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Accomplished Sudburians to receive Women of Distinction Awards

Seven women have been named recipients of 2022 YWCA Women of Distinction Awards and will formally receive their hardware during an awards gala on Jan. 28

Covering a wide range of community stewardship, this year’s YWCA Women of Distinction Award recipients each have interesting insights into the Greater Sudbury community.

Five of this year’s seven recipients gathered at Hilton Garden Inn for a media event on Thursday in which they were named as this year’s recipients. 

This, in advance of formally receiving their hardware during an awards gala on Jan. 28, for which more information can be found by clicking here.

“I think it’s important to highlight the gender inequities in society, and this really helps to showcase the power of women in our community,” Women of Distinction Committee chair Catherine Poulton told of the annual awards ceremony.

“The Women of Distinction Awards not only celebrate the differences women make in each of our lives, but they also help to promote gender equity in a highly visible way by encouraging and acknowledging women’s successes, impact, ingenuity and potential.”

The event also serves as the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, with this year’s event marking a return to an in-person event following two years of virtual ceremonies due to COVID-related restrictions.

Money raised goes toward YWCA Sudbury’s youth programming, including their ‘Power of Being a Girl’ and ‘Boys for Real’ conferences, which are delivered to Grade 7 and 8 students from local schools and aim to help them develop leadership and critical thinking skills.

This year’s recipients include Adebola Adefioye, Adekelu Ogunleye, Jackie Balleny, Jennifer Hawkins, Kyelle Byne, Paula Coulson and Sonia Peczeniuk. 

Byne did not attend Thursday’s media event, and Hawkins’ award is being granted posthumously. 

Kyelle Byne

Kyelle Byne is credited as “tirelessly advocating for 2SLGBTQ+ people at every opportunity,” and has been a driving force in Science North’s Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility Committee, which champions diversity and awareness initiatives.

She is also a board member for Fierté Sudbury Pride, and has helped the organization raise thousands of dollars for 2SLGBTQ+ programming. She was also central in organizing the 25th annual Pride Week celebrations and launching the first-ever 2SLGBTQ+ Community Award Gala to recognize community leaders.

“Kyelle’s advocacy for 2SLGBTQ+ people in our community, initiatives to make science more accessible and engaging through educational programming and outreach, such as creating science content for podcasts and social media, and the generous sharing of her grant-writing skills with several community and Northern Ontario organizations have earned her a New Leaders Fellowship for the Association of Science and Technology Centers from among a large group of nominees across North America,” according to write-up provided by the YWCA. “Her passion, determination and eagerness to always lend a hand makes a considerable difference in our community.”

Jennifer Hawkins

Receiving her award posthumously, Jennifer Hawkins is credited as contributing a great deal to the community of residents and staff at Finlandia Village, as well as the care of residents.

“She deserves the award on so many levels,” said friend Angela Patrick, who nominated Hawkins for the award. 

“She had the true characteristics of a leader, she was empathetic, she empowered the staff, she was a pioneer in seniors care at the village and true inspiration to all of us.”

Although Hawkins died suddenly last year, Patrick said her legacy has lived on in the programs and staff culture she helped establish at Finlandia Village.

In a write-up provided by the YWCA, it’s noted that Hawkins spearheaded the Enhanced Care Seniors Support Program, which “enabled practices that celebrate and honour residents who have passed and given their neighbours the opportunity to mourn them.”

She also prioritized empowering her female-dominated staff to confidently manage responsive behaviours associated with dementia through organization-wide training in Gentle Persuasive Approach and remaining approachable to listen, guide and mentor her more than 130-person team.

She also donated her time to the Special Olympics as a swim coach and various professional organizations related to her work in long-term care and encouraged youngsters at Walden Public School to take up the trade.

Adebola Adefioye

“I don’t get paid, but I get fulfillment, I get happiness because I see smiles on the people we serve,” Adebola Adefioye told of her work with the Afro Women and Youth Foundation, which she founded.

To receive an award for her work is “a great feeling,” she said. “To be recognized for the work that I do is a super amazing feeling, and I’m very grateful for it.”

Adefioye was inspired to start the foundation after her daughter reported experiencing racism at school due to her Nigerian heritage. The other kids wouldn’t play with her at recess, and she took to bringing a jump rope to school so she could play with herself.

The mother of three worked to build up her daughter’s confidence, found success, and wanted to do the same for others in her chosen community of Sudbury.

The foundation provides leadership, empowerment and mentorship programs to Black women and youths through strategic partnerships and collaborations with like-minded community services and non-profit organizations.

Adefioye is currently working on the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care and Women and Gender Equality Canada’s project, which is investigating the impact of COVID-19 on racialized women and families to inform recommendations for feminist, child care, and family program policies in the province.

She also shares her insights on a number of organizations and committees, and offers consultancy and training services. 

Adekelu Ogunleye 

“This means a lot to me, it just goes to show that no matter what you do, people are watching, so you’d better do it right,” Adekelu Ogunleye said with a laugh.

Ogunleye immigrated to Sudbury from Nigeria in 2020 and studied at Cambrian College and Laurentian University and has branched out professionally. 

