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Sarah Onyango, Marie Hackett and Paul Dillman as Hackett receives the United Way Community Builder Award. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

Community Builders: Marie Hackett strives to make the world better

By Skye Walker and United Way East Ontario on December 14, 2018

Skye Walker is one of Apt613’s correspondents at United Way Ottawa. With its Community Builder Award program, United Way Ottawa honours Ottawa’s outstanding volunteers: the organizations, partnerships, agencies, neighbourhood groups and individuals who work tirelessly to make our city a better place for everyone.


Everything you need to know about Ottawa’s Marie Hackett can be summed up in one sentence: when she volunteered for a two-year nursing assignment in Kingston, Jamaica, she ended up staying to help for 13 years.

Marie received the United Way Community Builder Award on the evening of October 28th, at the annual Jamaica Night celebration and fundraiser at Riverside United Church, an event that wouldn’t be possible without her stalwart leadership. As she was called up by presenter Sarah Onyango the assembled crowd gave applause and cheers, she was taken aback.

“When she sat back down she told me she was in shock. She had no idea this was coming.”

“Marie was surprised,” said Paul Dillman, Reverend of Riverside United and one of Marie’s nominators for the award, “When she sat back down she told me she was in shock. She had no idea this was coming.”

Marie Hackett is the kind of spectacular person who is both undaunted by big problems, and is willing to change her life to find big solutions. Time and time again, Marie has either been part of programs that make a positive impact, or taken the initiative to start them herself.

She became a registered nurse in 1957, and in 1991 she signed up for a two-year assignment to volunteer her expertise outside of Canada.

Though she started out her post-secondary education with an arts degree, Marie Hackett’s career went in a different direction. She became a registered nurse in 1957, and in 1991 she signed up for a two-year assignment to volunteer her expertise outside of Canada. She was excited to serve at a hospice in Kingston, Jamaica.

Sarah Onyango and Marie Hackett. Photo courtesy of United Way Ottawa.

A two-year assignment turned into a 13-year mission. Marie decided to stay on and help start a visiting nursing service for seniors in the area. Hackett worked with the local Reverend Terrance Rose, Minister of the Providence Methodist Church in Jamaica, to start building the Home Visitation and Nursing Programme. In all her endeavours, Marie focused on improving the quality of life of those around her while forming life-long friendships, partnerships, and programs that would outlast her time in Jamaica.

In 2003 Marie returned to Ottawa, where she didn’t waste any time in identifying how she could meaningfully and positively affect Ottawa as well as the community she left in Jamaica. She built a partnership between the Providence Methodist Church in Jamaica and the Riverside United Church here in Ottawa. This partnership brings her back to Jamaica annually with funds for the nursing programs as well as medical supplies that enable local organizations, such as the nursing program and the primary school, to keep serving the community.

In 2003 Marie returned to Ottawa, where she didn’t waste any time in identifying how she could meaningfully and positively affect Ottawa as well as the community she left in Jamaica.

Here in Ottawa, Marie is a founding member of the Riverside Grannies, a group that raises money for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, a fund supporting African grandmothers and millions of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Marie also coordinates the Outreach and Social Action Network, a group based out of the Riverside United Church, in its goal of building a world of justice, peace, and compassion by working together. She also volunteers with the Pastoral Care team, a group of people who make house visits to those community members who cannot make the trip to the Riverside United Church.

Finally, Marie is a driving force behind Riverside United’s annual Jamaica Night, an evening for celebrating Jamaican culture, food, and music that also raises funds for the initiatives Marie’s community supports in Jamaica.

Marie is a truly extraordinary person. She has not forgotten the meaning and impact of community, whether that community is down the street or many miles away.


Through research, evaluation and partnerships with community experts, United Way Ottawa identifies the root causes of the biggest social challenges facing our community, and helps find solutions that change tens of thousands of lives for the better. One hundred percent of donations stay in Ottawa to help those most in need.