Category: Feature Articles

From Canada to Hollywood: Roberta Battaglia

Do you guys feel proud of me?” 10-year-old Roberta Battaglia asks sweetly as she turns to hear her parents’ answer. “We are very proud of you!” mom Gabriella chimes in without hesitation. “I was so happy for you because I was seeing your dream come true. It’s what you’ve wanted and spoke about since you were a little girl.”

Roberta became the talk of the town earlier this year when she wowed the America’s Got Talent judgeswithherpowerfulrendition of Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow” – a performance that prompted Sofía Vergara to press the Golden Buzzer, fast-tracking Roberta to the show’s semi-finals, expected to unfold in August. It was a moment that Roberta later told the judges was a dream come true. “She was perfect,” adds her father, Alessandro, a fellow musician who sings and plays instruments such as the piano and saxophone. “I’m so happy for Roberta. She sang amazing.”

The Toronto native has shown her musical flair since she was a toddler. She made her first public performance at age three when she picked up a microphone dur- ing one of her dad’s gigs and began singing with him onstage.

Click here to read the full article in HELLO! Canada magazine.

Roberta Battaglia: A Star Is Born

Roberta Battaglia A Star Is Born

Look out, Celine! There’s another Canadian singing sen- sation on the horizon. And she’s only 10!

With a performance of the Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper hit “Shallow,” Roberta Battaglia, from Brampton, Ont., brought down the house on TV’s America’s Got Talent and won over the judges, too. Thanks to Sofía Vergara (right, 2nd R), Roberta received the “Golden Buzzer,” fast-forwarding her to the finals, which are expected to take place in August.

“I’m really overwhelmed with excitement because of everything that’s happening right now,” Roberta told Hello! Canada on the heels of her performance. “This means the world to me.”

It means a lot to her parents, too, who have sup- ported her passion for years. “All this began when I took her to see her [musician] father, Alessandro, play in restaurants,” says her mom, Gabriella, reflect- ing on Roberta’s journey. “She would walk over to him, pick the microphone off the floor and just start singing. We were shocked because she was only three at the time.”
Since then, Roberta has worked on her craft, playing galas, festivals and appearing on TV. Now, with a chance at becoming the reality show’s youngest-ever winner of its million-dollar prize, it seems the sky is the limit.

“We just want her to be happy,” says Gabriella. “Whatever she decides to do in the future, we’ll support her.”


The world of show business has changed considerably since the dawn and incredible rise of social media and today’s celebrities, who in the past have relied heavily on the press for exposure, are now riding the cyber wave utilizing this powerful platform to showcase their work and connect to fans.  One entertainer who is benefitting from this tool and using it to its fullest potential is multi-talented Taveeta Szymanowicz, widely known to her fans simply as Taveeta. Crediting her popularity to her television characters on the hit teen series’, The Next Stepand Make It Pop, her on-line presence captivates young audiences nationally and across the globe.

Toronto-born and only 21 years old, the spirited actress, singer, song writer and dance artist is already well-accomplished. “I started dancing when I was six. I was super hyperactive! I stopped for a couple of years, did sports instead and then went into jazz class,” explains Taveeta. “From there I was instantly hooked and trained excessively.” Her love of dance eventually led to her to Toronto’s Cardinal Academy of Arts where she delved into all spectrums of the performing arts, collaborating with fellow students and mentors who would help hone her skills as a multi-genre entertainer. “I’d be walking the halls and there would be singers hanging out and singing at the top of their lungs…both musicians and actors.  It was really nice and motivated me to try other things,” she says, describing what could easily be a scene in the 80s art school film, Fame.

