One of April 2023 Unsung Heroes, Ms. Lorrie Ragusa, Child & Youth Worker at Dante Alighieri Academy Catholic Secondary School with her students. Photo provided by Elric Pereira

Honour recognizes Catholic values of ‘Unsung Heroes’

  • May 2, 2024

From council members and course planners to caretakers and custodians, the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s unique recognition initiative is a celebration of its employees' and volunteers' commitments to fostering student success, regardless of their position. 

The board’s Unsung Heroes initiative was developed to align with one of the pillars of the board’s multi-year plan: inspiring and motivating employees. 

“While we already have a number of different events at Toronto Catholic, with a bunch of different partners and different award recognition programs, what I felt was missing was something that touched on how to further inspire and motivate employees,” said Shazia Vlahos, chief communications officer for the TCDSB. “We asked ourselves, ‘how do we make sure that people in all of the different positions that they hold in the board are being effectively recognized?’ ” 

The Unsung Heroes program launched in the fall of 2019, highlighting a handful of staff and volunteers from across the board. Both full-time and part-time employees of the TCDSB along with regular volunteers whose work makes significant and direct impacts to a Toronto Catholic school or the broader Toronto Catholic community are eligible for nomination. 

The initiative is promoted internally each month to school administration, giving each school within the board notice to recommend a person they feel is worthy of recognition. From there, nominees are reviewed and selected by Vlahos’ team. 

“Everybody has something to contribute to the school community, and so we have been very fortunate with individuals who are nominated as ones that ensure that Catholic values are being reflected in the work that they are doing,” Vlahos said. 

What sets it apart from a traditional “employee of the month” style award is that eligibility is based on peer nomination and inherent impact, rather than performance. 

“This was crafted to be very intentional about front-line staff and supporting members that are contributing in ways that we might not always find an opportunity to highlight,” Vlahos said. “We have amazing caretaking staff, an amazing secretarial staff and we have students who rely on these people every single day to keep our schools welcoming and safe and clean. These people are also friendly, trusted adults in a school setting, and we wanted to make sure that their work was also being acknowledged.” 

Unsung Hero recipients are awarded public recognition through an online post containing a photo and synopsis detailing the service provided by each winner. Additionally, all 14,000 board employees receive notice of awarded candidates each month. Despite there being no gold trophy or cash prize, the peer recognition alone has proven to be invaluable to staff and volunteers.

“Staff morale is extremely important, especially coming out of the pandemic. Working in education can be challenging on some days and a small gesture of recognition can ensure staff enjoy where they work, including partnering with other staff to make a huge difference in ensuring students feel safe and valued at school through spreading positivity,” said Colleen Hayward, principal of Precious Blood Catholic School in Scarborough.

“Many of my staff prefer to go unnoticed and quietly go about their work. The best part of the Unsung Heroes initiative is that it isn’t a competition. Whatever your role in the school is, the Unsung Heroes initiative shows how what you do makes a difference.”  

One of those difference makers is Hayward’s colleague, Chandi Amarasingha, who was recognized as an Unsung Hero in February for her outstanding work as an early child educator at Precious Blood. 

“I am humbled and honoured to receive this recognition, which is something I never expected,” she said. “There are challenging times (in education) on some occasions which one would expect, and it is during this time that when you think of almost giving up. It is important to remember that grace has been given from above to continue no matter what the obstacles are, so I would say it is a calling from God to continue living out our faith values.”

The Unsung Heroes program often aligns nominees with each monthly virtue, adding to the elements of showcasing the Catholic values on display by those involved with the school board. 

With the Unsung Heroes initiative continuing to showcase the best of those within Catholic education, the board is also looking ahead to its awards night, its annual recognition evening May 6. The all-encapsulating event recognizes the accomplishments of alumni, students, staff and friends of Catholic education, with submissions open for community members to nominate members for different awards. 

Some of the awards being presented include the Alumni Award, Award of Merit, Ashif Jaffer Award for Excellence in Special Education and Friends of Catholic Education Award. The full list of awards, as well as information about nominating can be found at

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