Dress for Success: Launching careers and lives

Emily Brown (left) and Sandra Burelli help clients choose winning clothing. Photo by Jennifer Baguss


Sometimes clothes really do make the woman

Creating opportunities by dressing for successful employment

Story and photos by Jennifer Baguss

Tucked behind Capital City Luggage on Wellington St. West at Ross Ave. is a small boutique that is creating opportunities for disadvantaged women all over the city.

Dress for Success Ottawa is an international non-profit organization with the aim to provide economic independence for women. With a head office based in New York City, Dress for Success has over 120 affiliates worldwide.

Emily Brown, of Wellington Village, has been with the company since it opened in January of 2011. She oversees the Suiting Program at the boutique.

“We provide suiting for women who are disadvantaged and looking for work,” says Brown.

“We provide women with two outfits for interviews,” says Brown. “We get them in business suits or separates. We go head to toe; shoes, handbags, accessories and even makeup.”

Dress for Success’s Kitchissippi location has also started a pre-employment program that is completely unique to this chapter.

“We saw a need for it,” says Sandra Burelli, the co-ordinator of the Dress Rehearsal program.

“We now provide workshops on resumes and cover letters,” says Burelli. “It’s a pretty unique program. We pair a woman with an HR or hiring manager downtown and provide a mock interview,” says Burelli. “So women go through the whole process.”

Since opening in 2011, Brown estimates Kitchissippi’s Dress for Success has suited over 450 women.

“We work with job-ready women who are referred to us by various community organizations such as woman’s shelters, victim services and community health centres,” says Brown.

Dress for Success also offers women access to workshops and programs after finding employment. Each woman referred to Dress for Success automatically gets lifetime access to the Professional Women’s Group.

“We provide them with workshops in a variety of different areas,” says Burelli. “From surviving to thriving, managing money, getting out of debt, health and wellness and personal style.”

“We actually had a free yoga workshop a few weeks ago,” says Burelli.

“It’s a support source and networking source for all of these women who have been through the same things,” says Burelli. “It gives a sense of community.”

Depending on donations from the community to run the boutique on Wellington, Dress for Success has set up two nights per month to accept donations, the first Monday evening of the month and the third Tuesday afternoon.

Other than suits and blouses, Brown says there are important items the boutique looks for in donations.

“We are always in need of camisoles to wear under suits,” says Brown. “We also look for wide shoes and petite sizes, really anything that is business appropriate.”

“We are also always accepting statement jewellery and new toiletries such as shampoo, deodorant and make-up,” says Brown.


Dress for Success will be having their semi-annual Hidden Treasures Clothing Sale on April 20 from 10am – 1pm at their boutique on Wellington St. West. Visit dressforsuccess.org/Ottawa for more information.

Chamber Theater Hintonburg presents Edmond at the Carleton Tavern

Drama at the Carleton Tavern

By Ted Simpson

Chamber Theatre Hintonburg are currently performing David Mamet’s Edmond: a twisted story of a man’s fall from married life into the dark criminal underworld, through prostitution, violence and murder.

Edmond at the Carleton Tavern. Photo by Ted Simpson

The Carleton Tavern provides a unique and intriguing venue for the production. The minimal set design and intimate room put the focus directly on the powerful, intense performances from a truly outstanding cast.

Kitchissippi’s Donnie Laflamme as Edmond is a captivating and at times terrifying lead. Laflamme also directed and produced the performance with assistance from Manon Dumas.

Be advised the show contains some extremely harsh language and graphic imagery.

Edmond runs April 11 and 12 at 7:30 p.m. and April 13 at 5:00 p.m.

Tickets are $20 each, available online at eventbrite or by personal reservation 613-791-4471, 613-791-0097.

Maria Pellegrini: Behind a flawless performance

Artistic director for Opera Pellegrini
Maria Pellegrini, artistic director for Pellegrini Opera, is looking forward to the company’s upcoming performance of The Barber of Seville on April 19 and 20.