Inspired by her surroundings Taveeta graduated with honours, subsequently auditioning for the acclaimed Canadian series, The Next Stepwith hopes of scoring a dance role on at least one episode. Instead, her wildest dreams were realized when, only after her very first-ever audition in the entertainment industry she landed the principle role of Thalia. “It was actually through word of mouth that I learned about the audition and from there I knew that I loved being behind the camera. It felt normal and I was not really all that nervous,” she smiles remembering the pivotal moment in 2014 that would put her face on the Family Channel and on television screens nationwide. A rising star, it didn’t take Taveeta long to hit the US market after acquiring the role of “mean girl” Valerie in the world-renowned Nickelodeon television series, Make It Pop. “I auditioned for that and it was so much fun because it was completely different from my character in The Next Step. Valerie was mean and a Queen Bee. I thought, ‘this is fun. I get to be someone completely different’,” she laughs. Going above and beyond is her mantra and therefore no surprise that in addition to the tube, she also graces the big screen starring in the recently filmed Every Day, as well as appearing regularly in the musical productions of Peter Panand Sleeping Beautyat Toronto’s Elgin Winter Garden Theatre.

Yet the tides have turned once again and today her passion for music has sparked the recent release of her debut album, Resurrection, with a goal to one day collaborate with artists such as Drake, The Weekend, Alessia Cara and many more. “I’ve wanted to make music for so long and finally I’m in a place now where I can,” says Taveeta whose independent EP can be found on iTunes and Spotify. “It’s so much fun. I sit with my producers at Gladiator Records and tell them all my ideas and all the things I want to communicate. We write to different types of music and because I’m a person of diversity I am into so many different types of music,” explains the exotic brunette of Polish and St. Lucian descent. As a musical artist Taveeta understands that the vehicle which showcased her talents as an actress, that being television, does not apply for the “up-and-coming” of the music realm and now takes advantage of the power of social media to promote Resurrection and its videos to her vast fan base. “The two shows definitely helped me to acquire a fan base and it’s so interesting because they are pre-teens and teens and now that I’m growing up, they are growing up with me. They are sticking by me and supporting my other endeavours,” says Taveeta, adding that she handles her own Instagram, SnapChat, Facebook and Twitter accounts, taking the time to respond to her young fans and followers.  “People will take time out of their day to make me a collage or take my song and put it over a picture of me dancing and I think, ‘that’s so nice. Thank you for doing that!” So I try to respond as much as I can,” Her appreciation is unquestionable and considering she has 150k plus loyal followers with thousands reacting to each of her posts, this by no means an easy task.

Equally important is her commitment to being a positive role model for her generation and does so by using social media as a force for good. “I would never post anything that wasn’t appropriate and being a good role model is another driving force into all that I am doing. So I use my platform to have a voice and communicate my thoughts to people in hopes that it will make a positive impact.” But what does Taveeta say of its negative implications?  “I feel social media puts a lot of pressure on society. There’s pressure to look a certain way and that can get to anybody. So I try not to focus on that as I see what that does to some artists.” Marching to the beat of her own drum, she doesn’t abide by social media statistics indicating the “dos and don’ts” regarding engagement levels. “I post when I post and when I feel like it…and only if feel a connection to the photo.”  Instead of creating an illusion to hide what many celebrities may consider banal reality and threat to their mystique, Taveeta prefers to get real and personal opening the door to her fans and allowing them to see her at home reading a book, on a summer hike or a wishing a close friend a happy birthday.  “Just be safe about it because so many people can see what you’re doing and you’re making your life public. Be smart about what you are sharing.”  Although using it as a means of self expression with an understanding of how it benefits her career, Taveeta feels social media will not make or break an artist. “If you create a great song and people like it they will share it. Social media didn’t exist in the past but artists still succeeded. At the end of the day it comes down to your hard work. ”

Follow Taveeta:

Instagram: @taveeta

Twitter: @TAVEETA_

Facebook: Taveeta


Who is your favourite person/account to follow?

Dr. Pimple Popper – a dermologist and her page is so cool. MY favourite artist to follow is Selena Gomez. I love her and she is inspiration to me.

Which emoji do you use most?

Squeezing Cheeks

What’s your favourite restaurant to eat in Toronto?

FRESH – vegan fast food

What’s the last book you read?

