Past recipients of a Courage to Come Back Award. (image from Coast Mental Health)
Nominations are open for the 2024 Courage to Come Back Awards, presented by Wheaton Precious Metals.
The purpose of the awards is to pay tribute to those who have overcome overwhelming challenges and now give back to their community. They are the hidden everyday heroes that deserve to be recognized and celebrated for their contributions to our communities.
This recognition goes a long way to encouraging these individuals to continue their efforts to inspire those around them. It also gives them a platform to further promote the causes or issues that are important to them.
They are our role models.
People like Rachel Goldman, who has faced a lifetime of chronic illness and pain with great courage and strength. She is an accomplished TV and radio producer, and has always volunteered within her community. Goldman hopes that, by sharing her story, her struggle can be a force for hope for others. (See jewishindependent.ca/beautiful-life-despite-illness.)
People like Dr. Barney Jr. Williams, a residential school survivor and person recovering from alcoholism. Williams has made it his life’s mission to help others overcome alcoholism and addiction.
Like Alex Sangha, who is gay, lives with a mental illness, and is from a South Asian community where stigma persists. Today, he has become an inspirational creator of safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.
Or Jodi Gray, a transwoman who overcame poverty, abuse, suicidal ideation and depression. She changed the narrative to create better solutions and systems of care.
The Courage to Come Back Awards not only recognize the lives of five remarkable people, but ensure that Coast Mental Health can continue to provide compassionate, meaningful support for anyone with the courage to come back from mental illness.
Coast Mental Health is one of the largest providers of community-based services for people living with mental illness in British Columbia. Each year, it provides essential services to 5,000 clients so they can find a meaningful place in their communities – a place to live, a place to connect and a place to work. To find out more about the programs and services offered, visit coastmentalhealth.com.
The Courage to Come Back Awards are given in five categories: addiction, medical, mental health, physical rehabilitation and youth. Award recipients will be recognized in person in front of more than 1,400 people at the Vancouver Convention Centre on May 23, 2024. They will receive media coverage and their stories will be shared on social media.
“As chair of the Courage to Come Back Awards, reading through the hundreds of nominations we receive every year is a moment I look forward to with great anticipation,” said Lorne Segal, president of Kingswood Properties Ltd. “All of them are true journeys of bravery, resilience and strength in the face of adversity. I am grateful to those that have the courage to share their stories with us.”
Rachel Goldman and her husband, Geoff McLennan. (photo by Avi Dhillon)
Rachel Goldman is this year’s Courage to Come Back Award winner in the medical category. She couldn’t be there in person at the Vancouver Convention Centre June 9, but she did accept the honour virtually.
After introducing herself, Goldman said, “Forty months. Forty months! That’s 1,216 days or 29,200 hours. That’s the total amount of time I have spent secluded from the world, due to COVID. Can you even imagine? So, here I am, speaking before 1,700 of you, sharing my story. It’s a surreal and humbling experience, but one that I am striving to embrace with courage and gratitude.”
Goldman explained what it has been like to have been born with CVID, common variable immune deficiency.
“For 40 years, I have caught and recovered from thousands of illnesses – lived through years of isolation and endured the roller coaster that is chronic illness,” she said.
“A common cold is never just a cold. It’s a sinus infection that leads to intravenous antibiotics. It’s a kidney infection that leads to weeks or months in an isolated hospital room. It’s my body triggering anaphylaxis to the antibodies being infused into me. Challenging? Absolutely.
“Not being able to be with you tonight to receive this amazing award in person is just one more of these challenges. I have my incredible father [Paul Goldman] there to accept this award on my behalf. Now, due to his attendance in my place, we will have to stay apart for at least 72 hours in hopes of minimizing my infection risk.
“Life altering? Most definitely,” she said.
“What it hasn’t done is stopped me from doing the best I can to live my life within the realm of what I can make possible, not what seems impossible.”
Goldman and her husband, Geoff McLennan, live in New Westminster and have two young children. A typical day for her starts at 6 a.m. to get their kids ready to go to Vancouver Talmud Torah.
“Once they leave, I am pretty exhausted, so I have to go back to bed and lie down for a couple hours,” she told the Independent. “I try to get outside every day and go for walks around our neighbourhood. With the weather becoming nicer, sometimes I will see a friend very distanced outside on our patio. I get my kids’ stuff ready for the next day for school … try to exercise and rest. I often write and usually have lots of doctors’ appointments, for the most part, over the phone or via Zoom. Then I get ready for my kids to come home. We try to have a normal evening of homework, dinner, bedtime and then time with my husband. Then rest again.”
That’s if she’s feeling OK. “If I am unwell,” she said, “then antibiotics and the meds I have to take to ensure I don’t have an allergic reaction to the meds keeps me mostly in bed. The meds make me feel very ill.
“If the infection is severe, then the antibiotics will require hospitalization, either inpatient or day treatment, to be delivered intravenously through a PICC [peripherally inserted central catheter] line.
“In terms of treatment,” she said, “I give myself weekly subcutaneous intravenous immunoglobulin infusions, which I infuse into my stomach through four needles.”