The powerful voice and direction behind Pellegrini Opera’s Barber of Seville

Story and photo by Kristy Strauss

Audiences usually enjoy seemingly flawless performances when they visit the opera – but for Maria Pellegrini, there’s another story and soundtrack that happens behind the curtains.

For the past nine months, her singers have been learning millions of notes in preparation for Pellegrini Opera’s The Barber of Seville performance.

“It’s a very, very difficult opera. But, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” says Pellegrini, a Wellington West resident who is also artistic director of the Ottawa-based opera company.

Performers are busy getting ready for the April 19 and 20 shows, and Pellegrini says they have been working extremely hard.

“The singers are very professional and very committed,” she says, adding that many are balancing hours of practice time and working full-time jobs.

Creating a great opera means having the right cast, Pellegrini says, but it also means having the right location.

Pellegrini Opera has chosen Dominion-Chalmers United Church in Centretown for many of their performances – including The Barber of Seville.

Since Pellegrini prefers not to use microphones during performances, she says she likes the church because it provides excellent acoustics.

“Everything is wood, and the sounds are nice,” she says. “This performance will be quite loud and quite beautiful, so I’m very excited about it.”

However, even with a perfect cast and perfect setting, Pellegrini says there is never a perfect opera performance.

Her personal opera career spans decades, and has taken her around the world – performing with famous artists like Luciano Pavarotti. But even through these phenomenal experiences, she says a perfect performance rarely takes place.

“Especially in live performances, there’s always something that goes wrong,” Pellegrini says. “People who know opera notice, but most of the time, the public won’t.”

While there’s no such thing as a perfect performance, Pellegrini said there are a few things singers should follow to make the performance a great one – remember your part, act well, complete the performance and make it beautiful.

She adds that some opera performers carry good luck charms during a performance, even though she’s never had one.

“I’m not superstitious like that,” Pellegrini says, adding that one of her famous co-workers from the past used to carry a good luck charm. “Pavarotti had a big, big nail in his pocket and I never knew why.”

Pellegrini says she would get nervous before going on stage – a feeling that many performers go through before show time.

However, she says that feeling quickly goes away on stage.

“When you step on stage, you’re somebody else,” she says.

While opera singers are performing, audiences can appreciate the beautiful high notes they hit – but, Pellegrini adds that the singers go through an intense workout to reach those notes.

“It’s very physical. It’s like going to a gym,” she notes. “The whole body works to make that sound.”

Audiences can experience the sights and sounds of Pellegrini Opera’s The Barber of Seville on April 19 and 20 at 7:30 p.m., in the Dominion-Chalmers United Church at 355 Cooper St.

Judith Love: Making her own luck

Judith Love with her first novel, Perhaps…with luck. Photo by Ted Simpson

Travelling Westboro writer publishes first novel

Story and photo by Ted Simpson

Perhaps, With Luck… is the first published novel from Westboro native Judith Love and is currently making its way to bookstore shelves across the city.

Love lives in Westboro, having returned to Ottawa after a 30 year absence spent in Nova Scotia and as far away as Africa.

The novel examines many of the social and cultural issues that make up Canadian identity, “I wanted to build a story that took into account the complexities of life in Canada, in terms of multiculturalism, religious diversity and language,” says Love.

Love does not shy away from tackling subjects that are, at times sensitive, “It seemed to me that a lot of novels steer away from discussing religion, and thinking about people I know, for some religion is a very major part of their lives,” says Love. “I wanted to be very blunt about the religious side of life in Canada.”

The novel begins in 2008 and tells the story of Maggie Stanton, a widowed mother who works part-time at Queen’s University. Maggie lives alone in a picturesque, lakeside home near Kingston. Maggie’s story revolves around her relationships with her two adult children as they struggle through their own relationships, marriages and careers.

As her children begin to forge their own paths, Maggie works to reinvent her own after the loss of her husband. She fills her free time by writing a fictionalized biography of her great-grandmother Emilie Jane McNiven, who Maggie never met and knows only through a few historical records and one old photograph.

