Tonight, twenty of the brightest young stars from across the region were celebrated at the fourth bi-annual Northwestern Ontario Visionary Awards (NOVAs). The gala event recognized young professionals in the region for their leadership, community engagement, business and professional achievement, volunteerism, civic pride, and mentorship and was hosted by SHIFT Thunder Bay’s Young Professionals Network.

“The quality of the nominees was extremely high this year,” says SHIFT president Samantha Mihalus. “The top 20 were selected from a total of 79 nominees. It’s amazing and so inspiring to hear about how Northwestern Ontario young professionals are making a difference in their communities.”

The gala was a circus-influenced affair, complete with an aerialist, a magician, and tarot card readers. The 350-person audience enjoyed musical performances by theatre group, Applauze Productions and local band, Tin Pan Alley. A special appearance from a local flow artist group, Mew Crew, kicked off the after party while the gala portion of the evening was, by popular demand, emceed by duo Spencer Hari and Amanda Mihalus.

Award categories were introduced to the 2018 NOVAs for the first time, which recognized a very diverse group of winners. NHLer Matt Murray was deemed SuperNOVA—the award that honours a young professional who has achieved international recognition for their work. He was unable to attend but his mother, Fenny Seinen, accepted the award on his behalf.

Mihalus continues, “The idea of awarding an athlete this time seemed fitting, given that all nominees and winners exemplify these exact qualities; self-discipline, dedication, focus, positive attitude, and raw hunger for what they are passionate about, just to name a few.”

“This was definitely the biggest production the NOVAs has ever been in its eight-year history. The winners are an impressive group of careerists, game changers, leaders, and champions of their communities who mentor and inspire others. There is remarkable talent in our young professionals, locally and regionally, and the NOVAs recognize their contributions and tells them that their work matters and that they are valued.”

2018 NOVA Recipients

  • Business and Professional Achievement Category
    James Nigro – Owner, mars. clothing
    Aleska Shermack – Program Manager – Social Enterprise for Northern Ontario Program, PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise
    Nick Purich – Vice President Finance & Chief Financial Officer, Wasaya Group Inc.
    Andrew Calderon – Chief Operations Officer, Intrideo by Socy Inc.
    Jay Barnard – CEO/Corporate Chef, Freshwater Cuisine
  • SHIFT Disturber NOVA
    Sean Murray – CEO/Owner, Nor’Wester Maple Co. and Staff Scientist – Informal Education Programs, Science North
  • Community Champion Category
    Matthew Villella – Employment Counselor, YES Employment, and Instructor, Confederation College
    Farhan Yousaf – Vice President, Operations & Finance, Lakehead University Student Union (LUSU)
    Elizabeth Ward – Administrative Coordinator, Fresh Market Foods
    Ayoub Ansari – Barrister & Solicitor, Ayoub Ansari Law
    Matt Dupuis – Proprietor, Uncle Matt’s
  • Civic Pride NOVA
    Damien Gilbert – Owner-Operator, Epica Pictures
  • Leadership Category
    Michael Dick – Executive Producer, CBC Thunder Bay
    Dan Bevilacqua – Executive Director, Superior Country
    Nathan Lawrence – Mortgage Broker, Dominion Lending Centres Lakehead Financial
    Anu Baldner – Human Resources Manager, AV Terrace Bay
    Rosa Carlino – Associate Lawyer, Cheadles LLP
  • Rising Star NOVA
    Ashlyn Ransome – Owner, The Pasta Shoppe and Superior Olive Oil Co.
  • People’s Choice NOVA
    Patricia Del Paggio – Teacher, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board
  • SuperNOVA
    Matt Murray – Goalie – Pittsburgh Penguins, National Hockey League
The official auditor of the 2018 NOVAs was MNP, with a panel of judges from across Northwestern Ontario selecting the winners. The NOVAs have recognized over 316 nominees in the last eight years with 80 award-winning young professionals from across Northwestern Ontario.