HEROES OF 2016: Spirit of Christmas embodied in Surrey’s hidden heroes

Please join us as we pay thanks to those who kept the spirit of giving alive in Surrey this year.

  • Dec. 22, 2016 11:00 a.m.
HEROES OF 2016: Spirit of Christmas embodied in Surrey’s hidden heroes

This time of year, we give to our friends, to our family and to those in need.

Some of us are particularly selfless in our giving – and not just at Christmastime.

We wanted to honour those in our community who taught us the true meaning of giving in 2016.

As we have reported throughout the year, there are many hidden heroes in this city – from a young girl collecting shoes for children in third-world countries, to an 18-year Salvation Army volunteer who helps others in the wake of tragedies, to a grandmother who takes to Whalley streets to give free haircuts to the homeless.

Please join us as we pay thanks to those who keep the spirit of giving alive – all year long.

Merry Christmas from all of us at the Now!



Rebecca Stewart

Eight-year-old Rebecca Stewart of North Delta (pictured above) is a young hero who has real sole.

We first introduced our readers to Rebecca in May, after she collected 256 pairs of shoes, with help from friends, family and the congregation of Crossroads United Church, for Mama Orphans Children’s Home in Kenya, Africa.

“I heard that they can’t go to school without shoes,” she explained. “That would probably be hard because you might step on a lot of sharp things.”

Most of the shoes were donated by friends and church members. Rebecca’s campaign ended with her sitting on top of a small mountain of shoes piled up inside the church.

“Mom (Heather) and dad are very proud, and so is her big sister Mary,” said her dad, Scott Stewart.

See more: North Delta girl collects shoes for orphans in Africa

Tom Zytaruk





Sean Bindra

Delta’s Sean Bindra was almost impossible to miss on his 29th birthday.

Bindra spent June 8th dressed as Superman, visiting various spots through Surrey, spreading smiles, good will and even some cash.

“I thought it would be something new and exciting for the community, something you don’t see every day,” he said. “And I thought it would be a nice way to spark change.”

Bindra called his day-long initiative “We can all be Super Heroes.” He started his day of giving at the Scott Road SkyTrain station, where he gave morning commuters a cheerful start to their day.

From there, Bindra stopped by at Richardson Elementary in Delta, where he visited more than 300 children in 11 different classes, delivering about $500 in gifts and presents.

He then stopped at Kennedy Seniors Recreation Centre in Delta, and the Canadian Mental Health Association (where he donated $500). At both places, Bindra says there were just about as many hugs as there were photos.

But Bindra said the highlight of the day was his visit to B.C. Children’s Hospital, where he donated another $500.

“The kids at the hospital, they’re the true heroes.”

See more: Superman spends birthday brightening day for others

Beau Simpson



Rachel Fitz

A Surrey teenager has been changing lives for the better in the African country of Rwanda thanks to her bright idea and big heart.

Rachel Fitz, 14, of Birdland lived in the East African country’s capital city of Kigali for three years with her Christian missionary parents, who were working with a Langley-based charity called Wellspring Foundation for Education.

She’d watch the local children walk by their house every day on their way to school.

“The kids were barefoot, they didn’t have much, they lived in like slums with tin roofs and stuff,” the Grade 8 student recalled.

When her family returned to Surrey, Rachel volunteered to help at Wellspring’s Lake2Lake bike race in support of Rwandan schools and thought if grown-ups can do this, why not children? So in June 2014 she started Rachel’s Ride for Rwanda, organizing a bike ride fundraiser for children in which eight riders cycled the Fort-to-Fort route in Langley and raised $5,600 in pledge donations to help train teachers in Rwanda.

In July 2015, 59 riders, among them 36 children, raised more than $19,000 during Rachel’s Ride and this year’s ride, again along the Fort-to Fort trail, raised $14,300.

Rachel’s mother, Katherine, said she and her husband Mark are proud “as a family to support Rachel’s dream.”

Mark echoed that.

“Every year I get more and more proud of that girl.”

See more: Surrey teen spearheads Ride for Rwanda fundraiser

Tom Zytaruk


Ladee, Kabir and Channee Sekhon

The Now told you about these three stellar Surrey students in July after we learned they had taken it upon themselves to raise $11,000 for a meaningful project at their school, Green Timbers Elementary.

The Sekhon siblings, Ladee, 7, Kabir, 8 and Channee, 13, heard about their principal’s dream to build playground equipment that children in wheelchairs and those with disabilities could use.

Though the school had been fundraising for two years, only $7,000 had been collected.

They decided they had to help. With the help of their father, they collected the donations in a single night through his annual Sussex Insurance Conference. He’s a franchisee owner in Vancouver.

In a few short minutes, they received thousands of dollars in donations – and Sussex matched them all.

“Some people say kids can’t change the world,” said Channee with a grin.

“I want to prove those people wrong.”

The swing has since been installed and is operational at the school.

See more: Surrey students raise $11K for inclusive playground equipment

Amy Reid



Robbin Stephens

Though she’s helped the Canadian Red Cross deliver aid to thousands of people, Surrey’s Robbin Stephens said she was honoured and humbled to receive the organization’s highest honour this year: the Order of Red Cross.

