Success Stories

Maria Carolina Ojeda

Independent Financial Advisor

I am a Financial Strategist as well as the co-founder of a family cleaning business. Just to provide a background about myself, I am an Architect by profession. I am a mother of 2 boys, I started to work independently back in 2016 in design, but God brought me to a different direction, and I am now working in the Financial Industry. When my family immigrated from Venezuela in 2017 I started the cleaning business, as my relatives do not speak English, I facilitate the sales function of the business. Here is our website

PARO was introduced to me by a very good friend of mine from South Lake Future, Tom Ross. After I connected with Karen Tretter, she explained PARO’s Peer Lending circles and I immediately decided to form one. I applied for my first grant, which I used for marketing material, for my startup the circle was certainly beneficial.

I support my circle by helping them apply for the grants as I have a great deal of experience in financials. I have a lot of connections that count on me for anything and everything; this network is beneficial for my circle members. I look forward to seeing all of us overcome our obstacles and become all that God wants us to be.

My major impact was Karen, when I heard her story, being retired, living up North (Like hours away from Bradford), owning her business in Accounting, not having the need to be out of her house, not even in Bradford; honestly, that was an inspiration to know that there are people, there are women out there really putting their effort and heart to help others to succeed no matter what ethnicity they are. I hosted my first charity event in 2017; Karen was there bringing material and promoting my event as well. Always inviting me to participate in events, and there was the one in Huntsville where I met the beautiful Nefry, since then, Nefry can you help me with this? With that? Her answer is always of course. Nefry even hosted a webinar with the circles to talk about Finances, where I had the opportunity to connect with other women; networking, connecting with other entrepreneurs is so crucial as the goal is to grow in unity. I have to say when I saw PARO’s flyer I was initially interested in the grant, but when I met with Karen face to face, I concluded that PARO is more than that it is about empowering women, and I felt that I was with the right people. Empowering women is paramount! This is another association that I participate in that promotes women empowerment.

During the Pandemic, our sales have increased as we conduct disinfection for different organizations, allowing us to provide jobs for other members of the community. We now have six families that are a part of our crew. In the finance business, we have increased the number of family protections in regards to life insurance creating more awareness on how to protect their income.


Belinda Clemmensen,

Founder of the Women’s Leadership Intensive

The Women’s Leadership Intensive (WLI) provides leadership development programs BY women, FOR women. Our mission is to inspire, empower, support and equip women to lead the change the world needs.
Becoming a PARO Circle member has been a great support for my business and to me personally. Having a local group where we are committed to meeting monthly to intentionally support and grow our businesses is like having a built-in team of advisors. Knowing we all face similar challenges helps us feel less alone and provides a safe place to talk about not only our successes but also our learnings and our fears.
In addition, I was fortunate to receive a NOW grant in the spring of 2020, which was essential in helping me upscale the online elements of my business in response to the pandemic. That has been a key component that has allowed the WLI to continue to thrive during these challenging times. I am grateful. It’s rare to find a group like PARO which is entirely run by women, for women. It’s a model for real support and for doing things differently, which our world needs now more than ever.

Michelle and Marissa Peters

Co-owners of Mazépis

PARO is proud to showcase Mazépis! Mazépis is a local business run by Michelle and her wife, Marissa. They started this business to spend more time together. Since PARO came into their life a few months ago, they have been very kind and resourceful. They have connected them with a set of women who they can partner with as a PARO circle to increase their networks. They are looking forward to the next few months of downtime to learn more from PARO.

Susan Jaehn-Kreibaum

Owner of the Empty Nest Bed and Breakfast

When COVID-19 struck mid-March 2020, all accommodation providers were shut down. It was unknown as to whether this would be a few weeks or a few months. There was a good possibility that The Empty Nest would be closed for the entire summer season. Having already decided that this would be a pivotal year for her business, Susan reached out to Cathy Ireland of PARO…..Cathy explained how PARO helped female entrepreneurs build, create, and fund their businesses through a possible grant request. Susan and Cathy began working together to create a business and marketing plan. At Cathy’s suggestion, Susan reached out to Brand Ambition to create an all-encompassing brand for The Empty Nest. Penny Tremblay suggested Susan reach out – via telephone, email, or “snail mail” to all past guests who had stayed at The Empty Nest. Penny also encouraged Susan to double her income. Rather than waiting for guests to book, Susan reached out to past guests and began an active social media campaign to encourage past guests and new ones to book directly with her. One of the goals was to reduce the number of stays booked through OTAs – (Online Travel Associations such as and increase direct bookings. The goal now is to update the current website with the new branding. There are several factors that played into this success story: 1. The encouragement and help in creating a business and marketing plan that Susan received through the many discussions with PARO. 2. The fact that people were unable to travel internationally encouraged them to visit Prince Edward Country, a very up and coming tourist destination. 3. By participating in the “Your Hero, Our Guest” contest, whereby anyone in Ontario could nominate their “hero” during these past few months of COVID. The winners were chosen from a draw and were able to select one of several Bed and Breakfasts in PEC for a 2-night stay, complete with complimentary dinner and wine tastings at participating businesses. This positioned traditional Bed and Breakfasts in a very positive light, compared to short term accommodation providers who are not living on-site, and able to share the same expertise. 4. Cancellations. When received, Susan will now reach out and inquire as to the reason for cancellation. 5. Direct calls. When a potential guest reaches out for accommodation and the dates are not available, Susan will now try and suggest alternative dates. As a result, July and August of 2020 have been the most profitable two months Susan has experienced since opening The Empty Nest in 2015. The hope now is to continue this momentum, with the support of PARO and carry on into the winter months. Her plan going forward is to offer full-day and weekend retreats. There is a dire need of financial assistance to repair and replace the deck and railings around the hot tub in order to move ahead.