Every Day because I have role in the live action movie!

What’s your favourite social media platform?


What TV show are you hooked on?

The OA

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Marine biologist

What was the last song that was stuck in your head?

Selina Gomez ‘Fetish”

What’s your favourite food?

Vegetarian, I’m kidding! It’s Pizza

Dogs or cats?


What’s your life motto?

Believe in the power of focusing on what you love

The Power of WE

“Are you ready to change the world!?” shouts Marc Kielburger – his voice echoing across Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, igniting an electrifying response from thousands of enthusiastic young people filling the seats at September’s world-renowned WE Day celebration – a youth empowerment event Kielburger presents alongside his brother Craig, which this year witnessed a surprise appearance by humanitarian royal, Prince Harry. For Toronto audiences it is humbling to watch the Kielburgers, who are founders of arguably the most powerful positive social movement of modern times, standing on stage with a A-list musicians, actors and speakers while addressing their own fans and know that they are local boys and Vaughan natives who have taken their homegrown values, etched deep in philanthropy, to a global arena.

Changing the world, as elementary as it sounds, is an undoubtedly ambitious if not a seemingly impossible endeavour.  However, after twenty-plus years of committing their lives to this purpose the Kielburgers are proving that it can be done.  As the brain children behind the WE Movement and its encapsulating ME to WE Social Enterprise, WE Charity and WE Day celebrations, they have brilliantly devised an innovative, multifaceted social cause which assists in providing education, health, clean water, sanitation, alternative income, agriculture and food security for people throughout the planet. However, with the alarming environmental issues facing our modern world is this a race against time? “On one hand, yes, and in regards to our environment, absolutely,” states Craig Kielburger. “There is an urgency to act, especially with issues regarding refugees and world violence but I’d like to look at this as a time of opportunity. We can create a world in our generation that is free of extreme poverty, where every child goes to school and where sustainable consumption is the norm. It’s the most exciting time in our history.”

Considering the obstacles, the right people to inspire change are indeed the Kielburgers whose list of accolades fit the bill necessary to foster future leaders and lead the masses. Thirty-five year-old Craig is an Executive MBA graduate from Toronto’s Schulich School of Business while forty year-old brother, Marc graduated from Harvard University, completing his law degree at Oxford University. In addition to being celebrated activists and humanitarians they are also bestselling authors, motivational speakers and recipients of several honourary doctorates and degrees including the Order of Canada.  In listing just a few of their achievements, it should come as no surprise that these pioneering men launched their endeavours when they were kids – a fact that attracted global media attention and the likes of top-rated television programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, 60 Minutes including BBC.

Marc, the elder of the two, was the first to delve into philanthropy and at age thirteen traveled with the Toronto Catholic District School Board to the slums of Jamaica in order aid leprosy patients. Craig’s journey began in 1995 after reading a newspaper article about a Pakistani boy sold into slavery at the age of four and later killed at age twelve for defending his rights and fighting against child labour. Craig, clearly disturbed by this tragic story of a child who happened to be his age, decided to take action. “The first thing I did was call up charities I found in the yellow pages and said I want to help. All they kept telling me was to send money and because I was twelve I didn’t have a lot of money to send,” he says, stating that this sparked his desire to gather fellow students from his Thornhill school and create the Free the Children charity – precursor to the WE Charity. Later that year he took a trip to south-east Asia where he gained insight into child labour. “In order to go my parents set a rule. I had to raise half the money for travel expenses myself and prove that I would be safe,” chuckles Craig. “My greatest influences, hands down, have been my parents,” he says with glowing admiration, describing Fred and Theresa Kielburger as entrepreneurs in addition to being educators. “I lived in multiple houses in Vaughan where every spring we’d buy a new house. Over the summer months we’d fix it up and twelve months later sell it and move into the next. Through this they taught us the value of hard work. They became teachers because they believed in education and was what they loved to do in order to give back to society. Yet they showed us that going beyond nine-to-five is necessary and being entrepreneurs is what helped them financially to give us the privileges they never had in childhood.” However, the Kielburgers went beyond what many would consider the standard parameters of parental support when they moved out of their existing home, handing it over to their sons as a headquarters for their newfound charity. With the wheels now in motion and gears switched to high-speed the brothers were finally on the road to changing the world.

