Erin Albanese
Genna Evelyn
Ashley Major
Tharsini Sivananthajothy

If you wish to be in contact with any of the winners please e-mail chair@soroptimistfoundation.ca.

Erin Albanese
MA, St. Paul University, Ottawa, Counselling & Spirituality, 2016. Worked in youth treatment centre as addiction counsellor.

Erin is a full-time student entering her second year of a Master's degree at Saint Paul University in Ottawa, studying couple and family therapy. For nearly a decade, she has worked as a counsellor providing front-line support in various crisis-related environments. This wealth of experience continues to shape her interests and goals. Erin's longstanding passion of advocacy for underserved populations has also been strongly influenced through recurrent exposures to social inequality and adversity.

Fundamentally, Erin believes everyone has a voice. Some are encouraged from early on to use theirs, while others have become systematically silenced through social custom, expectations or the threat of physical harm. Erin identifies finding one's voice as the first step towards empowerment. She hopes to ignite the spark of those unheard voices and believes that everyone benefits when all voices are considered.

While those who have been previously silenced are likely the benefit most initially, others also reap the reward of a social dialogue that is transparent and accessible to all. She envisions these changes will create healthier relationships and stronger communities. Erin has always been fascinated by the unique dynamics of relationships. Through her studies and experience, Erin has recognized the dichotomy of what a family unit means to unheard voices. The family unit can influence individuals in incredible ways. On the one hand, family building, sharing customs and creating life partnerships are the cornerstones to meaning for many Canadians. On the other hand, historically the family unit has not always benefited all genders equally. Still today, there are many others who have fallen into unhealthy and suppressing situations. For these individuals, their relationships represent a barrier to self-actualization at one extreme and a risk to personal safety at the other. Erin believes that as a Couple and Family Therapist her most important responsibility is to help others understand this dissonance and create environments based on respect where all parties are equal.

Prior to returning to her academic career, Erin resigned from her role as a lead Addiction Counsellor at a non-profit, community-based agency that remains the only of its kind in the province. Erin worked with adolescent girls and their families impacted by issues related to substance abuse and mental health. She was continually astounded and inspired by the resiliency, strength and courage these young women exhibited, especially given the majority of who endured unfathomable realities. Unfortunately, not all young people successfully transcend their hardships. Erin was also exposed to the tragic prevalence of suicide throughout her career and saw many lives and stories conclude well before they should have. These experiences led Erin to become an advocate of suicide prevention and intervention. She now facilitates ASIST workshops as a certified trainer teaching these important skills to others.

Erin has never felt more privileged and rewarded professionally than when she has the opportunity to contribute a positive impact on the lives and futures of those in her community. As an ardent proponent of healthy relationships and well being, Erin's objective is to be the voice for those who have not yet discovered their own; for those who have a voice but have not yet unveiled its power; and to align with those whose powerful voices speak to the same cause.

Genna Evelyn
Master of Laws (Fundamental and Collective Rights ) Candidate 2016, Faculty of Law, Université Laval. LL.B. 2006 University of New Brunswick

Genna Evelyn is a lawyer who graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of New Brunswick with an LL.B. and is currently completing a Master of Laws degree at Université Laval. She has recently completed her first year of this program, during which she has completed coursework in areas such as providing services to those experiencing family violence, working with the unique needs of sexually diverse communities, providing legal services to immigrant populations and specialised refugee law studies. Her degree work has also allowed her to study children's law in-depth and participate in various legal internships and clinics aimed at supporting Québec's most vulnerable communities.

Prior to beginning her studies, Genna practiced family, criminal and civil law for over 8 years and has worked with diverse groups of people in a variety of dispute settings in Ontario, New Brunswick, and the Northwest Territories. Genna's legal career started in New Brunswick, where she worked almost exclusively with women and kids at the Family court, helping mothers to navigate custody battles and kids to get through the trauma of Divorce court. She found she had an aptitude for working with young offenders, many of whom were teenage girls. In addition to helping them to present their cases in court, she had the chance to work with them one-on-one to help them make realistic plans to get their lives back on track and focus on their goals. She hoped to be able to specialize in this area of practice in the future.

When Genna moved to Toronto, she joined a civil litigation firm but also began volunteering with a Youth Restorative Justice program where she was able to continue her work with youth who were facing challenges with the law. She knew that she wanted to develop a legal career that focused on the unique needs of this vulnerable population, specifically with regard to helping young girls navigate criminal and poverty law issues. Realising that she would need to make significant changes in her career in order to reach her goals, Genna eventually resigned from her position with the litigation firm in Toronto spent the next year working with survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking in Ghana and Congo. Upon her return to Canada she applied to the Master of Laws (LL.M.) program at Université Laval in Québec City in order to work on becoming bilingual while also studying fundamental rights and children's law in depth.

As part of her studies in Quebec, Genna volunteers with organizations in Montreal where she is able to continue to provide legal support and services to vulnerable groups including people living with HIV and also Montreal's immigrant and refugee community.

Genna's ultimate goal after she has completed her LL.M. is to be in a position to provide bilingual legal services and focused support to youth, especially young girls who are either offenders or who are otherwise in need of specialised legal counsel (i.e. involvement in child protection proceedings, immigration and refugee proceedings, etc.).

Ashley Major
University of Toronto, Juris Doctor, 2017. BA, Human Justice, University of Regina, 2013. She is studying law and its intersection with women's rights and interests. She will be working in New York this summer, with Human Rights Watch, Women's Rights Division.

Ashley Major is pursuing her Juris Doctorate at the University of Toronto. She is in her first year of studies. Ashley grew up on a farm outside of St.Brieux, Saskatchewan with her parents and three sisters. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Justice with Great Distinction from the University of Regina. She was awarded the President's Medal for being the graduate who best exemplifies a commitment to academic achievement and to community engagement.

