Gillian Presner will be the 2017 recipient of the Freiman Family Young Leadership Award.
The award, notes the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, “recognizes a young leader who has demonstrated proven leadership to the benefit of Ottawa’s Jewish community.”
Nominated by Howard Fremeth, the 2015 recipient of the Freiman Family Award, Presner had no idea she was being considered for the award. When her husband Neil asked for a copy of her CV on behalf of Fremeth, she asked, “Are you volunteering me for something?”
“I am surprised and truly honoured to receive this award,” said Presner, an emergency medicine pediatrician at CHEO. “I get a lot of satisfaction from volunteer work. I think it is important for me to be a role model to my daughters, to show them that they, too, can be leaders and take responsibility for their community.”
A tireless community volunteer, Presner has served on the board of the Soloway Jewish Community Centre; spearheaded a taskforce to boost enrolment at the Ganon Preschool; sat on the Kehillat Beth Israel Rabbi Search Committee; resurrected and co-chaired the Young Women’s Leadership Council; helped organize the 2011 openOttawa symposium; actively fundraises for several organizations; and, with her family, co-chaired Federation’s 2017 Annual Campaign Kickoff and successfully modified its traditional format to specifically reach out to young families.
How does she find the time?
“Not having time never enters my mind,” said Presner, who has three daughters under the age of four. “Not having time is an excuse. There is always time for things that are important.”
To say volunteering runs in Presner’s family is an understatement. Both her mother, Donna Dolansky, and her father, Bernie Dolansky, have been active community leaders for decades, and both have served as Federation chair.
Her parents led by example. Whether it was door-to-door canvassing or walkathons, Presner was always involved in some form of volunteering while growing up.
“They didn’t have to tell me to do it,” she said. “I did it because I knew it was the right thing to do.”
In his nomination letter, Fremeth wrote about Presner’s “unique mix of intelligence, tenacity and people skills.”
He also discussed her ability to inspire others.
“What separates Gillian’s leadership contribution from others is not just the impact of her own work, but her ability to bring out leadership skills in others,” Fremeth wrote.
In his letter supporting Presner’s nomination, Allan Shefrin echoed Fremeth’s observation.
“Gillian is a doer,” he wrote. “Many in our generation kvetch about how things could be better and how they dislike certain aspects of community life. However, when asked for help, they have no time or energy to commit. Gillian gets involved and changes it.”
Much of Presner’s volunteer efforts have focused on the emerging generations. She has been actively involved in efforts aimed at increasing preschool and Jewish day school enrolment, getting young families more involved in her synagogue, and bringing more young adults into leadership roles.
In 2009, as she sat with her mother at Federation’s 75th Anniversary Volunteer Awards presentation, Presner was struck by how many of the award recipients were graduates of the defunct Young Women’s Leadership Council (YWLC) program.
“Why does this no longer exist?” she asked her mother.
Presner went to work reviving the YWLC program, thereby creating a new cadre of women leaders in Ottawa’s Jewish community.
“I can say with confidence that very few other young adults have had such a lasting and broad impact on Ottawa’s vibrant Jewish community,” wrote Howard Fremeth in his letter.
As recipient of the Freiman Family Young Leadership Award, Presner will also receive the Lawrence Greenberg Young Leadership Development Award, which will sponsor her attendance at the 2017 Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, scheduled for November 12 to 14 in Los Angeles. There she will be recognized along with other young leaders from Jewish communities in North America.
Presner will receive the awards at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa annual general meeting, Wednesday, June 14, 7 pm, at the Soloway JCC.