Because of her health, Goldman, a sports radio and television producer, had to stop working in 2017. She also has had to adapt how she volunteers at VTT, something she loved doing in-person. Unable to go into the school anymore, she said, “I have spent a lot of time volunteering virtually and helping out at home. I think I have become a master at cutting out projects for the school.
“Our Jewish community has been integral to our family,” she said. “Our children’s school has been the one constant in their life when everything else has been very chaotic. We travel 45 minutes each direction every day to bring our kids into Vancouver to attend VTT. We are eternally grateful for the love, support and kindness that the Vancouver Jewish community and Vancouver Talmud Torah has shown our family. They have lifted us up when things couldn’t have been more difficult. In turn, my kids could not feel safer, more well-loved and more connected with the Vancouver Jewish community.”
Goldman is a lifetime member of CHW, formerly known as Canadian Hadassah-WIZO, and has been a supporter of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver’s Choices event. In her younger days, she attended VTT and went through the entire Young Judaea summer camp system.
Her parents, Paul and Claudia Goldman, are also involved in the local and national Jewish communities. Her mother has been a volunteer with CHW for four decades, in many capacities, including becoming a national president and its lead representative internationally. Her father has served on synagogue boards and as a member of the Federation task force that led to the establishment of the Richmond Jewish Day School; as well, he has been involved with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and its predecessor, the Canada-Israel Committee, including as a member of CIJA’s national board.
During the pandemic, said Rachel Goldman, “The only way I could maintain close contact with my parents and my extended family was for them to limit their own activities in compliance with my specialist’s immunological protocols in order to protect me from potential infection. Those precautions are only now being partially loosened by my specialists.
“I had to home-school my two kids for 22 months during the pandemic as per my medical team’s instructions,” she said. “The kids only returned to full in-person schooling in March of 2022.
“If anyone goes into a high-risk environment or is exposed to anyone with COVID, then there is an isolation period of at least 72 hours, as has happened since the gala.
“I am still not able to attend anything at my kids’ school, their birthday parties, dance recitals, etc., any situation that occurs indoors,” she said. “Also, I am not able to travel via commercial airlines currently, which is very difficult since my sister [Naomi] and her family made aliyah eight years ago.”
Goldman wears a mask anytime she leaves her home, which is rarely, unless she is outside with her kids.
“If anyone in the house is sick, masks go on and I am double-masked,” she said. “If anyone is COVID positive, as happened in the last week, I have to leave the house for an extended period of time and we will have to isolate. I have not been inside in public since the beginning of the pandemic outside of medical appointments. I am just starting to have very distanced visits with a few friends now that the weather is getting better. Outside is the best and safest place for me.”
Her immediate family only recently started to take their masks off and, if they go into crowded places, they continue to mask.
Goldman has been to Israel twice for treatment, most recently in January 2020, after two years of constant hospitalizations for infections that stemmed from a sinus surgery she had in the hope of reducing infections. She said her medical team concluded “that the complexity of my condition required highly specialized expertise to determine a plan for continuing treatment, but none was available in Canada…. I conducted an intensive investigation for the relevant expertise, both in the U.S. and internationally, and determined that my best choice was Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital. I chose Hadassah because of its reputation as one of the world’s best research hospitals and, in particular, its multidisciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment.”
Unfortunately, the medical tests – including many not typically available in Canada, as well as a complete set of genome sequencing and genetic testing – were interrupted by COVID. Goldman was urged to return home immediately. “At the time, they did not divulge why but, as time progressed, it became clear that the reason was due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said.
Next steps for Goldman would involve establishing a new baseline. Because her current treatment includes the introduction of immunoglobulins extracted from the blood cells of others to boost her immune system, she said many of the tests that look at antibodies give false readings, as they aren’t interpreting her own system. “As a result,” she said, “it will be necessary to take me off all medications in a closely monitored hospital setting to be able to zero in on precisely what is going on with my immune system, in order to determine the best course of treatment going forward.”
The risk of doing this during COVID – and an increase in other respiratory diseases being treated in hospitals – has been too high and Goldman’s medical team is not comfortable with her flying on a commercial flight.
“I am now in the process of working towards re-setting a timetable with Hadassah to continue the process that was interrupted in 2020,” she said. “The logistics are complicated, but I am hopeful that I’ll have some clarity on that very soon so I can restart this process in the hopes of regaining some of my life and freedom back.”
It had been five years that Goldman’s aunt had been wanting to nominate Goldman for a Courage to Come Back Award.
“Finally, while hospitalized over the winter holidays, I agreed,” said Goldman. “I got the call from [chair] Lorne Segal and the Courage to Come Back Awards about winning a few months later … right before my kids’ spring break. I was shocked at first because this was the first time I had ever shared anything about my illness publicly. Even people closest to me didn’t really know the details and extent of my health condition.
“I didn’t realize that the way in which I have dealt with my health condition was something to be celebrated. Once I started thinking about it some more, I was truly humbled and very grateful to be recognized. I realized that this process, for me, was really about giving me a voice and the ability to hopefully help and inspire others with complex chronic medical conditions who are suffering in silence.
