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Greater Victoria doctor, dentist, realtor and students among B.C. 'good citizens'

A provincial health officer who preached kindness in the face of adversity, a dentist who embraced protective equipment to provide emergency procedures, siblings who created a program to bring Canadians closer at a time of distancing, and a Saanich realtor who took it upon himself to update the Chinese community on COVID-19 are among 31 provincial Medal of Good Citizenship recipients to be awarded Thursday.

All the recipients are being recognized for their contributions to their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Premier John Horgan calls them all extraordinary individuals: “Each one of them has been singled out by their peers for their tremendous generosity, kindness and selfless acts of service during one of the most challenging times in our province and around the world.”

“Be kind, be calm and be safe” was provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s mantra as she guided British Columbians through multiple waves of COVID-19 beginning in March 2020.

“She has performed her duties tirelessly throughout this pandemic and has brought the community together in the fight against the COVID-19 virus standing firm at her post, encouraging patience, and educating the public in a clear and calm manner,” says a statement from the B.C. Honours and Awards Secretariat. “Her kindness, optimism and professionalism have been far reaching.”

Early in the pandemic, Oak Bay’s Dr. Rachel Staples of Urban Smiles dental clinic in Colwood acquired protective equipment for herself, staff and patients, and helped with more than 250 dental emergencies.

“She performed hundreds of emergency fillings, extractions, and root canals, fielding emergency phone calls in her off-hours, sometimes even returning to the office late at night after a full day of treatment,” said the awards statement, which called her willingness to “unhesitatingly work to alleviate the suffering of dental emergencies” the embodiment of good citizenship.

“In the early days of this pandemic, when so much was still unknown and terrifying, she did not hesitate once when someone asked for help.”

Victoria siblings Aysha Emmerson and Jasper Johnston are being recognized for two initiatives: their Co-VID Student Support Network, which digitally connected university student volunteers with K-12 students to help ease the burden on parents and educators amid social-distancing requirements, and Dear Canadians, a national digital platform designed to connect Canadians during COVID.

Since it started on Vancouver Island, between March 2020 and January 2021, the support-network project assisted about 75 families in more than 25 schools and raised thousands of dollars through voluntary contributions for COVID-19 relief.

The siblings also served as peer supporters themselves, “directly supporting the socio-emotional and educational needs of K-12 students.”

For Dear Canadians, the siblings teamed up with five of their university classmates and launched a website in English and in French on July 1, 2020.

The platform invites Canadians to share online postcards with images and messages of hope, hardship, gratitude or lessons learned. Thousands have visited it and hundreds shared cards, with many expressing appreciation for the platform.

Historica Canada, a national organization raising awareness of Canadian history, will include the cards in the national “Canada During COVID-19” archives.

When the pandemic began, Saanich realtor Song Hu, another Island medal recipient, immediately identified a need for comprehensive and ongoing updates on COVID-19 in Chinese, and began posting the latest statistics and news about COVID-19 on his personal website. He also more widely shared these updates with the Chinese community through the WeChat social media platform.

His computer skills enabled him to compile the data into tables that clearly showed the number of new cases in different regions in B.C., with a separate table dedicated to Vancouver Island.

His expertise in biochemistry also helped him to answer people’s questions about vaccines, treatments, symptoms and variants of COVID-19 virus and he was also able to pass on news about travel rules, and how to get a vaccine passport, for example.

“Song has quietly and dependably updated COVID-19 information, reaching thousands of people who have greatly benefited the Chinese community,” says the statement on the awards.

Another Island recipient is Gayle Ireland, president at the Goldstream Food Bank, which provided an estimated 6,000-plus food hampers during the pandemic period. “Under Gayle’s leadership, the need to continue and provide food to those suffering financial hardship was immediately identified,” says the awards statement. “Campaigning for community and municipal support was increased to guarantee they could sustain its charitable service during the pandemic.

“Her success was exhibited in never having to shut the food bank’s doors or turn anyone away.”

An online presentation will take place Thursday.

More medal recipient biographies can be found here.