She received medals and a framed certificate for her 18 years of volunteer service.

For almost two decades, Stephens has supervised shelters and resiliency centres in the aftermath of numerous tragedies. In 2011, she spent more than six months in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, helping people impacted by floods and fires.

Last spring, the retired Surrey resident helped set up and supervise a call centre that helped Fort McMurray fire evacuees after flames forced more than 80,000 people from their homes.

But the biggest disaster she’s been called out to was Hurricane Sandy, the deadliest and most destructive hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic hurricane season and the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

In addition to her work through the Red Cross, Stephens also volunteers with Emergency Social Services (ESS), which provides support during the first 72 hours after an event. And she’s trained hundreds of other volunteers.

“To receive, this, wow. That was something special,” she said smiling, holding up her medals.

See more: Red Cross presents Surrey woman with its highest honour

Amy Reid



Ryley Patterson and Chloe Gravel-Fallis

Two spirited little girls, ages four and seven, are making a splash in the world of local community giving.

“Over the years they’ve raised, I want to say, about $2,500,” said Bonnie Burnside, Ryley Patterson’s great aunt.

“I think it’s really great for little kids to understand not everybody has what they have.”

Ryley is seven years old and Chloe Gravel-Fallis is four. Despite sharing only 11 years between them, the pair are old hands at raising money and toys for the less fortunate.

The girls staged their third annual “FUNraizer” this past November to help stock Surrey Christmas Bureau’s shelves.

In 2015, their first “Foodraizer,” featured entertainment, popcorn for sale, and a sucker pull. They also recycled old car seats with  help from Phoenix Society’s “Red Shirts,” raising $222 and 400 pounds of food for the Surrey Food Bank.

Ryley’s mom Tanya Patterson, who lives in Cedar Hills, said her daughter’s “big heart makes me feel really proud of her.

“It’s refreshing to know there’s still some good in the world.”

Ryley said she likes to help people “because it’s nice.”

Chloe said she helps “because the boys and girls need to have some toys.”

See moreSuper fundraising by Surrey girls Ryley and Chloe

Tom Zytaruk



Rick Hart

Surrey said goodbye to one of its longtime heroes this year.

Rick Hart, a dedicated and unwavering advocate for his Fleetwood neighbourhood, passed away on July 2 after a short battle with brain cancer.

Earlier in the year, he was named Surrey’s 2016 Citizen of the Year and was known as “Mr. Fleetwood” to many.

Hart was president of the Fleetwood Community Association and contributed to the creation of Francis Park, Bucci Park, the Fleetwood Town Centre Plan and the Surrey Sport & Leisure complex.

He was also founder of the Fleetwood Festival, a spokesman for the Light Rail Links Coalition and recently helped launch the Fleetwood Business Improvement Association.

“There was nothing Rick enjoyed more than working in the community to make positive change and make a difference in people’s lives,” said his wife Joy.

“For Rick, ‘no’ was never an option, there was always a way to get ‘yes’ and he always strived to do the right thing, for the right reason.”

Joy said one of Rick’s favourite quotes was “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

See more: Surrey’s Citizen of the Year Rick Hart’s death a ‘big loss’ says Mayor Linda Hepner

Amy Reid



Alexander Magnussen

This 28-year-old Surrey resident who has autism has also become a public speaker.

No small feat for someone with the disorder.

Ten years ago, he struggled to get through a single day without hitting himself or anyone else. In fact, he was completely non-verbal for periods throughout his life.

Yet earlier this year, he gave a TEDx talk in Langley, aiming to change people’s understanding of the neurodevelopment disorder that is said to affect one in 94 Canadian children.

He’s also given talks for school districts around the region, and one appearance at the Bell Centre for Performing Arts drew a crowd of 700 education assistants.

His message is simple: Autism should be “celebrated,” not feared.

Don’t overlooks kids who look like they don’t know anything, he said, because “nine times out of 10, they know exactly what you’re saying and they know exactly how judgmental people are. They notice. I noticed my entire life, I just couldn’t say it,” he added.

“So go for it,” he urged others with autism.

While the TEDx talk was something to check off his bucket list, he’s not slowing down.

He’s already booked events for 2017 and hopes to become an international speaker.

See more: AUTISM’S ADVOCATE: From non-verbal to public speaker

Amy Reid



Zoreen Abu Aboud

Zoreen Abu Aboud is as true a hidden hero as they come.

The immigrant from Jordan had a tough time building a new life in Canada but she now helps other newcomers by volunteering through not one, not two, but three organizations – Options, Fraser Health and United Way.

That’s all while taking care of her four children.

Last summer, she was a Peer Ambassador in the United Way Avenues of Change project, where locals are trained in early literacy or health promotion to improvement developmental outcomes for young children.

Through the five-year project, United Way aims to ensure more kids in the area start school ready to succeed. Without volunteers like Abu Aboud, it wouldn’t be possible.

Step one is reading, she said of building a successful life.