Understanding that their vision could not be realized without help from a greater source the brothers sought out assistance from political leaders in Ottawa and did so by contacting Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua who, during that time served as Member of Parliament and who to this day, continues supporting the WE Movement he has proudly watched grow and evolve over the last twenty years. In return Craig has shown his gratitude by sitting as co-chair of Bevilacqua’s 2012 Mayor’s Gala which raises funds for the charitable causes. However, the pivotal moment catapulting the brothers to international recognition was when powerhouse Oprah Winfrey learned of their charity and waved her magic wand their way.  “She pledged to build 100 schools with us and like a pre-internet movie, bags upon bags of mail arrived!” exclaims Craig. “Thousands of letters that got poured onto our living room floor…and all from people who wanted to help. The reality was that our lives were turned upside down in such a profound way and we didn’t have the resources to fund things.”

Through the mentorship of many along with professional services provided pro bono, they established the ME to WE Social Enterprise, WE Charity and WE Day with each title symbolic of solidarity and its shift from meto wethinking – a mindset which encourages people to make socially responsible decisions and helps transform local and global communities through the goods, services and experiences ME to WE provides. “The idea that charity is only a once or twice a year transaction, usually at tax time or during the holidays with the occasional volunteering on a Saturday afternoon, is a broken model when the world’s needs are so profound. We have so many more ways we can better the world today and create larger social change through the sustainable choices we make,” he explains.

To put it in simple terms, ME to WE Social Enterprise is a for-profit corporation generating income through the sale of consumer conscious products and services, offsetting costs for the WE Charity by donating 50% of its annual revenue to the cause.  ME to WE then funnels the remaining 50% back into the business to fund programs, cover administration costs (which astonishingly enough is only 10% of the gross revenue) and expand the enterprise. By being self sufficient and promoting a philanthropic lifestyle to the public, the WE Charity becomes a highly effective model that does not need to rely on donations for its survival.  Since 2009, ME to WE has donated over 8.5 million to the WE Charity in both cash and in-kind donations. To date, WE Charity has built more than 1000 schools and schoolrooms around the world, empowering more than 200,000 children with an education. Hundreds of underdeveloped communities have benefited from its water and sanitation projects, medical resources and alternative income programs, helping them to become truly sustainable.

The social enterprise programs, goods and services are varied and all encompassing such as International Day of the Girl Child bracelets sold on the ME to WE website which are made by artisan women and in turn create employment and raise funds for girls’ education in Kenya.  And by partnering with large corporations such as Walgreens, a purchase of a deodorant or shampoo can help provide clean water sources throughout these communities. ME to WE also offers international family trips centred around service including local school programs and camps that teach and get kids excited about philanthropy.

“All businesses should be social enterprises,” suggests Craig, explaining that he measures the success of his own in two ways.”Globally we look at the fact that there are about a million beneficiaries over the last 20 -plus years while the second key measurement is here closer to home where we are creating an engaged generation of young change-makers.”  However, can the ME to WE Movement create a long term impact by encouraging youth to become proactive citizens who make socially responsible decisions? Craig already has proof that WE can. “In tracking our alumni we found that 795 had voted in the recent election. Studies show a correlation – that if you get young people to care about a cause, where they see themselves as a positive agent of change, they then cast ballots and create an electoral impact.” To keep this momentum going is WE Day and what the Kielburgers refer to as “the world’s largest classroom”.  Its record-breaking attendance levels rival that of music concerts, filling stadiums across Canada, United States, the UK and Caribbean with kids committed to service and the world’s most influential people. As the WE Movement blazes across the globe inspiring humanity, Craig is finally realizing his twelve year-old dream. “When you add up ordinary individuals who want to make a difference and live in acutely impactful ways, it creates a tidal wave of positive change. And my vision of a perfect world is one infused with purpose.”