Zoi Monroy

Zoimar Monroy International

Member of the Four Fearless Females Circle 

Before joining the Four Fearless Females Circle, my business was not frequently recognized in the community. I knew I needed to conduct more networking to be able to connect with people, especially women in business. Connecting with, and learning from other entrepreneurs has inspired me. I believe that immersing myself with likeminded people can help me to grow and improve in my business.

In our community, we have unique challenges, and I find that it is essential to connect with new people and keep learning. So I love to surrounded by women who in one way or another have impacted the economy of Northern Ontario positively by providing much-needed products and services. My circle is full of women who are connected and always helping one another. The women in my circle are a true role-models in their own way because they have successful businesses, they are still learning, engaging with other people and their business, thinking outside the box, and most importantly they are continually striving to make our community a better place to live. I am forever grateful to be part of this circle and to create success stories in our businesses. Our circle is fairly new, so we do have still lots to learn and to do in our community. I am volunteering with Lorna and her It Suits You program, which is phenomenal, and I love to contribute to my community.

I just received the news for my 1st stage grant approval, so that means I am going to be able to utilize that to upgrade my website and move my business forward. I strongly believe that when you set goals, you have to step out of your comfort zone and take action; my business is growing and moving forward because of it, and my sales have increased.

PARO has allowed me to meet other women in business not only in Greater Sudbury but also in Ontario. I attended the PAROBiz25th event, and I was able to connect with so many wonderful women in business from all over Ontario. And this is very important for me and any business. I am happy that in Sudbury we have our amazing Sudbury PARO leader Kayla Soomer who is always willing to help anytime in any way possible. Thank you PARO, for having this amazing group of women who are helping me to grow my business.


Circle Spotlight – Tenacious Tigrettes Circle

Tenacious Tigrettes Circle, recipient of the PARO Fundraising Circle of the Year Award, has provided co-mentorship to its members to improve, grow, sustain, and be accountable to each member’s business Accountability Goals. Two of the members belong to the North Bay Business Women’s Network and we have both shared our positive experiences being PARO members and encouraged others to do the same. One of the Circle members, Linda Morrin, has provided the same advocacy in Huntsville at the Connect The Brilliance networking group that she has attended regularly over the past 2 ½ years. Personally, the group wants women in business to understand that PARO is not simply a networking group, but so much more in terms of support, education, and financial assistance.

As a Circle we have supported the National Royal LePage annual yard sale fundraiser that makes donations to local women’s shelters. Our Circle has made physical donations and provided promotion to market the event through our social network channels and invited other local Circles to do likewise.

We have participated in the annual PARO celebrations for International Women’s Day and have made donations to the event. And on an individual basis, provided a donation of a purse Auction gift to PARO for its annual fundraising event. We held a Trivia Night in 2019 and raised funds that were divided equally between PARO and the North Bay Food Bank. Approximately 20 local women in business attended.

Proceeds from these events given to the PARO Grant Fund for women who need it most!
Thank you Tenacious Tigrettes for your continuous efforts to support our PARO Women entrepreneurs!