“It’s all about knowledge. You will be nothing without knowledge,” said Abu Aboud.

“For me, I will continue because there’s a lot of families that need to know what’s going on. We only catch a few and there’s a lot. I’m here to help,” she added. “You can’t stand up and look at other people suffering. If they need help, you have to do something.”

See more: Surrey woman helps newcomers understand the importance of literacy through United Way project

Amy Reid



Neil Matheson

The Now introduced readers to Neil Matheson in August.

Despite being born with cerebral palsy, Matheson has worked most of his adult life. The Newton resident is also a widow and works hard as an advocate for those with disabilities.

He strives to instil such drive in others.

“If I can do it, so can you.”

It’s a simple but powerful message that “connectors” like Matheson share with their clients through the Employment Mentorship Support Project (EMSP), run by ConnecTra, an organization that helps people with physical disabilities.

Matheson’s work history has been vast. He’s worked as a data management tech for the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Transportation, and worked for Royal Bank for several years.

Matheson hopes to break the stereotype that everyone on PWD (Persons with Disabilities) is “dumb and stupid and not motivated and deserves to live in poverty because they’ve never been motivated to do anything.”

“If you look at just my wife and I, we were both employed for 20 years,” said Matheson, again singing the mantra that if he can do it, you can too.

See more: Surrey man with cerebral palsy helps others see their value

Amy Reid




Tony Singh

A Surrey grocery store chain owner provided Syrian refugees with free groceries in January, inspired by an elderly lady’s generosity to his family nearly 42 years ago.

Fruiticana founder and president Tony Singh delivered free baskets of food to Syrian refugees as they arrived. Some 500 Syrian refugees benefited from his generous gesture.

“Actions that are positive help build communities and produce positive results,” said Singh, who employs 500 workers at 18 grocery store locations in B.C. and Alberta. Eight of his stores are in Surrey.

Singh recalled arriving as a new immigrant to Canada in 1975, when he was 10 years old, and a neighbour’s generosity on his second day here. His family came from Punjab and were living in an apartment in Toronto at the time. They didn’t speak a word of English.

“Our neighbour invited us over for dinner,” he recalled. “The simple gesture had such a profound impact on me and my life. It showed me what it means to be Canadian. I wanted to pass on that same special feeling to these Syrian refugees arriving in Canada.”

Singh said Syrian refugees “should receive the same kindness” he was met with, as a boy. “That’s what Canada is all about.”

See more: Inspired by generosity 40 years ago, Surrey businessman gives groceries to Syrian refugees

Tom Zytaruk



June Ariano-Jakes

Last summer, we told you about a Surrey grandmother who has given the city’s homeless free haircuts for seven years.

Why does she do what she does? What compels her, a grandmother of five, to frequent one of the rougher neighbourhoods in Surrey?

It’s simple.

“Love,” she replied matter-of-factly. “Everybody is very near and dear to my heart. I love the people. I’ve seen many people come and go. Lost a lot of people along the way. It breaks your heart because they become family.”

June Ariano-Jakes was a regular volunteer at the Surrey Urban Mission for years. In all, she volunteered more than 12,000 hours of her time. Her son struggled with addiction for 25 years.

One day at the mission, a man asked for a beard trim. She told him to wait until the next day and she’d bring her clippers.

“Before I knew it there was 10 people in line,” she said.

While she’s no longer in the mission kitchen cooking up a storm (and being a “jack of all trades”), she can still be found continuing her passion – along the Whalley “Strip” (135A Street) or underneath the big tree at the corner of 108th Avenue and King George Boulevard – cutting hair, trimming a beard or even just helping someone fill in paperwork. Twice a week, typically, she said.

“I continue to do much of what I did inside the building, outside now.”

See more: Why a Surrey grandmother gives haircuts to homeless

Amy Reid



Myra Danyluk

Myra Danyluk is very particular about her dolls. From the fabric she chooses – and where she gets it and how much it costs – to the way her dolls are traced and stuffed, the soft-spoken 69-year-old Surrey resident takes every aspect of doll making seriously.

And for good reason – she knows exactly where they are going and how important they will be to the little hands who hold them.

Danyluk makes muslin dolls for Surrey Memorial Hospital’s pediatric unit. During the past few years, she figures she’s hand made and hand delivered about 300 to 400 dolls to the hospital.

Although she doesn’t get to see her handiwork in action, she knows just how important her dolls are – and what they mean to the kids.

“It makes me feel really good,” Danyluk told the Now in March.She said the dolls offer her a chance to give back to the community despite her limited mobility.

“It’s a way that I can contribute without having to physically volunteer. This is my way of being able to give back.”

Danyluk, who also makes quilts and pillow cases for the hospital, says it takes her about two hours to make a batch of six dolls. On average, she says she delivers about 30 to 40 dolls every few months – the hospital lets her know when they are running low. She says she hopes that’s because the children take the dolls home with them after their stay.

“I hope so. That’s the idea.”

See more: Surrey’s Myra Danyluk makes sturdy dolls for fragile hands

Beau Simpson