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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

Niagara: The Land of Opportunity

Author: Rachel Crane

Since relocating here 11 years ago, I’ve experienced nothing but opportunity. And, opportunities that led to other opportunities to engage more deeply in this community. Volunteering as a fresh Brock grad turned into board leadership for an international arts organization called the Turn Around Project of the Arts. Hosting students in Brock’s ESL Homestay program led to becoming a homeowner in Thorold at age 26. The network I built during a short-term contract at Leadership Niagara led to the appointment into my current role as project manager and professor at Niagara College. It all can be traced back to the opportunities that existed for my keen, young twenty-something self to get involved in the tight-knit community of Niagara.

As NEXTNiagara’s Chair for 2017, and Council member for three years prior to, I’ve had many opportunities to meet and collaborate with amazing organizations and individuals who share a great passion for engaging Niagara’s emerging generation in community leadership.

I’m honoured to orbit around some very inspiring, highly community-minded next gen’ers. Here are their stories –
…rather, here are the brief abstracts which preface the long list of amazing contributions they’re making in our community, specifically with a focus on governance:

Vita Gauley, Board Chair, Design for a New Tomorrow; Board Member, Niagara Health Foundation (currently rebranding from OneFoundation); Board Member, YMCA of Niagara. Vita found her way to these opportunities through a combination of committee volunteering, such as on the YMCA’s Governance Committee, and encouragement from more senior colleagues who have pointed her in the right direction.

She is a recently appointed Partner at Lancaster Brooks & Welch LLP and has found her Board experiences to benefit directly in her workplace. Vita has expanded the firm’s network and refined valuable professional skills. Most importantly, Vita has built relationships with many community leaders that she may not have otherwise met and is now surrounded by a dream team of mentors and friends.

Rob Welch, Vita Gauley, Phil Kirwin, Dan Patterson, Mary Maleon at 2016 Spirit of Christmas dinner


Chris Yendt, Board Member and Past Treasurer, Canadian Mental Health Association-Niagara Branch; Board Member and Vice-Chair, Rainbows End Community Development Corporation; Board Member, North Hamilton Community Health Centre; Board Member and Secretary, Young Professionals Network of Ontario (YPNO).

Chris credits volunteer roles, like Council member at NEXTNiagara, in leading him to the highest level of leadership in provincial organizations, like YPNO. As a graduate student at Brock, he has determined that leading in these ways is not only an excellent way to apply what he theorizes about in the classroom, but also make the necessary connections and experience to secure future employment.

Chris Yendt, Rachel Crane, William Parent at NEXTNiagara Social 

Dawn Lagesten, Board Chair and past Treasurer, Learning Disabilities Association of Niagara Region. As a CPA and CA at KPMG, Dawn does not pretend to be the quintessential “fun accountant” but the culture at her workplace has inspired her genuine passion for community and to become a more active, connected citizen. As a result, her social circle has grown and is a role model for accountants making positive contributions in communities everywhere! (“Dawn” is synonymous with “fun” in my book!)

Dawn has reaped so many personal and professional benefits from her community involvement, including the Top 40 Under Forty award, a nomination for Young Professional Award with the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, and National Community Leader Award with KPMG.

 Dawn Lagesten and Sarah Farrell, LDANR booth at Priceless Art Auction

Julie Rorison, Board Member, YWCA Niagara Region (YWCA). Julie originally got involved while in university at the King St. shelter and years later led a now popular Niagara event, Niagara’s Women in Leadership Summit, from ideation to realization, earning an invitation to sit at the YWCA Board table.

Julie delights in the many positive overlaps with her work with the YWCA and in her day job as Executive Assistant to the Mayor of St. Catharines. She is constantly learning about new programs and resources available for City residents and has been asked to get involved with related initiatives, like Community Representative on Brock University’s human rights task force. She was also recently selected to attend a global UN Conference on behalf of YWCA Canada which she said was “the professional development experience of a lifetime”.

By the way, all YWCA member associations in Canada follow a governance policy to include 25% or greater representation of young women under age 30 on their boards. This is a critical tool to create distinct opportunities for young women like Julie.

Mario De Divitiis and Julie Rorison at Priceless Art Auction

These stories make my world go ‘round. A network of connections and friendships, open to opportunity, and reminding each other that we are all in the pursuit together. Thank you, Niagarans (emerging generation and non), who have connected me to my life’s greatest opportunities in both personal and professional hemispheres.

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