After Love spent some time in her own life looking into her genealogy, she was struck with the idea to interweave Maggie’s story with a relative from the past, “I learned a little bit about how you go about finding someone who you didn’t know existed,” says Love. “I could have Maggie finding one of her ancestors and this would show how Canada was…in the 1800’s.”

The pages of Maggie’s book are interspersed throughout the novel—almost a book within a book—creating a historical counterpoint to the life of Maggie and her family. Emilie’s story takes the reader to Montreal, then London in the late 1800’s into the life of a military family and their very similar struggles in a much different world.

Love’s storytelling takes the reader across Canada, from small town Kingston to the prairies to the Maritimes. Then, in an unexpected twist, Maggie finds herself in Africa. The scenery is communicated to the reader through simple and vibrant detail.

Love spent two years of her own life living in Botswana, Africa and incorporates her own personal vision of the world beautifully into her writing.

The novel is mostly self-published by love with help from local business Baico Publishing.

Perhaps, With Luck… is currently available at a few independent book stores in Ottawa, including Smith Books, Perfect Books and Books on Beechwood, with plans for a larger rollout currently in the works.

At home with Stephen Beckta and Maureen Cunningham

By Kathleen Wilker –

This story originally appeared in Kitchissippi Times March 22, 2012. Stephen Beckta’s latest culinary destination, gezellig, is now a Westboro establishment at 337 Richmond Road.

When Steve Beckta welcomes you into his Westboro home, he may ask if you’d like to check your coat before remembering he’s not at one of his two popular and well respected Ottawa restaurants, Beckta or Play Food and Wine.

“I knew I wanted to open my own restaurant ever since I was a kid,” says Beckta. The down-to-earth Ottawa native had an early start in the restaurant business, by working at Malibu Jacks when he was just 13. “I started bussing tables. The first dish I ever made was the famous ‘Good Friends, Good Times Taco Dish,’” he remembers fondly.

At 19, his passion for welcoming family and friends to dinner inspired Beckta to make his own harvest table when he discovered that tables that seat eight cost upwards of $1000. “I couldn’t afford that and I didn’t have any experience with wood working, so I glued eight foot one by twos together and used a belt sander to plane the surface,” says Beckta, sitting at the table which continues to hold pride of place in the dining room he shares with his wife, Maureen Cunningham, a training and organizational change coach and with their son, Seanan.

Bright green kitchen cupboards, green pillows of all shapes, sizes and designs and a soft green blanket dot the spacious and airy main floor.

Splashes of green make for bright, cozy corners. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

“We love this colour,” says Cunningham. “It’s just so happy.”

After graduating from Algonquin College’s Sommelier course, Beckta moved to New York City and landed himself a job at Café Boulud. “The building was being renovated when I applied for the job, so I had no idea it was such a fine restaurant,” he laughs. “The first night I worked there I was serving Robin Williams and the Mayor.”

A wedding invitation brought Beckta back to Ottawa where he and Cunningham met. “By our fifth date we had moved in together here in Ottawa,” says Cunningham, who had been rooting for a tiny apartment in Brooklyn but realized that if Beckta really did want to open a restaurant, Ottawa was a better choice for them than New York.

The pair is intentional about the way they want to spend time together and they’ve been equally intentional about the recent renovations to their home. Expansive windows with cozy window seats offer nooks for newspaper reading and convenient storage for a clutter-free living space.

“I knew right away we should get the pod sofa as soon as I saw it,” says Cunningham. “It’s impossible to sit on that sofa without snuggling. I thought it would be great for our marriage.”

Within easy view of the kitchen sink is a large photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge. “That’s where we got engaged,” confides Cunningham, grinning.

At the heart of their kitchen is a wood burning oven. “Everyone’s drawn to the oven and wants to get in there and start cooking,” says Beckta who enjoys cooking lamb, chicken, turkey, bread and, of course, pizza, in the oven. “We’re all drawn to fire and the flavour of fire-cooked food. Humans have cooked with fire for so long.”