“By getting my voice back, it has allowed me to do more than just survive,” she said. “I decided that courage is absolutely something to be celebrated. I want to show my kids that, despite all of the obstacles being thrown at me and our family, we can rise above it all and have a beautiful life.”
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Courage to Come Back Awards – and 18 years since Lorne Segal has been chair of the event.
“The first year I attended Courage as my father’s guest, I thought it was just another event – until I saw the box of tissues on the table. That’s when I knew Courage was different,” Segal told the Independent.
“Courage is so important because of the stories,” he said. “They give us hope. The stories that are shared every year move me and the whole room to tears, they put our own lives into perspective, and remind us of what the human spirit is capable of.
“And, of course, there’s the fact that Courage raises funds for such important programs at Coast Mental Health, which simply wouldn’t happen if it weren’t for the generosity of those in the room, who are inspired to give thanks to the stories our recipients graciously share with us. Programs like peer-support training, brain training, meals, art therapy, therapeutic gardening and much more are only possible thanks to donations – and they truly make such a difference for those who are able to access them.”
This year, the awards dinner took place at the Vancouver Convention Centre on June 9, and the honourees were Jodi Gray (mental health category), Rachel Goldman (medical), John Oakley (addiction), Patricia Henman (physical rehabilitation) and Danielle Laviolette (youth). The event included a special tribute to Segal’s father, Joe Segal.
“Joe always said, ‘Give until it hurts.’ His commitment to giving back to his community was such an inspiration to me and to so many around him,” said Segal. “After he passed away last year at the age of 97, I wanted to create an opportunity to share his message one last time, and to honour his incredible work over his long life. It was really moving for me and my family to hear so many people talk about how my father had touched their lives – I continue to be inspired by him every day.”
Calling it “truly a family event,” Segal said his children Matthew and Chanelle have been coming with him since they were little, and “there’s no doubt the recipients’ stories have shaped their lives and inspired them in their own pursuits. My wonderful wife Melita’s unwavering support for Courage and Coast amazes me every day,” he continued. “She may not be officially chair but she has certainly played a big part in the success of the event – she is always talking about the event to anyone she meets and many who attend do so because of her word of mouth.”
Many other members of the family also attended on June 9, said Segal, including his brother Gary and wife Nanci. “My sisters Tracy and Sandra could not be there but were part of our family donation in Joe’s honour,” he said.
Reflecting on his 18 years as chair, Segal said, “Honestly, I didn’t realize it was going to be this long when I signed up for the job, but, every year, I am moved by the recipient’s stories and just know they need to be shared.
“Twenty-five years ago, people were not talking about mental health,” he added. “It wasn’t a ‘sexy’ cause, as my father would have said, and the Courage to Come Back Awards have helped to create a lot of awareness and conversation. It’s my hope that these awards continue to help make us all more understanding…. It’s hard to believe we had 1,700 in the ballroom this year after four years without an in-person event, when it wasn’t that long ago we were barely allowed 10 people in one room! But we have continued to innovate and find ways to share our recipient’s stories and raise funds for Coast Mental Health Foundation.”
Joseph and Rosalie Segal (seated) and family at the 2016 Summer Garden Party fundraiser for Vancouver Hebrew Academy. (photo by Jocelyne Hallé)
Joseph Segal, an entrepreneur and philanthropist who was recognized by the governments of British Columbia and Canada with the highest civilian honours, a Second World War veteran who helped liberate the Netherlands, a businessman who founded and led iconic companies and a community-builder whose imprint on the Jewish and general communities in Vancouver is indelible, passed away May 31. He was 97 years old and was actively engaged in philanthropy to his final hours.
Segal was born in 1925, in Vegreville, Alta. After the death of his father, when Joe was 14, the family experienced financial hardship and young Joe Segal experienced hard labour while building the Alaska Highway. He fought in the infantry in the Second World War where, with his compatriots in the Calgary Highlanders, he participated in the liberation of the Netherlands.
After the war, he arrived in Vancouver and, with $1,500 in savings, started selling war surplus goods, then founded Fields department stores. Eventually, his business took over the Zellers store chain – which Segal described as “a case of the mouse swallowing the elephant” – and, later, obtained a large share of the venerable Hudson’s Bay Company before he launched Kingswood Capital Corp., which has interests in real estate, manufacturing and finance.
In recent years, while lauded for his business acumen, Segal was most prominent as one of Canada’s leading philanthropists. For his work in both fields, he was a recipient of both an Order of Canada and an Order of British Columbia.
In addition to leaving his mark on a vast number of institutions and causes in the Jewish community, he was a strong supporter of charities such as Variety Club, the United Way, Vancouver General Hospital and B.C. Children’s Hospital.
Among his community roles was serving on the board, and as chancellor, of Simon Fraser University. Perhaps his most visible contribution in Vancouver was his donation to SFU of the historic Bank of Montreal building at 750 Hastings St., creating a home for the Segal Graduate School of Business.
In 2010, Joseph and his wife Rosalie donated $12 million to the VGH and UBC Hospital Foundations to create the Joseph and Rosalie Segal and Family Centre, a 100-private-room acute care centre serving the mental health needs of people in crisis.
