News / Edmonton

Decades of giving back to Edmonton: Meet one of the recipients of the rescheduled RISE awards

Psychologist who helps newcomers gets lifetime achievement award

Sophie Yohani received a lifetime achievement award from the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers Wednesday.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

Sophie Yohani received a lifetime achievement award from the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers Wednesday.

Growing up in Tanzania, Sophie Yohani started her public service training early.

“Right from kindergarten we sang songs about collectivism — how you give and you share and you’re always contributing to the community,” she said.

So when she moved to Edmonton 25 years ago, to train as a psychologist, it was “just natural” she would dive into the community wholeheartedly, she said.

On Wednesday night, Yohani's decades of work were rewarded with the Edmonton Mennonite Centre’s RISE Lifetime achievement award.

Fittingly, Yohani got her start with the Centre when, as a student, she knocked on the door to ask if she could to volunteer for their newly-opened facility for survivors of torture and trauma.

That turned into a long career working on the mental health of newcomers in Edmonton, an eventual post as an associate professor of counselling psychology at the University of Alberta, and a flurry of community volunteerism.

This year’s RISE awards, which recognize the achievements of newcomers and those who support them, were originally scheduled for May 4 at Northlands — three days after the Fort McMurray fire.

Organizer Marla Welk showed up that morning to see people still in their pyjamas and parents looking for water for their kids.

“We got here and we thought, 'How do we have a fancy gala when these people who just lost their homes?'”

They cancelled the gala three hours before the doors were to open, giving the food to those staying at Northlands. The performers showed up to entertain evacuees anyway.

Yohani said she was relieved when the award was postponed, and just hopes receiving it Wednesday boosts awareness of the help newcomers still need.

“I get to work alongside incredibly strong people who teach me about hope and resilience,” she said. “I’m very lucky that I get to work daily from my head and heart.”

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