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Peace Medal recipient: 'I can't fix a war, but I can help people one family at a time'

Retired nurse who aids Syrian refugees and café owner who helps city's most vulnerable receive YMCA Peace Medals

A retired HSN nurse who aids Syrian refugees arriving in our community and a downtown Sudbury café owner who provides hands-on help for the city's most vulnerable citizens have been presented with YMCA Peace Medals.

The medals are presented by YMCA of Northeastern Ontario, in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Sudbury Sunrisers, as part of YMCA Peace Week, which runs this year Nov. 16-23.

YMCA Peace Week is focused on the idea that peace is not only a state of relationships between nations.

It begins with the actions of each individual, and with the idea we can't expect to live in peace if we are unable to live in harmony with those close to us, even those who disagree with us.

YMCA Peace Medals are presented to individuals who exemplify these ideals.

“We're super, super fortunate that we've got these great people in our community,” said Helen Francis, CEO and president YMCA Northeastern Ontario, speaking at the Nov. 21 ceremony where the medals were handed out.

“It's nice to be able to say thank you to them and hopefully inspire more of us to step and do something similar.”

One of the winners, Barbara Roy, worked for 40 years as a nurse and in retirement, is helping Syrian refugees learn about life in Canada.

Roy said she joined the Rotary Club of Sudbury Sunrisers after her retirement, and that's how she learned about Project Hope, a Sudbury group that sponsors Syrian refugees fleeing war in their home country.

She and husband Reg have spent a great deal of time with two Syrian families, not only bringing them to appointments, but teaching them basic things such as how bank cards and stoves work in Canada. They consider the newcomers family.

Reflecting on the concept of peace, Roy points out that Syrian refugees have never known peace in the way that Canadians do. 

“I can't fix a war, but I can help people one family at a time,” Roy said.

As for receiving a Peace Medal, Roy said she always says she doesn't need thanks for what she does. “I don't do this for thanks or for recognition, but it's truly from the heart,” she said.

One of the Syrian refugees Roy has helped, Sharif Al Zahran, was one hand as she received the medal.

Al Zahran, along with his wife and children (he now has four after a son was born here in Canada), arrived here just 18 months ago.

Roy helped his immediate family get used to life here, and now she's fundraising to sponsor his brother and family to come here as refugees.

“I feel very happy, because today I can give a great thanks to someone who helped me with everything,” Al Zahran said.

The other Peace Medal winner, Betty-Ann Serré, the owner of Kuppajo Espresso Bar on Larch Street, said she hadn't spent much time downtown before opening her café in early 2016.

But she said her eyes were opened to the plight of homeless and vulnerable people just outside of her business.

“It was cold, it was December and January, it was freezing out, and I started buying coffee for them and bringing it to them,” she said.

“I just got to know a lot of them, and a lot of their stories. It's so sad. It's somebody's brother, somebody's son, somebody's father.”

Later that year, she joined the Suspended Coffees movement, where customers can pay for an extra coffee or another beverage or food item when they place their order. Then it's given away later to someone in need.

“It makes a big difference in their day,” she said.

Twice a year, Serré also hosts a Caring Lunch, where Sudbury's less fortunate receive a free lunch on the restaurant's patio, as well as things such as a free haircut and used clothing.

Serré said she was “shocked” to learn she was going to receive a Peace Medal for her efforts, but said the concept behind the award resonates with her.

“I need peace in my life to survive every day,” she said. “I feel that everybody needs it. It doesn't matter who you are. We're all equal.”

Vince Perdue, the founder of the Sudbury Rocks Running Club, and youth volunteer Finn Michaud were also named as Peace Medal runners-up by YMCA of Northeastern Ontario this year.

As part of YMCA Peace Week, YMCA of Northeastern Ontario is also undertaking a number of other activities, including collecting personal hygiene products for the Salvation Army Cedar Place homeless shelter until Nov. 23.

Visit for more information.