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Two inspiring young adults from northern Ont. win provincial volunteer medal

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Every year, young people across the province make remarkable contributions to their community by volunteering their time.

Recently, two young adults from the northeast were among two dozen recognized with the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers, the highest honour given by the province to people ages 15 to 24 for making a difference in the lives of others.

Nik Provenzano (left) and Ally Zlatar (right) won the Ontario Medal for Young Volunteers. (Supplied)

Ally Zlatar of St. Charles and Nik Provenzano from Sault Ste. Marie received their medals in March after a delay caused by COVID-19.

Making a difference

Provenzano is an impressive young man with a passion for giving back to the community who was born without a left hand.

Nik Provenzano speaks at podium (Supplied)

He has done a lot of volunteering in the accessibility and disability fields, coaching and mentoring limb-different kids and child amputees in athletics.

Through the NubAbility Athletics Foundation, he created personalized fitness routines for children in the United States that allow them to work out safely.

One of his training footage videos with NubAbility took off online garnering more than 250 million views and attracting major media attention.

"I also taught them several strategies to overcome both the mental and physical challenges that amputees will face daily," Provenzano said.

In 2012, he was the recipient of the Terry Fox Humanitarian Award.

Nik Provenzano (left) received the Terry Fox Humanitarian in 2021. (Supplied)

"My long-term vision is to fundamentally reconstruct the concept of disability," he said at the time.

Another one of his impressive accomplishments was leading a team of engineering students at the University of British Columbia to design a low-cost prosthetic arm for people in impoverished countries.

"Prosthetics are either very poorly made and cheap or they're very highly technical but very expensive," he said.

"So we wanted to kind of find a middle ground, so we leveraged 3D printing and other low-cost material in order to design this prosthetic device for amputees in these more impoverished areas so that they had access to these essential devices."

It is the school's first bionics design team.

"Growing up in a small town and being the first in his family to attend university, Nik is aware of how difficult it can be for amputees to gain access to prosthetic devices," his Terry Fox Humanitarian Award bio said.

It was for this work that he was also awarded the David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility last year in honour of the former lieutenant governor.

Nik Provenzano accepts his David C. Onley Award for Leadership in Accessibility Sept. 15, 2023. (Supplied)

Provenzano is currently a junior board member with Lime Connect, a network of high-achieving young professionals and university students who have disabilities and are aiming to rebrand disability through achievement.

"That community aspect of it is really important. It shows that you are willing to dedicate your time without a monetary return," he said.

"It's been very important to me and I would definitely say it was very fulfilling. Like I've learned just as much from volunteering then I have in my university studies."

World-changing art

Zlatar created The Starving Artist initiative in 2017 to use the power of art to create systemic reform and self-healing.

Ally Zlatar founded The Starving Artist to help others learn how to use art to heal and create change. (Supplied)

She said she has had a passion for volunteering since she was really young and found art helped her find her voice when she was suffering from an eating disorder.

"I come from a very traditional European background where mental health was not talked about and medical practitioners saw a diagnosis, they didn’t really see the person suffering from the disease," she said.

"It left me incredibly alone and vulnerable."

Ally Zlatar, founder of The Starving Artist initiative. (Supplied)

Using the creative arts, she was able to express her struggles in a safe space.

"Through art, I was actually able to make progress to help myself better understand, but then also help those around me understand," Zlatar said.

"And really from there, I wanted to help others kind of look at both the power of art for our own self-healing and then also its ability to help really foster systemic reform."

Ally Zlatar of The Starving Artist make presentation (Supplied)

While she went to art summer camps as a kid, she really got into it in high school and went on to get a bachelor's degree in art history, a master's in curatorial studies and finally a PhD in visual arts.

"For now, the starving artist is deeply rooted in health equity, but we've also been really looking at exploring the power of art in so many different aspects," Zlatar said.

"So we work with a lot of migrant, displaced communities. We also are doing a lot of work with art and climate activism."

The Starving Artist engages in workshops, publications and exhibitions as well as art-based reflection cards.

Ally Zlatar of The Starving Artist speaks in Kenya (Supplied)

There are currently two open calls for art projects involving menstruation and period equity and ocean conservation and marine life protection.

"Really just, I guess, trying to make art not an accessory on gallery walls, but the forefront of how we're creating change within our communities," Zlatar said.

Being recognized

Provenzano said he didn't know who nominated him until he received the medal.

"I got the call telling me I had won back in August of last year and they had said that my brother had actually nominated me for the award, which was kind of crazy," Provenzano said.

"It was awesome to hear that and kind of realize all the kind of hard work I've done in the volunteering area was kind of paying off in a sense and people were recognizing the kind of hard work I was doing. So, yeah, it was really awesome hearing that."

Zlatar said she was nominated by an artist she worked with.

 So one of the people who was actually a beneficiary of the work nominated me and that was the most rewarding part about it, it was really sweet," she said.

The deadline to nominate someone for the annual award is Jan. 15.

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