Philip Bailey: Earth Wind & Fire

With a powerhouse endorsement by Quincy Jones who proclaimed himself as their number one fan to being commonly referred to as “The Black Beatles” by critics, there’s no question why Earth Wind & Fire is hailed one of the most influential musical forces of the 20th century. Boasting over 90 million recording sales, multiple Grammy and American Music Awards, an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, they are considered one of the greatest and most commercially popular bands in contemporary music history.

“I think of everything we’ve been really fortunate and blessed to do. It’s all been so fantastic.  Who would have thought forty-five years later we would still be doing all this – and on such a level,”says the band’s celebrated lead vocalist, Philip Bailey as he sits atop Toronto’s Molson Amphitheatre pointing to the fleet of EWF tour buses lining the parking lot below. Co-headlining alongside the equally-acclaimed group, Chicago, EWF makes a stop in the Big Smoke for a sold-out show on their North American “Heart and Soul” Tour. “It’s a fabulous tour, very high powered and well-accepted all over. We’re having a great time and between the two bands we have over forty top-ten records with songs, that after all these years have become a part of the DNA of a lot of people,” he tells Fredi Magazine.

Less than an hour later the magnetic, highly-charged sixty-four year-old, who has entertained everyone from American presidents and royalty to audiences worldwide, hits the stage with fellow EWF members Verdine White and Ralph Johnson and others, to pump out chart-topping smash hits as That’s the of Way of the World, Septemberand Shining Star.  Bailey’s signature falsetto combined with an array of instrumentals, electrifying costumes, funky dance moves and stage theatrics depicting mystical pyramids and the cosmos, thrills fans who sing along to their all-time favourites from the 70s and 80s.  Also on the repertoire are songs from their recent 2013 album, Now, Then & Forever.

“We try to give audiences the best shows we possibly can and continue to work on our craft.  They may not be aware of this but they feel the sincerity and effort we give every night,” explains Bailey who admits performing onstage still gives him the greatest satisfaction as an artist. “I’ve always been conscious of how to stay true to the vision that Maurice started with,” he adds.Founded in 1969 by musical genius Maurice White, who now takes a behind-the-scenes role due to a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, EWF’s artistic brilliance is evident in their characteristic, spiritual compositions. “Writing a song is putting things in form and saying to people what they just can’t say for themselves.” From captivating lyrical hooks to the innovative melding of soul, blues, funk, rock, dance, jazz, African and Latin American the band’s astounding success lies in its ability to cross-over and appeal to a wide range of music lovers. They have inspired renowned artists as Prince, Beyonce and Bruno Mars and the vast sampling and remixing of EWF tracks by today’s young artists and deejays has sparked interest in a new generation.

Another component to EWF’s longevity has been their capacity to collaborate with a great number of industry professionals. “Collaboration brings a whole other element to the art. Working with people you really respect is an enriching experience and enlarges you as a person and as an artist. It’s a win-win for all parties”, explains Bailey, adding “It would be cool to do something with Sting. I’ve always had such respect for him.” He has partnered with the finest in the business such as Stevie Wonder, Little Richard and Dionne Warwick and has explored independent projects outside the group. Solo achievements include the 1984 certified-gold Chinese Wallalbum featuring itsglobal hit duet single with Phil Collins – Easy Lover, four gospel records, as well as the Grammy-winning Triumphalbum released in 1986.

