Oktoberfest isn’t just about lederhosen, beer steins and polka music in Kitchener-Waterloo. In what has become an annual tradition, the K-W Oktoberfest committee offers up its Women of the Year awards to those in the region who’ve contributed to their communities.
Tonight, the winners will be announced, and one Elmira woman has been put on the list of nominees in the Community Service category.
Lisa Colombo is the mother of a child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and she has dedicated the last few years to helping other families who feel the effects of the different diseases and disorders that can stem from the condition. She’s the founder of FASD Waterloo Region, which works with many community partners to host recreational activities for young people affected by the syndrome.
“We just finished our 25th program in three years,” she said. “It was called Rods, Reels and Fish at the Shades Mill Conservation Area.”
When she first heard about her nomination for the Community Service Award, Colombo’s first thought wasn’t for herself.
“It is an honour, but the main thing is that it is showcasing an amazing community collaboration in Waterloo Region. When I heard about it, all I could think about was the children,” she said. “For me, the more I can share what families with FASD children live with, the more we can support them as a community. It gets more exposure for the program.”
The recreation program wouldn’t be possible without the help of many different organizations coming together, including the Waterloo Regional Police Service, KidsAbility, Lutherwood mental health, housing and employment services, Conestoga College, the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council and many more.
Colombo says the program she founded gives kids a chance to get their hands dirty and have fun, all while implementing best practices considered standard when working with FASD affected children.
“Children who have FASD are visual learners and short- and long-term memory is affected – they need breaks. Their brain fatigues so they need short-term activities,” said Colombo. “They also need one-on-one supports. For any vulnerable person or a person with a brain injury, they have what is called their external brain, so they have someone that walks with them, I like to say. It gives them dignity, respect, lets them be a part of decisions in life, but the main thing is to keep them safe. That is very important.”
Dave MacNeil, executive director for K-W Oktoberfest, said that although the annual festival can revolve around the party-side of things, it really is about family and community.
“K-W Oktoberfest is really a community event, funded and owned by the community and I think it is important to recognize women in our community that are a big part of what happens and making things work every day. They are a big part of our festival and our committees and I think it is only fair to recognize their achievements,” he said.
The award ceremony takes place tonight (Thursday) at Bingemans in Kitchener and will be broadcast on Rogers TV on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m.