Written by Melanie Au and Dr. Stephanie Zhou
How the WXN Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada Awards connected Scott Mission Board Vice-Chair Melanie Au with former beneficiary, Dr. Stephanie Zhou
What is your connection to Scott Mission?
Stephanie: When my parents and I immigrated to Canada with only three suitcases, we settled down in subsidized housing in one of the lowest income neighbourhoods of downtown Toronto. Not knowing any English or having any friends, we looked for community in a local church. It was through the church that we were introduced to Scott Mission, a grassroots charity that would change my family’s life for the better.
As a child in Scott Mission’s childcare centre, I was provided with clothing, toys, and hot meals. Most importantly, it was where I learned compassion in my formative years. My mom worked on an assembly line and my dad worked as a dishwasher at the time. Their work hours were long and irregular. One evening, when all the other children were picked up by their parents, I was the last one remaining. The former CEO of Scott Mission stayed with me until later that night when my mom finished her shift and could pick me up.
How did you meet through WXN?
Stephanie: We met through the 2022 WXN Top 100 Awards. I received the RBC Future Launch Future Leaders award and Melanie was a recipient in the Canadian Tire Community Impact category. During the awards ceremony, I saw her profile featuring her work as Vice-Chair of the board at Scott Mission. At the end of the ceremony, I introduced myself and showed her some of my childhood photos taken at Scott Mission.
We later met for coffee and discussed how to encourage more women of colour to join non-profit boards and engage in philanthropy. Recently, I was featured in an article about Changing the Face of Philanthropy and this prompted a dialogue about the importance of diverse representation on boards, at the executive level, and in major donor circles.
Our next meeting was at Scott Mission to meet with their CEO, Peter Duraisami. It was nostalgic for me to visit Scott Mission again before its 502 Spadina location will be demolished to build a 9-story building with affordable housing units. The last time I was there was in 2013, volunteering in the kitchen and dining hall when I was still a student.
Melanie: Years ago, I attended a WXN event and was inspired to increase my community involvement by joining a Board of Directors. It is full circle that 7 years later, I am a recipient of The WXN Top 100 Award for Community Impact. The greatest gift this award gave me is the connection to this phenomenal cohort of winners. There were so many inspiring women that I had the privilege of connecting with during and after the events. Stephanie is certainly one of them. Her accomplishments and contribution back to community is extremely impressive.
It is fulfilling to serve in an organization that has such great impact on lives such as Stephanie’s. To know that someone got a lift up from Scott Mission services and is now contributing at this exceptional level is very meaningful. And Stephanie’s story is not unique at Scott Mission. I am so glad that I got to connect with her personally and to witness her success.
What is the impact of philanthropy on your life?
Stephanie: Similar to any investment, you don’t always see the returns until many years later. This was the case with me. Now, I am an Addictions and Family Medicine physician, and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto Medical School, where I continue to pay it forward to my patients and students. I am also on the board at Habitat for Humanity GTA, to ensure that families like mine can continue to experience the generational change that comes with safe and affordable housing.
In 2021, I founded the Physicians Financial Wellness Conference, the largest national conference on physician financial literacy that is volunteer led, with the annual proceeds going towards charitable causes. This year, the conference proceeds established The Equity Award, an endowment fund for students with financial need.
Melanie: Community involvement is such an integral part of my family’s purpose. My husband and I are raising our two children to be in service of others. Over the years of volunteering at food banks and hot meal programs, raising money to sponsor refugee families, and serving on not-for-profit boards, I realize that I am the one who is transformed. This other-centeredness has helped me be a better mother, friend, and leader in the workplace. In 2021, I co-founded togetHER network, a not-for-profit organization serving women in the workplace designed to empower Canadian women professionals to reach their full potential by providing learning opportunities, community, motivation, and inspiration.
Melanie Au is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Canadian Tire Community Impact category for 2022. She has been recognized as a woman who strives to make a difference in her community.
Dr. Stephanie Zhou is a Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 Award Winner in the Canadian RBC Future Launch Future Leaders category for 2022. She has been recognized as one of five exceptional young women, between 15 and 29 years old, who are transforming their communities through innovation, collaboration and courage.
This article first appeared on WXNetwork.com’s Blog on March 7, 2023. Thank you to WXN for allowing us to share!