According to the man dubbed by his peers as “The Voice”, a rich and fulfilling career isn’t enough.”More important things take precedence. It’s not just what you do and how you’re remembered but also the contributions you make to society. We should be conscious of the fact that we contribute every day by just making positive choices and treating people right.  And as an artist you have to find a reason to do your art that’s broader than just your own self interest,” he explains. With a compelling need to give back he created the Music is Unity Foundation in support of displaced and at-risk youth exiting foster-care. Raising awareness as well as funds to assist those working with young individuals, he also gives encouragement by inviting beneficiaries to meet and experience EWF while on tour. Other than sending messages of love and consciousness through music and charitable endeavours it is by far his personal life that takes centre-stage. As a father of seven, two of whom work with him as vocalist and managing assistant, and grandfather Bailey feels the greatest legacy he will leave behind will be the one to his family. “I’d like them to know that I did the best that I can do. That I was the best father, friend and husband that I could possibly be…who just happened to be a great musician.” What about the future of EWF and what can the millions of fans expect? “We’re always moving ahead and looking forward,” he says and then with a twinkle in his eye the legendary performer smiles, “I do believe the best is yet to come.”



Freedom Had a Price

It’s Freedom Day in Toronto and speaking in front of thousands of students at Yonge-Dundas Square is eighty-four year-old Max Eisen, a survivor of the Holocaust. Young people from all over southern Ontario have come to hear his tragic yet powerful account of inconceivable loss and adversity. However, this proud advocate does not want tears of sympathy. In his post retirement vocation as a lecturer, Eisen’s mission is not only educating a new generation on the barbaric anti-Semitism that plagued recent history, but to caution all Canadians of rigid ideologies and racism still existing today. “Any kind of ideology whether it’s Nazism or Fascism where they say they are the master race and everyone else is nobody, it’s a big, big warning that something is wrong. This type of submission and democracy don’t mix,” explains Eisen, who has spent the last twenty-two years speaking publically to police forces, the military, politicians and students from high schools and universities across the country.

Organized and sponsored by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies, the inspirational Freedom Daycelebration of September 25th comes as a prelude to the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  This important tribute raises awareness on human right issues, empowers youth to take action against all types of discrimination and commemorates the estimated six million Jews killed by the Nazi Regime during World War II. However, with a new study conducted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum the number of victims could hit staggering new heights. In the last thirteen years researchers have painstakingly catalogued 42,500 Nazi concentration camps and ghettos, coming across evidence of previously unknown sites.  Other groups viciously murdered within the barbed wire were Polish POWs, communists, Slavs, political activists, Jehova’s Witnesses, gypsies and homosexuals.

In this modern era racial slander can be accelerated at an alarming speed via the internet. “The wheel of hatred is rolling so fast today. I am very concerned that people are repeating the same mistakes,” says Eisen stating that racial intolerance and prejudice is alive and well in our country, and those raising the red flag are having their freedom of speech compromised. Author and political activist, Pamela Geller, who Eisen also refers to as the Joan of Arc of the global Jewish community, has campaigned against anti-Semitism helmed by radical and political Islam.  Her controversial public speaking engagements have even caused a stir right here at home. According to Jewish activists, Geller’s scheduled May 2013 appearance at Thornhill’s Chabad Flamingo Synagogue was cancelled after continuous pressure by authorities. However, York Regional Police have denied these allegations. In 2011 regular pickets were held outside a modest Montreal shoe store importing merchandise from Israel.  Anti-Zionists rallying for a Palestine free of Israeli occupation, called for a complete boycott of the establishment. This year alone swastikas were chillingly scrawled on a Toronto rabbi’s garage door while another was carved onto the greens of a Richmond Hill golf course.  In the city of Vaughan, four homes were defaced with similar anti-Semitic graffiti. Geller believes we can all do our share to raise awareness. “During the course of the day you may see or hear things that you know are wrong. Say something,” she tells an audience at the Zionist Centre of Toronto.  “You have a sphere of influence and there’s no need for a national platform.” If a common voice of reason fearlessly rose and reverberated across Nazi Germany could the course of history have been altered? In hindsight the victims of the Holocaust know all too well the relevance of free speech and the fact that any have survived to tell their grizzly and heart wrenching story is a sheer miracle.