She is a part-time life skill trainer at Sudbury Community Service Centre and is the owner of Kelz Everclean, the only Black-owned cleaning service in the area.

She also works in clothing alteration through International Obioma, and Nigerian catering through Kelu Cooks, targeted for students who are in need and run operations as side hustles. 

Ogunleye said that she’s particularly proud that her work has employed people and allowed them to put food on their tables – “That’s a big deal,” she said. “That’s fulfilling for me.”

A write-up provided by the YWCA notes that her employees are largely international students and that she trains, mentors and empowers them to find their own financial and career successes. 

She also writes a blog for Women of Rubies weekly, and helps vulnerable women in that community secure funds for rent and school fees.

She helps fundraise for the Pregnancy Care Centre and helps organize Afro Fest Sudbury.

“Kelu’s story has been a source of inspiration and encouragement for many young single mothers, especially in the Black community, to go to college and chase their dreams.”

Jackie Balleny

Clarifying she’s happy to “just go about and do my own thing,” Jackie Balleny said it’s nonetheless a good feeling to receive an award from the YWCA. 

“I’m not a self-promoter, so I just prefer to kind of be behind the scenes and support other individuals, so I do find this incredibly humbling, and I’m very honoured to be amongst such incredible women in this community,” she said. 

“I’m a very introspective individual, and I prefer to be behind the scenes promoting and supporting others.”

Balleny carried a 30-year career in education before moving into the field of social justice through her work with Sudbury District Restorative Justice and their Population Health, Safety and Wellbeing Committee, and on boards of NISA, Sudbury and Area Victim Services and Northern Youth Services. 

“Her leadership, integrity, and sincerity allowed her to build a strong reputation and solid connections, leading other organizations to seek her input on social initiatives.”

She is also credited with creating a go-to community resource directory, endorsing the value of the Violence Threat Risk Assessment process and developing anti-racist programs in schools.

“Helping the youth be all that they can be means connecting them to those services that can assist them in their darkest times,” she said, adding that there are various resources available in Sudbury that not everyone is aware of, which she hopes the directory will help people discover.

“Now, with the pandemic and youth who have spent two and a half years with online learning and losing those social connections with their peers and community, there’s a poverty of relationships going on right now, and youth are seeking to connect,” she said. 

Although grateful to receive the award, she said there’s a “multitude of other agencies here in town doing great work,” and many others who warrant commendations.

“Jackie courageously and tenaciously advocates for those who are trying to find their voices, generously shares her knowledge of wrap-around supports and how to navigate them, and kind heartily mentors people to set them up for success through self-empowerment and growth,” according to a write-up by the YWCA. “Her example creates ripples in the lives of others and make us believe that nothing is insurmountable.”

Paula Coulson

“I’m extremely humbled to be receiving this award, for sure,” Paula Coulson said. 

Coulson has been serving as president of the Sudbury District Girls Hockey Association for the past two years after eight years as a dressing room mom, trainer on the ice and equipment manager on the board.

She also sits on the Esso Cup Legacy Fund committee and serves as project co-ordinator at J. Corsi Developments, a real estate development organization.

“Paula advocates to provide equal opportunities for women and encourages them to get involved in their community and on boards,” according to a write-up by the YWCA. “By her example, she is proving that women and girls have a place in leadership positions everywhere, especially in historically male-led fields like hockey, real estate and trades.”

“I get satisfaction from seeing that I’m able to help provide an opportunity for these girls,” Coulson said, adding that although she’s extremely busy in her life, helping her community has always been a priority.

“If you truly believe in something and you want to make a difference, you find the time to volunteer, you find the time to make things happen,” she said, adding that when it comes to youth hockey, there are board members, coaches, trainers and other ways people can help.

“You make it happen and you find the time.”

Sonia Peczeniuk

A longstanding and devoted volunteer with Sudbury’s Ukrainian community, Sonia Peczeniuk said her dedication runs deep in both her family and heart.

Her 95-year-old mother, Jaroslawa Peczeniuk, 95, survived Holodomor – Joseph Stalin’s forced starvation of a large portion of Ukraine – and it’s a pain retriggered by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

Peczeniuk has been involved in various efforts during recent months, including participating in local rallies and has been working to bring refugees into Sudbury.

“She rallied a Ukrainian Newcomer Support Committee and work collaboratively with the Welcome to Sudbury staff to secure emergency and long-term housing, household goods and furnishings, food, clothing and hygiene donations, English language acquisition and transportation for families while helping guide them in navigating our medical care, daycare and education, and resettlement systems and services,” according to a write-up by the YWCA. 

“For Sonia, being of service is second nature, but those whose lives she touches admire her exceptional selflessness, compassion and humility.”

“We want them to have a good experience transitioning into Sudbury, because if that is a good experience we know that they will want to stay,” she said of her and countless others’ work to welcome refugees.

Peczeniuk also facilitated relationships and ongoing mentorships between the Grandview Children’s Treatment Centre in Whitby and the Dzherelo Children’s Rehabilitation Facility in Ukraine. The facility helped people of all ages seeking help as Russian tensions escalated this year.


Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for



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Tyler Clarke

About the Author: Tyler Clarke

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for
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