Joseph and Rosalie Segal modeled philanthropy for the successive generation of their family, including children Sandra, Tracey, Gary and Lorne, their spouses and, now, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
At Joe Segal’s funeral on June 1, Gary Segal reflected on his parents’ 74 years of marriage, calling it “a love story for the ages.”
“My father worshipped my mother, he relied on her support and wisdom and insights,” he said. “They were true partners in everything they did and accomplished in life.”
Gary Segal called his father “a natural-born philosopher, a generous man, caring. He would never forget anything or anybody. He was passionate about life. He had many dreams – his own and those that inspired others. He had the ability to talk to people and make everybody, no matter what stage in life, feel important, like they mattered, that somebody cared about them.”
Although he knew the impact that his father had had on the world and the people in it, “to see these genuine expressions of sorrow and appreciation for the person my father was has been truly extraordinary for me and for my family.”
He shared three core tenets of his father’s philosophy:
• Don’t worry about what you can’t control, worry about what you can.
• You need to commit to life and you need to commit to happiness.
• Money is only worth something if you do something good with it.
Gary Segal quoted actor John Barrymore, who said, “You’re never old until regrets take the place of dreams.” In that respect, said Segal, although his dad lived to 97, “My father was not old. He never aged. Right up to the last minute, he was young. He was always young at heart, in spirit, and right up to the end, he had his dreams.”
Longtime friend and book collaborator Peter Legge reflected on a half-century of friendship after the pair met when Legge was an adman at radio station CJOR.
“Joe was a man who shared all he could with those who needed help,” said Legge. “Never to lift himself up, but to lift up those who needed help.”
Rabbi Yitzchok Wineberg noted that some people are saying the passing of Joe Segal is the end of an era.
“I beg to differ,” said the city’s longest-serving rabbi and Chabad emissary. “Joe didn’t live his life for himself or for himself and Rose. He lived his life for his children, for his grandchildren, for his great-grandchildren. They were there to observe everything he did and be inspired by it…. This family will continue his legacy. It’s not the end of an era, it’s a milestone. It’s a date that we all know we are going to have to face one day and, especially at such a funeral, we think about our own mortality. But it’s not just what you’ve accomplished in your lifetime. It’s what’s going to be accomplished after you leave this world. For that reason, I feel it’s not the end of an era. It’s just a continuation, and God should help that we should celebrate many happy occasions together in the future and we should be there for one another just as Joe was there for everybody else.”
Rob Schonfeld, a grandson, said that it may sound strange to be shocked that a 97-year-old man has passed away.
“But Grandpa Joe was so larger-than-life and still 100% on his game,” he said. “None of us really internalized that this day was going to come.”
Of Segal’s 11 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren, Schonfeld said: “We all had really unique and different relationships with him. None of them was the same and it’s because he always treated us as individuals. He respected us as grown-ups – even when we were little kids. I think that allowed each of us to bond with him in really different ways.”
Schonfeld shared one of his favourite “Joe-isms” – “You can’t ride two horses with one ass” – and said Segal’s secret weapon was “reading everything in sight.”
Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt of Congregation Schara Tzedeck compared Segal with the biblical Joseph. The moment before the Exodus, the rabbi observed, Moses was looking for the bones of Joseph to carry with the Israelites to the Promised Land.
“He’s fulfilling a promise, granted, but it’s more than that,” said Rosenblatt. “Moses needs a symbol of what it means to succeed materially in this world and to succeed with others. Joseph is that symbol. He is a symbol of somebody who can have material success and can have spiritual success as well. There are two chests that walk with the Jews through the desert. One holds the tablets that Moses brings down from Sinai and the other one carries Joseph. Our Joseph is a little like that, too. He is a lesson, a paragon, a role model, an icon. Just like the biblical Joseph, his personality, his legend, survives even him. Joe Segal will continue to be that for so many in our community.”
The rabbi remarked that he was professionally forbidden from sharing the many stories of individuals who Joseph Segal helped when called on to assist an individual or family in crisis.
Rosenblatt added that Segal specifically asked for donations in his memory to be given to Yaffa House and to the Jewish Food Bank.
The Independent spoke with some of the people who worked with and knew Segal in different capacities.
David Levi served with Segal on the board of the Phyliss and Irving Snider Foundation and is on the board of governors for Camp Miriam, one of the causes Segal championed.
“Over the years, he’s given [Camp] Miriam quite a large amount of money and he was always very supportive of giving money to the camp and the kids. It was a central focus of his,” Levi said, noting that Camp Hatikvah was another cause Segal admired.
“Joe’s view, I think, on camp in general is that it built a connection to Judaism for kids at a young age and he saw camps making that connection to the Jewish community and to Israel. Those were important things for him,” Levi said.
“The thing about Joe was his complete commitment to the community – to the Jewish community and to the larger community.” But Levi stressed that large gifts to major organizations were not the only way the legendary philanthropist operated. Echoing Rabbi Rosenblatt, Levi referred to “Joe’s secret life.”
