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Awards spotlight Cochrane's COVID-19 champions

The 2021 Cochrane Community Awards nominees had something in common this year: how they overcame pandemic challenges and gave back

The RancheHouse was filled with community spirit as dozens of Cochrane residents, organizations and businesses were recognized Sunday for their contributions to the community.

Cochrane Community Awards Committee chairwoman Valerie McCracken said after the COVID-19 pandemic pulled the plug on the event last year, and postponed the 2021 event twice, it was nice to welcome all the nominees in person on Nov. 28. 

"So much a part of this is bringing those nominees together so we can celebrate them," she said, noting how important it was for the committee to find a way to avoid having a virtual event. 

The 38 nominees and 14 award recipients, and their plus ones, were welcomed in by the sounds of pipes played by Cochrane Pipe Band Major David Kirk and Celtic harpist Kathleen Pepers performed in a musical interlude. 

A common theme appeared in the nominations, McCracken said. 

"The way people felt about their community in was really evident in the nominations and the individuals and businesses," she said. "We were reading some of the most heartwarming nominations."

Pointing to Business of the Year recipient Mehtab East Indian Cuisine, McCracken said nominations spoke to the continuous generosity of the restaurant in its offerings of free meals despite the hardships COVID-19 had on the service industry. 

"People really appreciated Mehtab," she said, observing businesses nominated this year were especially service-care based — something unique to this year. 

And for the first time in award history, McCracken said, there was a tie. 

Paul Singh (Cochrane Immigrant Services Committee) and Ozzie Sawicki, president of Cochrane and District Chamber of Commerce, were dubbed Equity and Inclusion Champions of the Year. 

Singh, known for his involvement in several volunteer organizations, said it was an honour to be nominated and an even greater one to be selected the winner.

"Cochrane is such a community that is so volunteer based," he said. "Today is to showcase all the amazing Cochranites who work behind the scenes. I am proud to be living in such a community." 

Scott Lloyd, founder of the Cochrane COVID-19 Volunteers Facebook page, was recognized as the Citizen of the Year for his work in connecting residents.

"It was overwhelming to me that just a little webpage would be able to get that much traction," he said. "I was just hoping that it would help people out within the community and I think we achieved that which is great."

The page went live in March 2020, he said, as a source of information for neighbours. He collected data from Alberta Health Services and from area schools to share in order to keep Cochranites "in the loop." 

Cochrane Home Treasures was recognized as Employer of the Year for giving around $200,000 back to the community.

"It's phenomenal. We're privileged to be able to give back to the community the way we do," said chairwoman Barb Primeau. "But having said that, it's the community that give to us. They donate everything to us and we sell it back to them and that way we can help as many people as we can.

"We were able to help non-profits, some of the people that have won awards here today, they benefited by our donations," she said. "It's a privilege."

The Cochrane and Area Events Society was named the winner of Community Builder, something president Erika Richards said she's very proud of. 

"We were stoked about that," she said, noting how important it was for the society to plan safe events for the community to connect. 

"We are really proud of it because we were able to put on every single event during COVID," she said. "That was our thing, 'Make it happen.' And that's a continuation of what we do: adapt to the COVID situation and make it work." 

JoAnn Churchill was given the Order of Cochrane; Jo-Anne Oucharek was named Ambassador of the year; Corinne Burns was named Pathfinder of the Year; Jade Janzen, Youth of the Year and Diane Hunter, Senior of the Year. 

"The awards have been an appreciation of these special people in the community," McCracken said. "But, this year, there was that deeper appreciation."

McCracken said she's looking forward to getting the awards back on their regular scheduled programming, despite that being a quick turnaround time to meet the spring date. 

"It will be interesting to see who the public acknowledges for this more challenging year," she said looking toward 2022 nominations. 

For a full list of winners and nominees visit