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United Way East Ontario honours Community Builders Jennifer Sondergaard, Phyllis Bergmans, and Maz Karimjee

By United Way East Ontario on March 29, 2022


On March 24, in collaboration with Apt613, we recognized six more incredible community builders. We featured the first three yesterday; the final three are featured below.

2001 Community Builder Award Recipient Suzanne Pinel hosted the presentation and helped us surprise these unsuspecting recipients—people who have worked tirelessly to make our communities safer, healthier, and more resilient when circumstances are strained for every one of us. From making wellness phone call checks on seniors to helping newcomer families access the support services they need, community builders are constantly showing selflessness and care during these unique times.

These recipients are community leaders and fearless advocates who have stepped up and demonstrated a local love that has not gone unnoticed.

Award recipients were chosen for their exceptional contributions to vulnerable communities. They have demonstrated a strong ability to mobilize their communities, going above and beyond their regular volunteerism. They also represent the kind of quiet determination and heroism that inspires others to act—leading by example.

We thank everyone who takes the time to nominate everyday heroes, and we thank you, community builders, for your exceptional contributions.

Jennifer Sondergaard

Jennifer Sondergaard. Photo provided.

Jennifer Sondergaard has been an active volunteer in the National Capital Region since she moved to the area in 1999. With more than 100 hours of yearly community service and an interest in mentorship, Jennifer has lent her time to many local nonprofits, including United Way, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre’s Women for Mental Health initiative, Orléans Parade of Lights, RIDE for the Ottawa Hospital, and the ShoeBox Project.

Jennifer’s passion for empowering women and volunteering within the community has led to her taking on many leadership roles. Her community involvement began with United Way 20 years ago and has evolved tremendously. Jennifer is currently serving as a board member for the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS), the Ottawa Community Loan Fund Organization, and the Ingenium Foundation. Through these organizations, Jennifer created an impact through fundraising events, including raising more than $250,000 for the Ingenium Foundation.

The Ingenium Foundation facilitates opportunities for people to experience and learn from the Agriculture and Food, Science and Technology, and Aviation and Space museums—regardless of their background, education, location, physical, cognitive, or financial abilities.

Jennifer is a powerful mentor who constantly seeks to support women and advocates for equal opportunities for underprivileged populations. One of her biggest achievements is her initiation of the National Capital Region Aspiring Business Leadership Scholarship, which she created to relieve financial difficulties for young students.

In addition, her tireless efforts towards women’s empowerment resulted in the creation of the Path to the Boardroom event, a free event that facilitates discussion of women’s paths to professionalism and inspires self-growth among local women.

Jennifer’s selflessness is highlighted through her dedication to advancing educational and professional development for children and women.

Phyllis Bergmans

Phyllis Bergmans. Photo provided.

Phyllis Bergmans is known for thinking big and being a dedicated, high-energy leader who can motivate any volunteer who works with her.

Phyllis has more than ten years of volunteer experience empowering and supporting girls within our communities. She is the president of the City of Ottawa Ringette Association (also known as CORA), a volunteer-run not-for-profit. CORA promotes inclusivity and offers ringette programs for girls ages 4-19 and currently has more than 370 active participants.

Phyllis is passionate about advocating for youth participation in sports and for them to benefit from an active lifestyle. She’s particularly invested in girls getting the opportunity to participate since female teams are underrepresented. Her excitement and focus on getting youth into sports and keeping them there is described as “infectious” by her fellow volunteers.

During her time at CORA, the group launched multiple programs to benefit all youth within our communities, including Ringette For All, an all-ability league for boys and girls aged 7-16 to play ringette together. CORA has also launched Breaking Down Barriers, which helps children, primarily girls, from families who can’t afford to participate in ringette or are newcomers to Canada with no background in any ice sport. Breaking Down Barriers is the first program of its kind in Canada.

Phyllis sees the barriers for children and their families and does her best to reduce or remove them. Whether it’s advocating for ringette to have more ice time, sorting used gear, driving around and dropping off donated gear, or offering to store bags of equipment for families who don’t have the space to store it themselves, she continues supporting her community—all while managing and leading a team of dedicated volunteers.

Phyllis’s dedication to the well-being of local youth knows no limit; even the unexpected challenge of the pandemic couldn’t stop her from doing what she loves.

Maz Karimjee

Maz Karimjee. Photo provided.

Maz Karimjee is described as very humble and passionate. He’s a dedicated volunteer with more than five years of experience and is constantly looking into ways he can help his community.

Maz has collaborated with multiple organizations and has been at the forefront of creating various programs that have significantly impacted families, youth experiencing homelessness, and vulnerable people in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.

During his volunteering with Equal Chance, Maz co-founded a mental health program and recruited more than 60 volunteers to join the organization. This brought their team from 40 people to 102 thanks to his dedication and passion.

All the work Maz does centers around marginalized communities. He worked with Equal Chance to launch a bicycle and discussion program called Legacy Builders Bike Club for vulnerable youth living in temporary housing. He reached out to residents in Ottawa-Gatineau and single-handedly picked up 100 bicycles for the program so that he could grant the wishes of kids who wanted a bike.

The Legacy Builders Bike Club currently helps 50 children have access to a bike during their time in temporary housing, and Maz bikes with the kids every weekend while chatting with them to discuss their well-being. Thanks to him, children living in difficult situations can now enjoy riding bikes with their friends.

During the pandemic, Maz took it upon himself to help kids in low-income situations struggling with virtual school. While visiting a housing complex, he heard about a young boy being asked to move to another room because his background noise was too loud for online learning. The eight-year-old didn’t have the option to move since he shared a one-bedroom apartment with his five family members.

This motivated Maz to collect headphones for families in these neighbourhoods experiencing similar situations. He got 100 sets of headphones—some of which he bought himself—but then turned to the community, who helped double this amount. With the combined efforts of people across Canada, Maz collected and distributed 1,067 sets of headphones to families and schools in Ottawa.

If all of this doesn’t show why Maz deserves a Community Builder Award, he also delivered more than 300 meals to vulnerable families in Ottawa experiencing food insecurity, taking time during his drop-offs to speak with each family and see how they were doing.

Maz’s unconditional love for others and willingness to create a world based on equity show in everything he does. He knows how to bring people together and feel appreciated, something that’s needed now more than ever.

Do you know a volunteer who has gone above and beyond to support their community? Our Community Builder Awards program accepts nominations year-round! Nominate a Community Builder today.