“He would get calls not only from individuals but from rabbis and other leaders in the community on a very personal level for people who needed a hand up or needed some financial means for a brief period of time,” Levi said. “It was smaller amounts of money, but, in his mind, as important as the organizations that he worked with. People would call and say we have this family and they are really having a tough time and they need an injection of $1,000 or $500 and Joe would quietly do that. He never really talked about it. He certainly never talked about the individuals he supported. But he was always available for those kinds of emergency calls.
“He believed in hard work but he also believed that people who had difficulty in achieving the kinds of things that he would hope everybody would be able to achieve, people who are challenged by mental or physical disabilities, he would help in any way he could,” Levi said.
Bernie Simpson, who is also on the board of Camp Miriam, echoed Levi’s reflections of Segal’s support for Jewish camping.
“For over 50 years, Joe was a strong supporter of Camp Miriam,” said Simpson. “He joined the late [B.C. Supreme Court] Justice Angelo Branca, who was the chair of the finance committee of Miriam in rebuilding the camp in 1970. Fifteen years ago, Joe was responsible for the building of the camp infirmary through the Snider Foundation, honouring Joe and Rosalie Segal’s close friends Mike and Rita Wolochow.… Joe’s support of the camp policy that every child should have a Jewish camping experience, regardless of their financial means, goes back to when he was a youth himself from very humble beginnings. Several years ago, he praised the camp and its leadership for their devotion to the youth whose attendance at camp was possible through the campership fund. He will be sorely missed.”
Simpson said Segal was in frequent contact with his wife, Lee Simpson, when she was president of the board of the Louis Brier Jewish Aged Foundation, to catch up on developments at the Jewish home and hospital.
“I understand, from other organizations, he would constantly keep in touch with what was going on in the community,” said Simpson. “He looked at the big picture.”
In a message to the Independent, Vancouver Hebrew Academy (VHA) said, “Mr. Segal took his responsibility to the Jewish community very seriously and he showed it in many ways. Of course, he was a strong financial supporter of Vancouver Hebrew Academy, as he was for many of our institutions, but his advocacy went further than that. He believed strongly in Torah education and what it means to the future of the Jewish people. In the summer of 2016, Joe and Rosalie were the honourees at VHA’s Summer Garden Party. There, Joe spoke passionately and emotionally of the importance of our mission.”
Rabbi Don Pacht, VHA’s former head of school, remembers fondly the conversations with Joe Segal about the school, the community and his admiration for those who chose to dedicate themselves to building community.
“I often came away from our visits encouraged in the work we were doing,” said Pacht. “Mr. Segal always had words of wisdom to offer … and sometimes a bottle of scotch too!”
Michael Sachs, executive director of Jewish National Fund of Canada, Vancouver branch, reflected on a long relationship.
“He was a titan in the business world and a leading philanthropist to all communities, but most of all he was a family man through and through,” said Sachs. “I have many fond personal memories with Joe from my childhood up until a few weeks ago. He touched everyone in our community and I count myself amongst one of those touched.”
Segal’s legacy was celebrated and remembered outside of the Jewish community, including by many organizations that Segal, wife Rosalie and the family had collectively supported.
“Joe was an enthusiastic champion of the university,” Simon Fraser University said in marking Segal’s passing. “His advice, energy and wisdom supported eight presidents and his business savvy and connections helped SFU to thrive. His commitment to community-building and philanthropy was recognized in 1988 with a doctor of law, honoris causa, from SFU and in 1992 with the President’s Distinguished Community Leadership Award, honouring his innovation, optimism and strong sense of public service to SFU’s community.”
The VGH & UBC Hospital Foundation issued a statement honouring Segal.
“A pledge of $12 million in 2011 to initiate planning of a new purpose-built mental health facility was the largest individual donation to this cause in B.C. at the time. This commitment initiated a $28 million fundraising campaign and the construction of an $85 million purpose-built mental health facility which stands as his legacy: the Joseph & Rosalie Segal & Family Health Centre.”
It continued: “Joe never retired, and his mind and memory were sharper at 97 than many people years his junior. Until very recently, he remained active in business, working from home as was required throughout the pandemic. Similarly, he continued to support the causes he cared about, offering sage advice, wisdom and guidance. He continued to support VGH and UBC Hospital’s most innovative clinician-researchers and surgeons, kicking off a campaign in support of the Vancouver Stroke Program and seed-funding research for innovative medical talents, as well serving as the honourary chair of the Brain Breakthroughs Campaign.”
Coast Mental Health declared Segal “B.C.’s most significant supporter of mental health services.” His devotion to the cause began in 1999, when he first attended the Courage to Come Back Awards, where he heard people share personal stories of living with mental health and emotional challenges. His devotion to the cause was born out of a belief that no one is immune from the detrimental effects that mental illness can have if not properly treated.
Lorne Segal has chaired the Courage to Come Back Awards for the past 17 years, and the family as a whole has championed the cause.
Shirley Broadfoot, the founding chair of Courage to Come Back, recalled meeting Joe Segal for the first time.