“I think back and wonder how did I survive this? How did anyone survive this?” says Eisen, who at the age of fifteen was sent into slave labour at the most notorious of all camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau where the average life expectancy of a Jewish prisoner was merely a few months. Whether it was the assistance of compassionate soul, willful determination or just sheer luck, he feels he probably could not have survived the cruel conditions and dehumanization within the camp had it not been for the crucial life skills he learned from his family.

Raised in rural Moldava in the former Czechoslovakia, Eisen’s once-happy childhood came to an abrupt end in the spring of 1944. After celebrating the first night of Passover he, his family and extended relatives were visited by Hungarian armed officers and forcibly removed from their homes and sentenced to Auschwitz, where Eisen’s mother, two younger brothers, baby sister and paternal grandparents were led immediately and unknowingly to the gas chamber while his father and uncle were later selected for medical experiments and never seen again. Eisen himself was forced into slave labour.  Out of sixty family members only he and two cousins survived.

“My father had only seconds to say good-bye to me. He gave me a blessing and I knew in that moment that my family was gone,” recalls Eisen, solemnly. “It was a devastating moment but I knew I couldn’t give up. He told me that I needed to tell the world what was happening here.”

Nearing the end of the war, attempts were made to destroy all evidence of mass genocide. Death camps were evacuated and surviving, emaciating Jews were brutally marched to alternative camps. Many died in these Death Marches, either by dehydration, exhaustion or a gunshot. Eisen barely survived his journey to Ebensee Camp in Austria.  Sick with typhoid, he was freed May 6, 1945 by the American 761st Black Panther tank battalion.  In a twist of fate, he has participated in twelve March of the Living trips to Poland and Israel. This symbolic educational program available to Jewish students worldwide ensures that no one forget the past.

Another survivor who has made it her mission to educate the public is Chava Kwinta.  Now a retired nurse, she also spent years making rounds in the local public speaking circuit even narrating her story in a self-published autobiography, I’m Still Living. The daughter of Polish Jewish shopkeepers, Kwinta and her family were sent to live in the ghetto after their home and business were confiscated. With their father missing and mother dying while trying to avoid selections and subsequent arrest, she and her sister were left alone with no protection. “Thankfully we were saved from the Auschwitz deportation by an aunt who was in good favour with a female German officer,” says Kwinta, who after the war spoke in the woman’s defence at a tribunal.  Following an excruciating death march to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp the sisters were eventually liberated April 15, 1945.

Also liberated that day at Bergen-Belsen was Romanian-born, Edith Kirshen. At the age of thirteen, she and seven members of her immediate family were taken from their home and herded onto a cattle car headed to Auschwitz. Only Kirshen and her two older survived the camp.  After liberation she continued to live in fear of persecution and chose to bury the story of her past, even hiding the truth from her own children. Today she has courageously found her voice, choosing to speak to Whatever Vaughanabout the incomprehensible hatred that destroyed her innocence. “For me a person is a person.  We all bleed the same way and we were all born the same way. I don’t understand all this hatred. There is so much opportunity for everyone,” Kirshen says, with shaking her head.

Her words echo the very foundation on which this country is built on.  As an international role model for diversity as well as immigration and human rights policies, the survivors feel that it is imperative that we protect this great Canadian legacy. They remind us that if we do not keep our eyes open and watch for the signs, history has an ominous way of repeating itself. “When the lies become the truth, society goes upside down,” warns Eisen, who says he will continue to educate the masses and spread his wisdom for as long he can. He, along with Kwinta, Kirshen and countless other survivors are not only the collective voice of the loved ones they have lost but are also a tangible reminder of just how fragile freedom can be.

