Portraits of Giving honours sports educator, frontline hero

·5 min read

Kristen Dajia learned the importance of volunteerism from an early age.

The long-time teacher with the York Catholic District School Board says giving of her time brings her joy, something she learned from her parents, and every time she sets out to do so, is part of a legacy – theirs and hers.

Her efforts, particularly those with furthering sports education through the Aurora Sports Hall of Fame, were recently recognized by Richmond Hill photographer Karen Merk in the 2021 Portraits of Giving Exhibition, one which is currently at the Aurora Armoury in a tour of York Region.

Ms. Dajia has been recognized alongside individuals from all nine York Region municipalities, and two fellow Aurorans: former York Regional Police Deputy Chief Andre Crawford and Jennifer Milford, a Personal Support Worker (PSW) for CHATS (Community & Home Assistance to Seniors).

She and Ms. Milford were in the spotlight last week at a special reception held at The Armoury where their achievements were celebrated by friends, coworkers and dignitaries.

“Kristen is a life-long teacher and mentor,” said Javed Kahn, President & Chair of the Aurora Sports Hall of Fame, reading Ms. Dajia’s citation. “She was an elementary educator for the York Catholic District School Board in four schools in the four corners of York Region for 30 years. She has coached just about every sport, organized a robotics club, and even started a knitting club in her school.

“To connect young people and their schools to the Hall of Fame, she created the Aurora Elementary School Hockey Tournament in 2018. Just prior to this in 2015, Kristen volunteered with the Para-Pan Am Games…and this led to her most rewarding volunteer experience yet: her crew was invited to volunteer for the Invictus Games in Toronto in 2017.”

In turn, Ms. Dajia said she was “touched and humbled” at being recognized by Ms. Merk and Portraits of Giving, which has honoured more than 100 individuals since its inception in 2010.

“I get a lot of pleasure from doing the work and that is the reward,” she said. “It is a win-win. The people I volunteer for really get joy from what I do and then I get joy in return. I am really just doing the same thing my parents did and I am doing it for my kids, too. It’s a legacy.”

This year’s Portraits of Giving selection, in light of the global pandemic, also puts particular emphasis on our frontline heroes. One such hero being recognized this year is Jennifer Milford, who has worked tirelessly throughout COVID-19 as a PSW.

She also has a very personal connection to Ms. Merk, having been a caregiver to the photographer’s mother, until her passing this past August.

“Jennifer has played a really important role in my family’s life,” said Ms. Merk. “She helped to take care of my mom last year. She was my eyes and ears while everything was locked down and I couldn’t go in to see her. My mom just passed away on August 2, but Jennifer was such a huge help to my family. I consider her a part of my family. Thank you so much for everything you did for my mom. She really loved you and there are many other people out there I know you’re helping. I hope you continue to have the strength and courage to keep helping the seniors in our community because we need to.”

Ms. Milford’s dedication to her work was also highlighted by CHATS President and CEO Christina Bisanz, who was on hand to read her citation.

“Jennifer has been a part of the CHATS team since 2016 and in this line of employment since she graduated college in the 1990s. Even in the midst of critical pandemic demands, Jennifer looks forward to heading out to work every day. Knowing the clients are happy to see her and look forward to her visits assures her she is making a meaningful difference in their lives.

“Jennifer considers it a gift to help others maintain their autonomy and confidence as long as possible. The mental and physical requirements of her jobs have equipped her for the ups and downs of daily life and she acknowledges she is stronger and more independent for it. We are just so proud of you, Jennifer.”

Also sharing in the pride was Mayor Tom Mrakas who was on hand to honour both Aurorans.

“On behalf of the Town of Aurora, thank you Jennifer and Kristen for your hard work in the community,” he said. “Jennifer, your dedication and compassionate work as a PSW with CHATS is inspiring. Throughout this pandemic, doctors, nurses, PSWs, technicians, administration and more in the healthcare field have made an important impact in helping communities across the world survive. I want to thank you for all the work you have done ensuring the most vulnerable, our seniors, are taken care of.

“Kristen, you have dedicated your life to teaching children in the York Catholic District School Board for over 30 years and also found the time to impact their lives by committing yourself to organizing several extra curricular activities. From coaching just about every sport possible to organizing the knitting club and robotics club. I would also like to recognize your passion and hard work in helping to make the Aurora Sport Hall of Fame a reality. There are no words to express our sincere thanks for both of your kindness, generosity and commitment to making our community a better place to live in. The work that you both have done and continue to do will serve as a testament to others in our community. Congratulations again on being recognized for your hard work.”

The 2021 Portraits of Giving Exhibition can be seen in The Armoury (89 Mosley Street) through this Friday, October 8. For more on the Exhibition, including future tour stops, visit merkphotography.com.

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

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