“He was inspired by the power of the evening but said, ‘You really don’t know how to fundraise.’ It was true. We didn’t. So his son, Lorne, took on the role of chair for Courage and all that changed. Through Lorne’s leadership, Courage has risen to be the largest event in Vancouver. We could never have imagined that the awards would flourish and go on to give hope to people for 24 years, including through a global pandemic, while raising over $22 million and honouring 139 heroic British Columbians,” she said.
Coast Mental Health chief executive officer Darrell Burnham added: “Joe Segal was an incredible leader who gave so much to the community of Vancouver. I met Joe in the ’90s, and I was so pleased when he chose mental health as one of his philanthropic causes. Joe knew everyone in the city. He also had the charisma to engage other philanthropists in social causes that needed visibility and support. When Coast Mental Health Foundation and the Courage to Come Back Awards took shape, it was Joe Segal and his family who stepped up to provide financial assistance to support Coast Mental Health.”
Ezra Shanken, chief executive officer of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, said Segal “was not only a titan in the business and philanthropic worlds, but a genuinely caring and compassionate person – a true mensch. He is among a generation of leaders who helped shape our Jewish community.… Joe was a steadfast supporter of countless worthy causes both within and beyond our Jewish community, including the work of our Federation and our partners. We are deeply grateful to him for his incredible generosity over the decades.”
Corey Hirsch is among the honorees of this year’s Courage to Come Back Awards. (photo from Courage to Come Back)
“Believe me when I say that the stories we share are true journeys of bravery, resilience and strength in the face of adversity. They will leave you inspired and optimistic – a weekly dose of courage that I believe we need now, more than ever,” Lorne Segal, longtime chair of the Courage to Come Back Awards, told the Independent.
While the annual gala event had to be canceled because of COVID-19, every week this month, one of the five award recipients is being announced, and a video of their stories shared.
“We’re also sharing videos highlighting some of the incredible work of Coast Mental Health’s frontline workers during COVID-19,” said Segal. These can be viewed at couragetocomeback.ca.
“Every year,” said Segal, “the Courage to Come Back Awards raise critical funds that support over 40 of Coast Mental Health’s programs, which provide food security, mental health support for youth, peer support services and so much more. They are vital to the recovery of vulnerable people living with mental illness.
“In community mental health, the only way to meet this crisis is to increase capacity – that’s where Coast Mental Health comes in. Coast provides shelter, a roof overhead, a support system of caring individuals, and the dignity of a job and training through employment opportunities, all for individuals, young and old, dealing with mental health challenges.
“This life-saving work would simply not be possible without the generous support we receive during the Courage to Come Back Awards,” he stressed. “I invite people to watch, and share these incredible videos of courage. Then, if you can, I’m asking you to join me in supporting Coast Mental Health as they prepare for the second wave of this pandemic, a mental health crisis potentially as devastating as the first wave of COVID-19.”
At press time, three of the award recipients had been announced: Corey Hirsch in the mental health category, Amanda Staller in the addiction category and Rumana Monzur in the physical rehabilitation category; the youth and medical categories are still to come.
Hirsch was the first honoree announced. While not Jewish, he said, his surname is and, that “[t]here is very much the possibility that I have Jewish ancestry; it’s just never been investigated.”
A former NHL goaltender and goaltending coach, Hirsch is a commentator with Sportsnet, as well as being a public speaker and an advocate for mental health and wellness. Born and raised in Alberta, he was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1991 and was a member of the team when they won the 1994 Stanley Cup. Also in 1994, he won a silver medal with the Canadian men’s hockey team in the Olympics at Lillehammer. In 1995, he was traded to Vancouver, where he began losing his struggle with mental illness, but eventually reached out for help, and was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Of the Courage to Come Back Award, he said, “It was very humbling to realize that I was in that category of people. And it was probably the first time it opened my eyes to realizing that what had happened – with coming out with my story in the Players Tribune [in 2017] – made a colossal impact on the world of mental health.
“There were people that came before me,” he acknowledged, pointing to Sheldon Kennedy, Theo Fleury and Clint Malarchuk. “Their stories helped me get my story out and made me feel safe,” he said.
Kennedy and Fleury were both abused by a coach when they were in junior hockey. Malarchuk, a fellow goalie and a friend, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder after his jugular vein was accidentally severed by another player’s skate, as well as with obsessive-compulsive disorder, even attempting suicide.
“OCD, typically, doesn’t start from childhood trauma,” explained Hirsch, adding, “Most people I know can tell you the time, place, where they were at when their brains just kind of broke. There could be childhood trauma with people, but, for me, [there wasn’t any]. I was on my way to the NHL, I had athletic talent as a kid, lots of friends, no real signs of mental health [issues]. I had anxiety issues, [but] a lot of kids do.”
Hirsch grew up in Calgary, with parents he described as loving, and an older brother. Sports were encouraged. “Hockey was something that, you know, it’s a religion in Canada,” said Hirsch who, at age 16, moved to Kamloops to play the sport. “I had a really good junior career, won a national championship. From there, I went on to the Olympics. Things were looking like I was going to make millions playing in the NHL. I was on the road.”
Hirsch describes in detail the type of OCD with which he struggles in his article on the Players Tribune media platform.
