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Philanthropic lawyer tagged as Calgary’s citizen of the year

Jane Wachowich created a series of safe places — Youth Centres of Calgary — where disadvantaged kids could congregate after school for free

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A corporate lawyer and businesswoman whose efforts have given vulnerable kids a safe refuge is the 2022 Calgary Awards’ citizen of the year.

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Jane Wachowich was one of 12 winners in the annual awards — covering categories from the arts to the environment — that were handed out at a ceremony Wednesday night.

Three decades ago, the Calgary woman did volunteer work helping needy kids in housing projects in Chicago.

She parlayed that experience into helping create a series of safe places — Youth Centres of Calgary — where disadvantaged kids could congregate after school for free in the hours when they’re most vulnerable to drug and alcohol use and other illicit behaviour.

After overseeing Cornerstone Youth Centre in Mayland Heights, using her own money, she purchased a home in Ogden in 2019 that became a sanctuary from poverty and neglect for youth.

There, kids aged 10 to 15 could play games, take music lessons, do homework, enjoy meals, learn to play music or just hang out with peers and caring adult volunteers.

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“It’s a place where kids come after school every day for guidance, for homework help, for a hot meal . . . and no matter what happens during the rest of their day, they know they have a safe place to come to learn, to play, to do art, to learn music, to make friends, to find companionship, to establish a healthy relationship with one healthy adult who really cares about them,” Wachowich told Postmedia in 2016.

In accepting the honour Wednesday, she said her and her colleagues’ efforts can be a blueprint for wider initiatives in helping at-risk youth.

“It is my privilege to do this work, it needs to be done and I’m only one small player,” said Wachowich.

Levi Nicol drives past Justin Harper during a game of basketball at Cornerstone Youth Centre in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016.
Levi Nicol drives past Justin Harper during a game of basketball at Cornerstone Youth Centre in Calgary, Alta., on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016. Lyle Aspinall/Postmedia Network

When the pandemic forced those activities to shut down, Wachowich transformed the Ogden facility into a hub where thousands of lunches for needy school kids were prepared and distributed.

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Wachowich was among seven citizen of the year nominees while dozens more were in the running in 11 other categories honouring outstanding community achievements and contributions.

“Our city is filled with amazing Calgarians pursuing their dreams and dedicating their lives to make our communities better places,” said Mayor Jyoti Gondek.

“We are proud to celebrate their accomplishments as we honour this year’s recipients.”

Other 2022 Calgary Award recipients:

  • Individual community advocate: Lanre Ajayi. He’s tirelessly promoted Calgary’s many attributes by using his own time and resources through various mediums.
  • Organization community advocate: Sagesse
  • Arts: Xstine P. Cook
  • Education: Dr. Turin Chowdhury
  • Grant MacEwan Lifetime Achievement: Dr. David Este, for his years of work in challenging racism, inequity and injustice.
  • Heritage: Madisen Hvidberg
  • Youth (sponsored by the University of Calgary): Alexander Greco
  • Award for accessibility, which recognizes buildings or facilities exceeding the minimum requirements of the national building code for persons with disabilities: Accessible Housing for Inclusio, which operates an accessible living facility overlooking Confederation Park in the city’s northwest. Its use of features like smart technology has been recognized as a standard for advancing independent living.
  • Environmental Achievement Award: Miistakis Institute, which conducted a three-year project collecting data on Calgary wetland frogs and salamanders that gauged the health of those ecosystems.
    • Honourable mention – Soap for Hope Canada
  • International Achievement Award, which recognizes a Calgarian whose professional or volunteer work has garnered international acclaim and recognition of Calgary: Barry Sanders
  • City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, for literary achievement for authoring an outstanding book of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama or children’s literature in the previous year: Jaspreet Singh for My Mother, My Translator, which chronicled his family’s turbulent history in India.

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