While they have plans to open a third restaurant this year, Beckta pictures a location beyond Kitchissippi. “There are many great restaurants in this neighbourhood already,” he says. “The Wellington Gastropub, Juniper, The Back Lane Café, Absinthe and Allium are all favourites for us,” says Beckta. “It’s hard to choose where to go for a birthday dinner, the selection is so great,” adds Cunningham.

Awesome authors from Kitchissippi

The Ottawa Public Library’s Awesome Authors youth writing contest included two winners from Kitchissippi.

Fisher Park P.S.’s Sophia Carney won first place in the short story contest for youth aged 12-14 with her science fiction story.

Isabella Crysler from Churchill Alternative Public School wins first prize in poetry, age 9-11. Photo by Kathleen Wilker

Isabella Crysler, age 11, who attends Churchill Alternative Public School, won both first prize and an honourable mention for two of her poems.

Congratulations to the young authors!

Paula Roy is Constantly Cooking: Foodie dishes up Pig in a Puddle

By Kristy Strauss

At only five years-old, Paula Roy remembers canning pickles and jams from her mother’s garden. At 12, she made her first turkey dinner for the family. Now, the West Wellington resident is taking her love of cooking and giving back to the community.

On Jan. 21, Roy, who blogs about all things foodie over at Constantly Cooking, will cook up her well-loved dish – pig cheeks on a celery and potato purée – as a guest chef at the Back Lane Café in a fundraiser to help the Parkdale Food Centre. She calls the dish “cheeky pig in a puddle.”

“You cannot begin to imagine my excitement when I was asked to come and cook at the Back Lane Café. I literally jumped for joy,” said Roy, who has written about food in Ottawa since 1999 and has been the food editor of Ottawa at Home magazine for more than four years. “The chance to work for one night in what I consider one of Ottawa’s finest kitchens is like a dream come true.”

While writing has always been her career path, Roy said cooking is her main hobby.

The Back Lane Café invited Roy to make her popular dish after customers came in one day, raving about the meal. Roy had entered it into the My Neighbourhood Bites event, held at the Cube Gallery in December.

The meal was inspired by a trip to the United Kingdom, where Roy and her husband vacationed last year. While out for dinner, they noticed the pigs cheeks dinner on the menu.

“I tasted it, and thought it was the best thing ever,” she said. “I had to figure out how to cook it.”

When she got home, she visited the butcher and started trying out different methods with the meat. She didn’t want to re-create it, and put her own spin on the meal – simmering braised pigs cheeks in a very fragrant stock accented with cardamom and other seasonings, and serving the pork on top of a bed of celery root and potato purée.

When the Back Lane Café invited her to be a guest chef for the night, Roy knew it would be the perfect way to give back to the Parkdale Food Centre’s Nutrition Fund.

The fund helps buy items like milk, cheese and yogurt for the food bank’s clients.

“The food bank is always on my mind,” said Roy. “I’m a frugal cook, but I never have to think gosh, there’s no food in the cupboard. Or, I have to make it last until the next paycheck.”

The meal will also be three-courses, including Roy’s homemade soup recipe and donuts for dessert.

“The fact that I get to play in this amazing space and help a favourite charity just makes everything more special,” Roy said. “It is going to be an unforgettable experience for me, for sure.”

She added that it’s important for the community to remember to donate to their local food bank year-round.

“In January it’s hard, but the need is the same,” Roy said.


Signing out neighbourhood "books" during the Human Library Project

CBC’s Giacomo Panico, one of the Human Library’s Books. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Getting a read of area’s hottest books
Sneak peek at two sides of the entertainment business

By Kathleen Wilker
Photos by Justin Van Leeuwen

The Human Library Project offers opportunities to broaden perspectives by signing out people for twenty minute interviews. This year, the second year that CBC and the Ottawa Public Library have collaborated on the venture, two Kitchissippi residents were on loan on January 26.
Using our media privileges, we ‘borrowed’ Drag queen Zelda Marshall and CBC personality Giacomo Panico before the event.