“I think that what people thought OCD was, was the hand-washers, someone that’s organized and all that. There was a misconception, through stigma and other things, about OCD and people thought it was that,” he told the Independent. “So, how bad is that? You wash your hands too much. They didn’t take it very seriously … because that’s how OCD was portrayed.”
Hirsch is concerned about overall mental health, not only OCD. “I want to change the stigma to all of it,” he said.
As to why the stigma remains, he said, “Well, people don’t like to look inside, afraid of what they might find out. But, what you find out is that there’s a better life out there and you learn things…. Fear keeps people from getting help, stigma keeps people from getting help. It’s a great built-in excuse to say that you’re a man and men don’t get help; it’s a great built-in excuse if you don’t want to look internally. I get a lot of that.
“I got help, I live a great life. I’m not perfect – I’ll never say I am – but I still play hockey. I can still drink beer, I can still fix cars, I can still do all those things that are considered manly – I haven’t lost any of that. And the people around me are better for it. It’s tough to look inside and a lot of people don’t want to, but I know now it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
One of the reasons Hirsch decided to open up about his experiences is that, back when he was at his worst, in the mid-1990s, there was no readily available information on what he was experiencing.
“I scoured bookstores,” he said. “I did everything I could to try and find some hope, or even self-diagnose or [determine] that I wasn’t going to be like this the rest of my life. I felt so alone. I found nothing…. Part of it was because I didn’t even know what to look for, and I always said to myself, if I got better, that, one day, I would tell my story.
“I didn’t tell anybody anything, other than people close to me, for 20 years. I kept it in my chest. [But then] I met another NHL player who was active, in my retirement, and I met him, and he was in rehab for drugs. We got to talking, and I know now that mental health and addiction go hand in hand, so I spilled my story to him. And he looked at me and he said, that’s exactly what I’m going through.”
That was when Hirsch realized his story could help others who are suffering. “I need to let them know that they’re not alone,” he said.
Vancouver-based Hirsch is waiting out the pandemic in Toronto with his girlfriend. He is writing a memoir about his life with OCD, he plays golf, and spends time playing his guitar. “I’m terrible,” he said. “But I love it,” he said. “It’s been incredibly freeing. Music is so powerful and great for mental health. Any kind of art, it’s a great way to express, therapeutically, yourself.”
He is continuing his work in mental health and would like to see it become part of the curriculum in schools.
“If I could have known what I had when it happened to me and I could have gotten help the next day, I would have never ended up making an attempt on my life,” he said. “I don’t know what my NHL career would have looked like, but I would have never suffered and gone through what I went through for all those years, because early diagnosis is crucial with mental health.
“It’s not hard to teach our kids in high school, middle school, about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, those things. They need that information. Why are we withholding it from them?”
“It’s like anything – teach our kids in school and then give them the tools and then hopefully we can put a dent in it,” he said, citing a need for a countrywide curriculum in health class. “That’s where we’re going to end the stigma … and suicide needs to stop being a taboo topic, it really does. It’s real and it’s happening and pretending it isn’t happening doesn’t make it go away.”
The 2018 Courage to Come Back Award recipients, left to right: Suzanne Venuta (mental health), Josh Dahling (addiction), Ingrid Bates (medical), Jim Ryan (physical rehabilitation) and, in front, Alisa Gil Silvestre (youth). (photo by Norman Tam)
A record $3.1 million was raised at the 20th anniversary Courage to Come Back Awards on May 10 at the Vancouver Convention Centre. The event was chaired by Lorne Segal, president of Kingswood Properties Ltd., and more than 1,800 people gathered to celebrate the extraordinary stories of triumph over adversity of the five awards recipients. Funds raised will go directly to Coast Mental Health to support those living with mental illness.
This year’s recipients were Josh Dahling (addiction), Ingrid Bates (medical), Suzanne Venuta (mental health), Jim Ryan (physical rehabilitation) and Alisa Gil Silvestre (youth). Venuta captured the essence of the evening: “If there’s only one thing you remember from my speech tonight, may it be this: that connections save lives. It did mine. Connections are what hold hope together and hope allows us to dream.” For more inspirational stories, visit couragetocomeback.ca/2018-recipients.
Each year, Coast Mental Health (coastmentalhealth.com) provides services to more than 4,000 people living with mental illness so they can find a meaningful place in their communities – a place to live, a place to connect and a place to work.
Courage to Come Back chair Lorne Segal, left, with David Richardson, president of Octaform, a longtime supporter of Coast Mental Health and a personal friend of Segal’s, says a few words about the cause and his commitment to mental health before donating $50,000. (photo by Avi Dhillon Photography)
A record $1.57 million was raised at the 19th Annual Courage to Come Back Awards on May 16 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where more than 1,500 people gathered to celebrate the extraordinary stories of triumph over adversity of the six awards recipients.
Each year, Coast Mental Health organizes this awards gala, an evening to recognize six remarkable British Columbians. Funds raised will go directly to Coast Mental Health to support those living with mental illness. The event was chaired by Lorne Segal, president of Kingswood Properties Ltd., and attended by many of British Columbia’s most notable business leaders and philanthropists.
