Popular businessman and community worker Denis Sacks recalls that he and his wife Sue, as new immigrants to Canada, would often watch rich, well-attired people entering the Old Mill and think they could never afford it.
“We used to come here and watch all the well-dressed people and we knew we could never go in there,” Sacks said as he was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award Friday, Jan. 30. “There was no way that we could afford it.”
Sacks, who then lived in Etobicoke, was recognized with the prestigious award at the 16th Annual Rotary Club of Toronto West Youth Impact Awards Gala at Old Mill Toronto, where he and Sue once stood outside in awe.
“Today, I am totally humbled to come back here and to receive this award,” he said to a standing ovation. “Having this event here means a lot to me.”
Colin D’Mello, an area resident and CTV news anchor, was MC at the black-tie event attended by more than 300 people to honour Sacks and fellow winners Danielle Clayton, Sue Chun, Marcia Brown, John Zanini and members of the South Etobicoke Youth Assembly (SEYA).
“I am extremely honoured and humbled to have been selected by Rotary Club of Toronto West for this award,” said Sacks, with Pepsi in hand, to loud applause. “This community has given me so much and we are never tired of giving back.”
Sacks is chairman of PepsiCo Foundation Canada, which has raised more than $2 million to help youth causes. He was a driving force behind the foundation’s United Way campaign that raised more than $1 million a year under his guidance.
“Thanks to many generous donors and a team of volunteers at PepsiCo,” he said. “As a result we have been able to help in the area of active living for underprivileged youth.”
He is proud of his role in helping the YMCA of Greater Toronto; an Aboriginal breakfast program for remote schools with ONEXONE Foundation and The Jerry Love Fund in the City of Mississauga that received a $50,000 donation to help families who cannot afford programs as camps, soccer or skating.
Sacks previously sat for 10 years on the board of Tourette Syndrome and is a former boy scout, cub and beaver leader and soccer coach.
“Denis has committed himself to youth in our community,” said Peter Haggert, editor-in-chief of Metroland Media Toronto, one of the sponsors of the event. “He is an accomplished marathoner and consummate inspiration.”
Haggert said the couple moved to Canada from South Africa in 1979 with little cash or friends here.
Sacks joined Pepsi Canada in 1983 as a franchise manager for Northern Ontario. By the 1990s, he was vice-president of food service and then retail.
He is an avid runner who has completed more than 50 marathons and ultramarathons and even competed in the 2008 World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
High school student Clayton, 11, was recognized with a Youth Award Under 18, for giving back to the community.
Clayton, inspired by her sister Stephanie’s struggle with intestinal failure, has helped to raise funds for many charities including Scotiabank Marathon Kids and Camp Winston and Young Carers Canada.
Clayton also attends the Bowl for Kids’ Sake to raise funds for Big Brothers and Big Sisters and was presented in 2012 with the Elaine Giffen Big Sister Little Sister of the Year Award.
Community-activist Chun, who is a filmmaker and journalist, was presented with a Youth Award under 25, for using the Internet to empower at-risk youth.
Chun founded Newcomer Tales in 2008, a story-telling project that produces interviews, music videos and documentaries starring at-risk youth.
“I owe a lot to the friendships and experiences that I have gained from living in Jane-Finch, so the credit belongs to the community,” Chun said. “Being recognized by the Rotary Club of Toronto West really confirms the strength and good that exists in my community.”
Chun, who was named a 2014 YWCA Toronto Young Woman of Distinction, is a reporter for jane-finch.com and Arirang Korea TV on OMNI 2.
Individual award winner Brown inspires young people and leaves a positive and lasting impression on the lives of many of them.
Brown is the founder and executive director of Trust 15. a non-profit organization that provides inner-city youth with programs that promote positive behaviour, creative expression and working skills.
“I am truly honoured and humbled that my work is being recognized by members of the community,” an ecstatic Brown said. “We do a lot of work in and out of the classroom to improve the lives of many young people in north Etobicoke.”
She is helping more than 100 boys and girls succeed by acting as a mentor and role model in the Rexdale community.
“She has provided them an opportunity to rise in an area where our youth feel they don’t have any hope or a voice,” said Patricia Wright, president of the Rotary Club of Toronto West. “Marcia has recognized that the need for positive mentors and role models is imperative.”
Brown has been awarded the Premier’s Award of Ontario for Teaching Excellence Support Staff for her work.
SEYA director Janice Karmody said hundreds of youth have grown through its programs to become community champions, run their own charities; become board members and business professionals.
“We are truly honoured to be receiving this award on behalf of our youths,” Karmody said. “Our activities encourage youth to become active participants in their community.”
Dunpar Homes owner John Zanini nailed a Business Award for his more than 30 years of being a ‘premier builder of well designed homes and communities across the GTA.’
Zanini has reflected his Buddhist spirituality in his personal and business life by donating millions of dollars to local charities and community organizations.
He has been a member of the PACT Board of Directors for the past 15 years and has played a role in the evolution of the PACT Urban Peace Program, helping thousands of at risk youth move forward on positive paths.