Zelda Marshall at the Rosemount Library. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

“I’m originally from Vancouver where the snow stays in the mountains where it belongs,” says Marshall who was the Grand Marshall of the Ottawa Pride Parade in 2011. “I came to Ottawa for the work and stayed for the drag.”

Zelda Marshall browses. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

Considered a beloved and mentoring grandmother in Ottawa’s drag scene, Marshall notes that drag isn’t only about looking fabulous and having all the best dance moves. “There’s a long tradition of fundraising and giving back to the community,” she says. “And you absolutely have to be a great entertainer, to think on your feet, to shift gears quickly. Being a great human being makes you a great entertainer.”
Equally at home raving about the gorgeous sparkly clothes in XL sizes she finds at Giant Tiger, narrating the complete history of gay rights in Ontario and across Canada or sharing stories about her drag daughters and granddaughters, Marshall was looking forward to meeting the people who would sign her out.
“I can tailor my story to fit whatever they’re interested in,” says Marshall who uses her male name and identity at work.

Giacomo Panico outside Rosemount Library. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

West Wellington’s Giacomo Panico studied mechanical engineering at university and found himself drifting from his preferred role as educator at the Aviation Museum into project management when he decided it was time to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.
“I’ve been working for CBC for 5 years,” says Panico, explaining that he began his radio career with a Monday night show on CKCU that he took very seriously. “After two years, I did a short internship in Montreal and then cornered Adrian Harewood at a public function and managed to convince him to let me shadow him for a day.”
Turns out CBC was just the right fit for Panico who wowed editors and producers at the story meeting Harewood invited him to. As luck would have it, Panico’s first idea went on air locally, then nationally and then rebroadcast on The House. “I learned from that experience that you can try to do as much as you can. But sometimes an opportunity presents itself. And it’s about being ready when that opportunity hits, to take full advantage of it.”
These days Panico, a self-proclaimed news junkie, is loving his life, his job and his neighbourhood which he considers both practical and vibrant. “I love covering breaking news. I love the combination of the fast tempo and using a filter of rigor. The quick, critical thinking.”
He attributes some of his talent for grace under pressure to his early years as an air cadet. “You have to be fast, but you’ve got to be right,” he says, eyes lighting up. But as much as he was looking forward to the Human Library Project and to meeting everyone, he had some reservations. “I can be a bit more guarded about my own life,” he says.
Known at CBC as ‘the bike guy’ for riding year round, even in sub -30 temperatures, Panico notes he’s equally passionate about beautiful cars.
In addition to reporting for CBC during the week, Panico is hosting, on an interim basis, CBC’s Saturday morning show, In Town and Out. Although his Saturday’s start at 2:45am with a homemade latte, Panico considers being Ottawa’s brunch date a privilege. “Saturday morning is a sacred time. The pace is slower. There might be waffles and an extra coffee. We want to offer something special, something substantial.”

Ryan Grant: Pedorthist runs in Ethiopian highlands

Westboro’s Ryan Grant tries out his own high altitude training in Ethiopia.

From the trails of the Ottawa River to Ethiopia’s YaYa Village

Westboro runner and pedorthist shares injury prevention with athletes


By Bridget Mallon

For many people, ‘running’ and ‘holiday’ are not words used in the same sentence. But for Ryan Grant, a recent 3 week trip to Ethiopia offered a perfect chance to combine his passions: helping others, running and adventure.

Grant is a certified pedorthist – he helps to find and address the root causes of foot problems or injuries. He volunteered his skills to runners at YaYa Village, a high-altitude training facility for local and international endurance athletes. There Grant worked with elite runners like Markos Geneti, a favourite for the 2013 Boston Marathon, along with lesser known emerging talent in the country that now rivals Kenya for top runners.

“It was a chance to help athletes that don’t get enough support on injury prevention or finding long term solutions to injuries,” Grant explains. “With so many great runners waiting in line, there is a lot of pressure to just get through the next race, or you’ll be replaced by someone else.”

