomfortable but important issues or simply listening to people, Paula rose to the occasion every time.

Her leadership of the OACRS board strengthened our federation. As a member organization, Paula found ways to ensure we could build consensus and move forward in a collective manner. She represented our interests to government in a way that was compelling and genuine. She achieved success because it mattered to her, to her family, to her home treatment centre, to the treatment centres and families across Ontario and to the future generation of children to come.

2010 Advocacy Award

Parent Advocacy Committee of the Niagara Peninsula Children's Centre

The Parent Advocacy Committee of the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre was formed in 2009 to develop strategies and actions to bring

from left to right: Linda Kenny - CEO, OACRS; Sara Pott & Christine Keith representing the Parent Advocacy Committee of Niagara Peninsula Children's Centre; Paula Grail - Chair, OACRS Board of Directors 

government attention to the needs of children in our sector. They enthusiastically began a letter writing campaign to the Minister of Children and Youth Services. When Laurel Broten was appointed our new Minister in October 2009, the parents of Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre were pleased to host her in one of her first CTC visits.

Building on the work undertaken by this energetic group of parents, OACRS devised the “Every Kid Matters” family postcard campaign, resulting in over 500 cards being received by Minister Broten from every part of the province.

OACRS, its member CTCs and families work very hard to develop a positive relationship with MCYS.
This past year is evidence of that work and the strong impact parent advocates have on government representatives.

OACRS is delighted to acknowledge the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre Parent Advocacy Committee for their initiative, enthusiasm, and hard work.