Ashley is passionate about addressing injustices perpetuated against women. She was the recipient of the $10, 000 McDougall Gauley Research Scholarship in her second year of university. Ashley examined the barriers that women face when attempting to reintegrate back into society after serving time in jail. She also completed an internship at Independent Academic Research Studies, a social justice think-tank in London, UK. Ashley carried out research on the barriers experienced by police and prosecutors when investigating allegations of rape in London. She focused on the effect that rape myths had upon the investigative and prosecutorial processes.

Ashley worked as a domestic violence counselor at the Regina Transition House. In this role, she counseled women who had experienced domestic abuse, and helped attend to their particular needs. Ashley also volunteered as a sexual assault line counselor for the Regina Sexual Assault Centre. She then worked as the Primary Crime Prevention Coordinator for the John Howard Society of Saskatchewan. In this role, she taught students in Grades 4-8 about the consequences of criminal activity.

Ashley is very excited about the many opportunities that law school has created for her. Ashley served as a first-year representative on the Women and the Law Committee. She helped to organize several mentoring and networking events for female law students. Ashley also joined two working groups that conducted research on violence against women and the potential effects of the new prostitution laws. Ashley volunteered with Pro Bono Students Canada at a sex worker drop-in clinic. In this role, Ashley worked with a lawyer to provide legal information to the women there. She is also an active volunteer with Lawyers Feed the Hungry on Sunday mornings.

Ashley is spending this upcoming summer working with Human Rights Watch, Women's Right's Division, in New York. She will be researching how worldwide instances of sexual assault and rape are violations of international law. Ashley is currently assisting with expanding a current Pro Bono Students Canada low-income will-drafting project to the sex workers from her previous placement. She looks forward to learning more about the law and its intersection with women's rights and interests over the course of her degree.

Tharsini Sivananthajothy
MSc student, School of Public Health, University of Alberta, 2016; BSc (Honors), Department of Biological Sciences, University of Toronto, 2013. During her first year at the School of Public Health, Tharsini co-founded the U. Alberta Jericho Project (UJP) with her colleagues.

Tharsini Sivananthajothy is a second year MSc student at the University of Alberta, School of Public Health, specializing in Global Health. Her research focuses on investigating the maternal health of newcomer women. Specifically, she will explore reasons as to why newcomer women have higher rates of cesarean sections (C-sections) compared to Canadian born women while understanding the decision making process when providing such specialized obstetric care to both populations. Healthcare providers will be able to utilize Tharsini's findings to improve risk communication regarding C-sections both effectively and efficiently to Canadian born and newcomer women, thereby reducing the overall health and financial burdens due to high C-section rates.

In addition to her thesis, Tharsini has been involved with multiple projects as a Graduate Research Assistant. Recently she worked extensively on a successful $1 million dollar implementation grant titled "Improving the Standards Based Management-Recognition Initiative to provide high quality, equitable maternal health services in Malawi" through the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa program call for implementation teams funded by the Global Health Research Initiative, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFAITD) and International Development Research Centre (IDRC). In the summer of 2014, Tharsini was selected for the WCHRI Summer Science Shop Scholarship in Community Based Research where she conducted a community based descriptive study titled: "Beyond on the Crust: Understanding perceptions of community engagement held by stakeholders within the family care clinic planning process". Furthermore, in the Fall of 2014, Tharsini completed the challenging role of Graduate Teaching Assistant for the graduate biostatistics course at the School of Public Health.

Tharsini's passion for public health has provided opportunities to work with communities globally in Kenya and locally both in Toronto, and Edmonton. She became involved in Students for International Development (SID), a Toronto based not for profit, in 2012 through the role of Research Associate in Western Province, Kenya. During this term, Tharsini initiated a pilot deworming program (an initiative that focuses on a neglected disease that debilitates children early in their life), and evaluation. Since 2012, Tharsini has taken an active role in SID through multiple capacities, including Conference Coordinator, Alumni Mentor and Kenya Coordinator. She currently serves on the Board of Directors where she and her colleagues are developing innovative ideas to expand the reach of SID through new initiatives and partnerships.

In Edmonton, she currently serves as an Executive Member of the Steering Committee for the Student Health Initiatives for the Needs of Edmonton (SHINE) initiative where she assists with planning and programming. The vision of SHINE is to provide the highest possible level of health and wellbeing to the underserved youth in Edmonton's inner city. As a student led initiative, in collaboration with youth, community agencies and the University of Alberta, the program revolves around outreach, providing youth with information on navigating the health system, health promotion and prevention. Due to her experience working in public health, she had the unique opportunity to sit on Mayor's Task Force on Elimination of Poverty: Health and Wellness Working Group. Through this working group, Tharsini was able to contribute to the discussion on how the wider determinants of health, including poverty, homelessness and substance abuse impacts the health of Edmontonians, especially its inner city members.

At the School of Public Health, Tharsini has taken many leadership roles and currently serves as the President of the School of Public Health Students' Association. During her first year at the School of Public Health, Tharsini co-founded the U. Alberta Jericho Project (UJP) with her colleagues. This mental wellness initiative was selected as third place in the university wide Heroes for Health Challenge competition in 2013 and aims to create a mental health strategy for the School of Public Health, supporting a culture of mentorship and fostering dialogue between students, staff and faculty. Currently Tharsini and her colleagues are creating a series of recommendations based on student input to realize the project's goals. Upon completion of her Master's degree, Tharsini plans to pursue doctoral training in health policy research, with a focus on immigrant women's health.

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