After sharing their stories of how they have “come back to give back” in their communities, each of the six Courage to Come Back Award recipients received a glass sculpture designed by Musqueam artist Susan A. Point. This year’s recipients, with the category noted in parentheses, were Deborah Carter, Vancouver (addiction); Esther Matsubuchi, North Vancouver (social adversity); John Westhaver, Victoria (physical rehabilitation); Stephen Scott, Vancouver (medical); Rachel Fehr, Surrey (mental health); and Richard Quan, Vancouver (youth).
Westhaver perfectly captured the essence of the evening: “Looking back at my life, one thing I got is that anything is possible. Often we give up on our dreams because something gets in our way or we lose sight of our dreams. I invite you to never give up on your dreams. Anything is possible. The stories you have heard tonight are living proof.”
For 45 years, Coast Mental Health has helped provide housing, support services, and employment for people driven to recover from mental illness. Each program and service places clients at the centre of their own recovery. Coast Mental Health believes that recovery from mental illness is possible, but only when communities come together to break the silence around it, provide support and uplift the people it impacts. Coast Mental Health Foundation raises funds exclusively for Coast Mental Health. To find out more about the programs and services offered by Coast Mental Health, visit coastmentalhealth.com.
Lorne Segal, chair, Courage to Come Back Awards. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
In its chai year, the Courage to Come Back Awards had a record night on May 5 at the Vancouver Convention Centre, with more than 1,500 guests and more than $1.43 million raised for Coast Mental Health.
In his address, Courage to Come Back chair Lorne Segal pondered the question of why the event is so popular. “Because,” he said, “at these awards, like nowhere else, we feel the extraordinary power of the ordinary spirit and the deep humanity so often lacking in our daily lives.”
He said, “We all shed a tear tonight and, whether it was a tear of joy, of hope, of love, it was not because we wanted to, but because we needed to. You see, we need to know that, even against the worst hand we could be dealt in life, we too can triumph. Because our six heroes tonight could do it, so can we.
“Each of us came into this room for a different reason, but we will all leave with our nourished souls tied together by one common thread: the unshakeable belief that, by seeing the very best in others – courage, faith, hope, endurance – we will somehow find the strength to face our own fears and achieve our greatest dreams. And for that, we need to thank our six superstars who are symbols of the possibilities which lie within us all.”
This year’s six honorees were Christy Campbell (in the physical rehabilitation category), Jemal Damtawe (addiction), Meredith Graham (social adversity), Dr. Barbara Harris, (mental health), Coltyn Liu (youth) and Tom Teranishi (medical). Since 1999, Courage to Come Back has now honored 103 individuals who have had the “courage to overcome serious adversity, change their lives for the better and move forward to help others do the same.”
Co-hosting the gala evening were Randene Neill and Kevin Evans, while Howard Blank emceed the fundraising portion of the proceedings. In his comments, Blank noted that Coast Mental Health helps an average of 12 clients a day and that its programs address three main pillars: housing, employment and support services.
The largest donation of the evening came from B.C. taxpayers, as Minister of Health Terry Lake donated $100,000 from the province on behalf of Premier Christy Clark and Minister of Finance Mike de Jong. The largest private donation came from Joseph and Rosalie Segal, who contributed $50,000. Many other individuals and companies made donations, several citing the Segal family as their example of what it means to give back to community.
There was no shortage of role models for giving that night, with the six honorees leading the way. There were many meaningful takeaways, including Liu’s statement: “Mom’s lesson: don’t feed the negative monster inside; rather, fight with a belief in yourself and for a reality you want.” And Graham’s reminder that, “sometimes, you can give what you didn’t get.”
“What part will you play,” she asked the crowd, “to change lives today?”
Nominations for this year’s Courage to Come Back Awards are open until Feb. 12, 2016, 5 p.m. The annual awards recognize abilities, celebrate differences and give centre stage to six British Columbians who have overcome tremendous challenges, yet reach out to help others in the province.
Courage recipients show us that people can walk again despite the predictions of some of the best medical minds. They teach us that disabled does not mean unable. They prove that hearing voices in one’s head does not mean a lifetime in hospital. These are valuable members of our community despite injury or illness: they are role models.
Nominations are open only to residents of British Columbia and the nominee must agree to be nominated for a Courage to Come Back Award. All nominees will receive a special certificate of nomination, which pays tribute to their outstanding courage.
A team of volunteer health professionals and community leaders will select one recipient in each category to be honored with an award. If your nominee is unsuccessful, he or she can be nominated again next year.
Any material submitted to Coast Mental Health will not be returned. Coast makes every effort to verify nominee stories but takes no responsibility for errors or omissions, and Coast reserves the right to place nominations in their award categories. Video or CD nominations are not accepted.
To nominate someone, tell the nominee’s story of a courageous comeback accurately and in detail. Submit only one nomination form for the nominee, and submit a minimum of three letters of support and testimonials, and optional supplemental documents, to [email protected]. Nominations will not be considered complete or eligible until a completed nomination form and all mandatory letters of support have been received.
Once you have clicked “submit,” an immediate message should appear confirming your nomination has been successfully submitted. You will also receive a confirmation email.