EMSB recognizes Volunteers of Distinction and presents Lifetime Achievement Award

Montreal,  April 30,  2024 -   On the occasion of National Volunteer Week,  which was marked April 21 to 27 at schools and centres, the English Montreal School Board held a special  reception and ceremony to honour three Volunteers of Distinction, as well as the presentation of the first  Lifetime Achievement  Award.

Held at the St. Pius X Career Centre in Ahuntsic on April 30, the honourees, their families, EMSB commissioners and management and Parents Committee executive members were treated to a delicious buffet dinner catered by the culinary students  followed by an awards ceremony, which was live streamed and can be seen at Aalia Adam, news anchor  for  Global Montreal, served as the emcee.

The Volunteers of Distinction were   Samantha Patel from Merton Elementary School in Côte Saint-Luc and Vanessa Chimienti and Mariasabrina Mangione from John Caboto Academy in Ahuntsic. EMSB Chair Joe Ortona was delighted to present the first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to Bernard Praw. Mr. Praw volunteered as a parent of three EMSB students and then went on to serve as a commissioner for 29 years. During this time he helped establish the English Montreal Student Advisory Committee (EMSAC).

“Volunteers are the unsung heroes of our communities, embodying the spirit of selflessness and compassion,” said Mr. Ortona. “Their dedication and commitment make a world of difference in the lives of those they serve.  Their efforts ripple through society, touching hearts and inspiring others to join in creating positive change. They give their time, skills, and energy freely, asking for nothing in return except the satisfaction of knowing they've made a difference. Volunteers are the backbone of the EMSB, driving progress and fostering a sense of belonging and community.”

Added EMSB Director General Nick Katalifos, himself a former principal and teacher: “   brings to our organization every single day. “I am continually inspired by the incredible commitment and passion each of our volunteers brings to our cause. Your selflessness and tireless efforts truly make a difference, not only in the lives of those we serve but in the very fabric of our community. On behalf of the entire team, I want to express our deepest gratitude for everything you do.” 

Bernard Praw

Mr. Praw was a school teacher by profession. He started  his career at  Chambly County High School in St. Lambert as a math and Moral and Religious Education teacher and then became guidance counsellor. At the same time, he was a vice-president of the local teachers union. He was the head of the math department for years until assuming the role of principal in 2000 and stayed in that position until his retirement in 2005. At the former Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal (PSBGM) and then the EMSB Mr. Praw was on the governing boards of Gardenview Elementary and Sir Winston Churchill High (now LaurenHill). He chaired the Central Parents Committee and became a parent commissioner. In 1998 he was elected to the Council of Commissioners when the EMSB was established, representing St. Laurent. After stepping down in 2014, he ran in a by-election for Côte Saint-Luc-Hampstead a year later after the passing of Syd Wise. 

Over the last few years Mr. Praw has continued to stay involved in education,  doing consulting work for the Ministry of Education as well as working as a student teacher supervisor at McGill University. He and his wife of 56 years Annie, who spent more than three decades as a daycare worker at Gardenview,  like to travel. They have visited 54 countries thus far. Their three sons, now married and parents of their own, each went to Gardenview, Sir Winston Churchill and LaurenHill.  Jason is head of  Canadian research for Mintel; Mitchell is brand director for the Canadian Cancer Society; and Robbie  is vice-president of stand-up comedy for Netflix. The Praws have seven grandchildren and one more on the way.

“When Joe Ortona called me and told me that I will be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, I was absolutely shocked,” Mr. Praw says.  I know that I had done some good work for the PSBGM/ EMSB, but this award went beyond any expectations. I always believed in the public school system.  We take care of every student's needs, from the highly gifted to every child that has special needs.   I am very proud to have contributed to it.”

Said Mr. Ortona: “I had the pleasure to serve on the Council of Commissioners with Mr. Praw. His commitment to the EMSB and all of our stakeholders is

Samantha Patel

 Ms. Patel's journey as a dedicated volunteer traces back to her upbringing in a foster home, where she found inspiration in her foster mom, who instilled in her the value of helping others. She firmly believes in the profound impact that one person can have on the world and derives immense joy from assisting every child who seeks help at the Home and School Association.

As a proud single-mother of four daughters, aged 10, 13, 16 and 22, Ms. Patel sets an example for all the students at Merton. Her volunteerism began at a young age, doing so in churches, camps and community initiatives starting at 14. She actively participated in youth classes, soup kitchens, and community library activities, driven by a sense of giving back. Professionally, Ms. Patel gained valuable skills in event planning and program creation working with various charities within the US and Canada, corporate training and within educational institutions.

Her journey into volunteering at Merton began when her eldest daughter, Kevisha, enrolled in the school. During her maternity leave following the birth of her other daughters  she intensified her volunteer efforts from attending meetings to participating and assisting in robotics competitions, classroom help, pizza lunches, end-of-year barbecues, gardening and landscaping and many more school events. If you asked for her help, Samantha always said yes, no matter how big or small. By 2010, she assumed the role of Chair of Fundraising and swiftly ascended to the executive of the Home and School Association. Since 2016, she has proudly served as its president, spearheading initiatives to enhance the school community. 