An elite athlete himself – Grant has a sub 30-minute 10K to his name, along with top 10 finishes in Ironman triathalons – Kitchissippi is where he runs, lives and works (Grant co-owns Solefit on Roosevelt Avenue with his sister and lives a short walk from work).

“Kitchissippi is such an active community…with the river, the canal and the Gatineaus…there are so many great spaces to be outside and active.”

Grant is known for his knowledge of minimalist running – which can include running barefoot (though he doesn’t recommend it for everyone). But he is best known for his commitment to people. “Ryan Grant is one of the kindest, most generous people you could ever meet,” says friend and colleague Ian Fraser of Cyclelogik. “He is passionate about helping others reach their goals in running and other sports.”

Inspired by Grant’s time in Ethiopia, Solefit is now sponsoring the YaYa Girls Running Program, which provides scholarships to promising young runners. With world class coaching a few YaYa Girls will have a career in running. But the program also prepares all of the girls for life outside running with English tutoring, lessons on health and nutrition, and vocational training.

“This kind of program is so important in a country with such an intense running culture. Many kids see the success of elite runners and see as a way out of poverty – to the point where they quit school to try to run professionally. These girls can change that, because they go back to their communities as role models and mentors,” says Grant.

Aside from helping the athletes, trip highlights include group runs through fields and mountain trails:  “There are few roads or paved surfaces. And there’s no concept of private land – you just run around people’s huts.”

Not a coffee lover by nature, Grant came to enjoy the locally grown beans that are brewed in clay pots over hot coals. He also had breakfast with YaYa co-founder Haile Gebreseallaasie (holder of 27 World Records, two Olympic gold medals, and a pile of marathon titles) who explains the secrets behind the success of his country’s runners. Laughing, Grant spills the goods: “‘There are no secrets!’ Haile told me, ‘It’s just hard work!’”


Five things you should know about: Annie Hillis

Annie Hillis is looking ahead to the next exciting opportunity. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

5 Things you should know:

About Annie Hillis

By Kathleen Wilker

We caught up with Annie Hillis at Alpha Soul Café during her last week as Executive Director of the Wellington West BIA. As the driving force behind connecting businesses with each other and developing a forum for them to collaborate and develop, Hillis usually enjoys staying in the background. She prefers shining the spotlight on area businesses, events that animate the street and creative public spaces in the neighbourhood. Graciously, Hillis—who advises us to “stay tuned” for what she’ll be up to next—agreed to take centre stage for a Kitchissippi Times exclusive.

1. Annie loves speaking Spanish.

“I went to high school in Costa Rica,” she says. “My father still lives there.” Although she doesn’t often get the opportunity to speak Spanish these days, Hillis loves to.

2. Annie thinks the best way to get to know people is through volunteering for big projects.

When she moved to Ottawa and enrolled her kids at Elmdale P.S., she signed up for Bookfest Coordinator at her first parent council meeting. “The responsibility was a lot more than I imagined it would be, but the parent—Paula Roy—who had been in charge of Bookfest for many years gave me her well-organized binder and that was a big help. And I met a lot of people through that role.”

3. Annie performed in The Vagina Monologues.

“I was performing the researched section that is specific to each location, so I had to research violence against women in Ottawa and shelters for women in Ottawa,” she says. “That was sobering and important work.”

4. Annie loves mountains.

“I’ve lived in Lake Louise, Vancouver, the Laurentians and worked for a number of years at the Banff Centre for the Arts,” she says. In fact, Annie Hillis met her husband at the Banff Centre. “He was a visiting artist who hung around the office until I started dating him,” she tells us with her famous smile and infectious laugh.

5. When Annie needs to walk somewhere in the neighbourhood in a hurry, she takes Scott Street.

“I’ve been so grateful and touched by the response to my leaving the WWBIA,” she says. “I’ve received hundreds of emails because even established businesses need someone to be their champion.” All this appreciation, support and connection often manifests itself in walks along Wellington that can take a long time as different business owners, community builders and neighbourhood volunteers often have something they’d like to discuss with Annie Hillis whenever they see her out on the street.”