Fostering Dreams Through Dance

I believe dance helps express the inner voice and deepest emotions when words are not there,” explains lithe and attractive Melanie Buttarazzi as she sits comfortably by the kitchen table at her parents’ residence overlooking one of Vaughan’s many picturesque valleys. As the eldest daughter of Robert Michaels, celebrated Juno-winning and platinum-recording guitarist, it seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Beginning dance at age four and eventually graduating with a BFA degree from York University, the twenty-eight year old professional dancer is quite accomplished with appearances in the television series, “So You Think You Can Dance” and a Jennifer Lopez music video including on-stage performances alongside Pitbull and Ne-Yo.  However, reaching for the stars hasn’t been her only resolve. With an inherent philanthropic spirit and a desire to utilize her artistic talents for the greater good, Buttarazzi has embarked on a new journey, establishing Fostering Dreams Through Dance (FDTD), a non-profit program teaching life skills via dance expression to foster children, homeless and other at-risk youth.

“In 2010 I joined my dad on his month-long tour through California doing flamenco,” says Buttarazzi. “Aside from the concerts, we participated in shows that were outreach programs teaching kids music and dance in elementary schools. The kids would tell me they couldn’t learn how to dance because their parents didn’t have any money. It broke my heart. ” Touched by the incredible response as well as the children’s inaccessibility to dance study she felt compelled to make a difference. Then a year ago, while on soujourn in Los Angeles, she decided to take a leap of faith. “I don’t know what happened but I said to myself, ‘Mel, you have to create a program for children in need and you have to help them through dance because dance is what you know.’ So I did research, spoke to people and everyone I met led me to where I am now,” she explains.

It was sheer determination and resourcefulness that led her to acclaimed film producer, Peter Samuelson – founder of First Star Academy, a charity dedicated to abused and neglected children.  Samuelson, who also established the Starlight Children’s Foundation with Steven Spielberg, was impressed by Buttarazzi’s vision and connected her to the Teen Project. With the objective to support and empower vagrant Los Angeles youth exiting the foster care system, Teen Project leader, Lauri Burns went on to implement the novel FDTD program at her free rehabilitation centre. “When I walked into my first class the girls were gangstered-out, crossing their arms and had a lot of attitude. They seemed to be thinking ‘Who’s this little white girl and why is shehere?’ Although I knew they were coming from the streets this wasn’t going to fly with me,” she laughs. “By the end of class they were hugging me.”  Understanding the participants of this all-female class were homeless and existing in a world where it was basically every person for themself, Buttarazzi found validation once she recognized that through dance they had been transformed. Following just one session the girls had bonded and were much more patient and calm. To ensure the program’s continued success she reached out to colleagues hoping they too would volunteer their time and expertise. The response was instantaneous and soon young women, who could never in their wildest dreams afford to study dance, were being instructed by crème de la crème choreographers once employed by Lady Gaga, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

While flipping through countless photos taken at FDTD classes she tells Fredi Magazine about 24 year-old Francis. “If there was anyone in the class who was rebellious and wanted to leave it, was Francis. She was always so frustrated,” she points out. “Then one day she told me it was easier to be on the streets, finding her next high and running from the cops, than it was to be my dance class. She thanked me and said I taught her discipline which was something that she had never had before. Francis is now planning on going to college.”  Images on Buttarazzi’s laptop show girls clad in funky urban-wear moving to hip hop, freestyle and contemporary dance at a flash mob in Venice Beach. “A flash mob is when you have a choreographed dance and go to a public place and just start doing it. The purpose is to attract people to join in. Some of the girls from Lauri’s shelter were incarcerated and wearing ankle bracelets so she had to get special permission from the local police to set them free for a day in order to participate.”  According to the dancer, this event which was presented by the Teen Project, FDTD, First Star Academy and UCLA in July 2014 fascinated onlookers and was a massive success.

Driven by heart and soul, Buttarazzi continues to work alongside these organizations and is currently collaborating with First Star Academy in a united effort to expand to Toronto.  She says that although there are periodic weekend programs there is nothing full-time or anything truly of its kind available in Canada.  By elevating the spirit through the body-mind connection FDTD is a clear testament to the power of dance. Through this type of mentorship troubled youth find the courage to forge on and alter their course, building self confidence and a sense of community amongst themselves. “I created this from nothing except an idea. I knew this was really important and that it had to be done – giving to kids who don’t have love and the support system that I had.”