By David Sklar
(AJNews) – Ceremonies honouring deserving Albertans with Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medals have been taking place across the province and several members of the Alberta Jewish Community have been honoured.
On January 5, inside the prestigious sandstone McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary, the third floor was full of families, friends and well-wishers; there to honour 31 exceptional Albertans who gave their time and talents to serve their communities. The commemorative medal was created by the Government of Alberta to mark the 70th anniversary of her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the Throne as Queen of Canada.
Nicholas Milliken, MLA for Calgary-Currie, on hand to present the medals, stated that “today’s medal recipients lead rather than wait to be led, they tackle challenges head on. They see problems as opportunities instead of as obstacles.” During the Platinum Jubilee year, 7000 deserving Albertans will be recognized throughout the province.
Joshua Sadovnick was among those who were honoured this year. As Sadovnick approached the front to receive his medal and pose for photos, Rebecca Schulz, MLA for Calgary-Shaw spoke of his volunteer work with The SHARP Foundation. “(Sadovnick) has provided outstanding leadership and support to Calgary’s most vulnerable populations, he is a vision of absolute dignity, compassion and respect, a true humanitarian and deserving community leader.” But that just scratched the surface of the work he does.
The Sharp Foundation is over 30 years old and was started by Walter Beswick back at the height of the AIDS pandemic when people diagnosed with HIV generally ended up with a death sentence. The Beswick House, as it was soon to be called, was established as a place where people could live and die with dignity.
“Our mandate has expanded and provides permanent housing, social and medical supports for people who have a trifecta of issues,” Sadovnick tells me. “Our program allows people to have fulfilling lives and live with a sense of dignity. We currently have approximately 50 to 60 people who we are currently housing. And another 30 or so on the waiting list.”
What was it about this issue that made him want to get involved in the first place?
“Honestly, it started off as a guilt trip. I had just joined a large law firm. A friend of mine came to me and said: Well now that you’re the sell-out corporate lawyer, it’s time for you to give back to the community.”
“But,” Sadovnick stresses, “my parents instilled in me and my siblings very early on the importance of giving back. At age five I basically sat for hours stuffing envelopes for the MS Society and then one organization after the other. So I went in with an open mind, something I didn’t know much about, didn’t have any real experience, and I figured, let’s check it out. I got really invested.”
The opportunity of giving people the intrinsic value of seeing themselves as worthwhile led him to continue this work. “You’re doing more than just giving a hand-out or doing a one-time fundraiser event. You’re giving them something that they can carry. And we’ve had people who have graduated and been able to reconnect with family. But unfortunately, there’s still a lot of stigmas. We don’t advertise where we are.”
This type of stigma usually referred to as nimbyism, is when residents are upset that such an organization might be located in their neighbourhood. Fears of vandalism, break-ins or illegal activities are often brought up as reasons to reject applications.
“A lot of it is based on preconception,” Sadovnick states. “I would say when we’ve opened up new locations, the first six months of the year are rough. There is a lot of backlash. People come and say, you guys are making a mess; you’re not making it safe for the children. But after a while, you start to see a big shift because people have actually gotten to know some of the residents that we work with and have seen that they are members of the community.”
But what about the well-known issue of drug houses?
“It’s funny because in one of the communities we were seeing (this). Everyone assumed that it was our residents who were going (to these homes). What turned out was it was usually our residents who were reporting these drug houses when they became aware of them because they don’t want that in their neighbourhood. This is their home. And for many of them, it’s the first home they’ve ever had.”
Did Judaism have any part in establishing this sense of belonging and community outreach?
“I would say I’d always recognized myself more as a cultural Jew for a variety of reasons such as my terrible Hebrew,” he jokes. “But Judaism has always played a very big part in my life. I went to Talmud Torah in Vancouver. My parents were founders of a synagogue in Richmond, B.C. And I grew up going to Camp Hatikvah where my kids now go and where I’m on the board. That played a huge role in my development. One of the things instilled in us is that if you are in a position to give back, you do it. It’s about learning who you are and how to make that place better.”
Sadovnick’s father flew into Calgary from Vancouver to be there to support his son. “I’m proud of what he’s accomplished. He does a lot. He works very hard. He takes care of his family and his work. He’s a man who gives back a lot to the community.”
David Sklar is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.