In recent years, Ms. Patel has expanded her volunteerism beyond Merton, engaging in community outreach endeavors. She actively collaborates with various city programs to support lower and middle-class families, while also serving as the Vice President and Education Chair Member of the Quebec Federation of Home and School Associations (QFHSA), demonstrating her unwavering commitment to community welfare.

“When she was vice-president of  Home and School Samantha was responsible for programming after school and fundraising,” said Principal Rosana Caplan. “She literally controlled and ran all the fundraisers. Our after school daycare  enrichment programs were in deficit and she successfully worked to turn that around. As president now she literally lives at Merton, where she personally oversees our very busy daycare and after school programs, and helps plan all our fundraising activities. That includes  a very large comedy night event, book fairs, and various sales.  Samantha goes above and beyond in every aspect of her work and we work together as two hands of the same body. She supports and organizes our open house, trains and organizes parents for pizza lunches, calls and participates in all sub-committee meetings, and tirelessly continues to run successful fundraisers for the benefit of our students. Her leadership has enabled us, among other things, to renovate our Science room, purchase white boards for every classroom, replace all the chairs we use in our gym for school events, buy software licences to support learning, and make many other invaluable improvements. Samantha knows everyone in our community by name and gives her all to ensure our teachers and families feel the support that Home and School can provide. The wonderful spirit events she spearheads are also precious contributions to our school’s community: the school barbeque, teacher appreciation week, and much more.”

Vanessa Chimienti and  Mariasabrina Mangione

Vanessa Chimienti and  Mariasabrina Mangione have volunteered at John Caboto Academy for 12 years. During this time they have been an integral part of the school community. Throughout the years they have selflessly organized fun day events, corn roasts, reading weeks, graduations, teacher appreciation weeks, Terry Fox runs, Science and community fairs, various fundraisers and much more.

Ms. Chimienti is the chair of the Governing Board and Ms. Mangione chairs the Parent Participation Organization (PPO).

Their involvement goes beyond the activities organized in school. They have also been strong advocates for the special needs/closed classes and donated to the underprivileged families within the community. They seek grants from the local borough to help  students in the ASD classes with extra services, sports equipment, classroom furniture and manipulatives. 

Other examples of their dedication to the school is the continuous support they give to the   teaching staff. Together they organize special lunches, snacks and special events to remind them that they are appreciated and valued. 

“I am so honored to serve John Caboto Academy alongside Vanessa and Mariasabrina,” said Principal Sonia Marotta. “They are a great example of dedication and passion for their school and community.”

Ms. Chimienti’s  eldest child Samantha has graduated from the school while son Dylan is presently in Grade 3. She started to volunteer when her daughter was in Kindergarten in 2014. “I helped out at many of the events organized by the school and loved being involved,” she said, noting that her role model as a volunteer was her mom. “I knew that I would try to volunteer as much as possible as soon as my daughter started school. I also wanted to eventually be part of  Governing Board.”  

Ms Chimienti and Ms. Mangione  work closely together.  Their biggest project was the school’s  our first holiday fair, which was held in December 2023.  “For over 14 years, even before the two of us had children at JCA,  we held an annual event at the school in December called Community Day,” she said  “Mariasabrina and I felt that after so many years  we needed to revamp our event. We came up with the idea of the holiday fair and had the overwhelming support of our principal  as well as the support of our Governing Board. We worked very hard over the course of three plus months to organize the event. We ended up having over 20 vendors come into our gymnasium to sell their products as well as a visit from santa, dance classes for JCA students and a photo booth. It was an amazing event with a great turn out and most importantly, we raised money for PPO so that we can in turn use that money to plan activities for our students.”

Ms. Chimienti works part-time as an administrative assistant for a large Canadian maintenance company.  “Working part-time allows me to be able to volunteer quite a bit at the school and I am grateful for that,” she said. “I love John Caboto Academy. “We are a small school with lots of heart. The students are all welcoming and ready to help. The older students always look out for the younger ones.”

Ms. Mangione’s daughter was a  student at the school and her son Gianmarco is presently in Grade 5. She first became involved at the school   when her daughter Daniela started in Kindergarten.  “I wanted to be an active participant in my child’ school,”  she said. “When I attended John Caboto  myself as a child my mom actively volunteered and I was shown the importance of that.” 

By day Ms. Mangione is a social worker at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) Cancer  Center in Radiation Oncology.

What does she like best about John Caboto Academy? “It is the close knit community between parents, staff  and students,” she responded. “I enjoy organizing activities for the students and giving back to a school that gave me so much when I was a student.”

Program Sponsor

Beneva (www.beneva.ca) continues to serve as  the title sponsor for the EMSB’s recognition efforts for volunteers. The company offers a wide range of products and services that are designed to simplify financial choices for members working in the public and para-public sectors in over 900 public and para-public institutions across the province.  These services include: personal financial advice, savings, investments and funds; individual life and health insurance; mortgages and personal loans; insurance for automobiles, recreational vehicles, home, travel and legal access; commercial insurance; and group insurance.   

About the English Montreal School Board

With a youth and adult sector population of more than 35,000 students, the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) is the largest English public school board in Quebec. Established on July 1, 1998, when the province created new boards along linguistic lines, the EMSB network consists of 73 schools and centres. For more details, visit the EMSB website at www.emsb.qc.ca.



Michael J. Cohen 

Manager, Marketing and Communications

English Montreal School Board

514-483-7200, ext. 7243

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