Tenacious Tigrettes Circle members (left to right):
Karen Strang: Strang Intercultural Solutions, Rutherglen, ON
Pam Larouche: Restful Parenting, North Bay, ON
Ann Macdonald: Ann MacDonald RMT Professional Corporation, North Bay, ON
Katy Latimer: Northern Tikes, North Bay, ON
Linda Morrin: Pasta Hostess, Nipissing, ON
Jackie Vezeau: XOCAI Healthy Chocolate, North Bay, ON
Lynn May: Alterations & Creations, North Bay, ON


Dana Irvine

D’Vine Wellness Mind Body & Nutrition Coaching

Member of the Wellness Warriors Circle

Before PARO, I was struggling to build my coaching business. It is hard to have the confidence to stand tall and put down roots! Finally, I was unable to buy the necessary tools and insurances to start such endeavours. I’d always heard about this type of lending circles overseas but never here at home! I thought why not me! I already knew a large portion of the ladies within our PARO circle so forming the circle was easy. Through PARO I had the opportunity to become a Circle Member, gained assistance through PARO programming, and accessed workshops. I love the training and workshops I have attended! So many amazing women across Ontario I met in Huntsville at the annual event. With all of the women sharing the same goals and drive to support female entrepreneurs of all ages! My Wellness Warriors Circle keeps me motivated and we support each of our endeavours, online and in person. Lorna has done an incredible job bringing like-minded women together to inspire, motivate and promote each other.

The values of PARO coincide with mine so it is a perfect match – empowering women to become the best version of themselves. Encouraging women to become stronger role models not only in business but as mothers, daughters, sisters and friends. I was missing mental and emotional support; I was unable to brainstorm with people in confidence. We have built a trustworthy sisterhood where we can not only hold each other accountable but cry on each other’s shoulders. I have been approved for a PARO loan and grant. I can now purchase necessary breast models for small class teaching and seminars in communities across Greater Sudbury and Northern Ontario. I also am able to buy necessary equipment and programs to start an online podcast to encourage women to become the divine women they are meant to be. My sales at this moment have not changed due to COVID but I am looking forward to launching an online workshop for Hormone and Breast Health with confidence in June and have my breast models in my hands. I will also be launching a podcast once my new tools arrive (one must have patience during this pandemic).

I feel far more confident about my business skills knowing I have the support of hundreds of women through PARO. In the future, we will be looking to provide free workshops to some of our women’s associations. We will also be seeking to host a fundraiser to give back to PARO circles and support a pregnancy care centre, and the local mission.

Carol Cooper

Owner of Carol Cooper Arts

My name is Carol Cooper, and I’m a local Thunder Bay visual artist. I create contemporary art using digital media. My works incorporate geometric forms and shapes, abstract elements, fractals and usually a bold colour palette. I am self-employed, and my business is called Carol Cooper Arts. Since joining the PARO’s Breaking Barriers – Building Bridges program a year ago, which is led by Project Coordinator, Linda Farmer, right after our initial meeting, I knew I was in good hands with Linda. She first helped me to tackle and develop my business plan, which, to me, was one of the greatest challenges I faced. We frequently met to make sure I was on the right path until it was completed and approved. I have expanded my business in a few new directions, all of which have proven to be successful in my artistic career as well as my business. Late last spring I was contracted to do local arts education programming. I facilitated and led Fractal Art workshops with children and youth in our community. It was a truly rewarding experience, and I was so happy to have been awarded additional contracts at the beginning of this year as well. I am working on visual programming this summer for the fall season. Last summer one of my works was juried into an amazing Biennial Art Exhibition in Dallas, Texas at the Museum of Geometric and MADI Art. In October another one of my works was selected to be showcased at a prestigious Abstract Art Exhibition in Paris, France – Salon des Réalités Nouvelles. I was awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Travel Grant and travelled to Paris with my artwork to attend the Vernissage, grand opening reception. It was truly an experience of a lifetime as I had the opportunity to view the works of over 350 international abstract artists as well as be able to chat with many of them. Early this year I was selected to participate in a wonderful group exhibition here in Thunder Bay along with 15 other local artists –  La francophonie dans tous ses états #4. I was looking forward to hanging a solo exhibition at Magnus Theatre in April, but with COVID 19, it was unfortunately cancelled. Linda and I still meet monthly (well virtually for now) and at each meeting, Linda listens and encourages and is just a reminder to me that in business you have to keep your hands & mind on the short term (meaning do the day to day stuff along with the bookkeeping!) while keeping your eye on the long term (being open to new opportunities). I feel my business is on the right track going forward and I owe its success in part to Linda Farmer. I am forever thankful for all the help and assistance Linda has provided me over the last year. Our monthly meetings offer me the stability to know that I am on track with my business plan. Thank you, Linda!

Website:   Instagram:


Lorraine Reguly

Published Author, & Owner of Wording Well

I’m a certified math and English teacher. Since 2014, I have been an entrepreneur. Now, I’m an author, an editor, an online influencer, and more. One of my books is in the local library. My editing and author assistant business is thriving. I’m admired and respected by many people, and I’m currently living a better life than ever before. I’m a positive, independent woman. I built a business around my passion—words.

I have a lot of people to thank for my success, including an organization called the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, and Linda Farmer, one of the ladies who works at PARO. Linda deserves to be recognized for helping me achieve some of my dreams. Linda was my PARO caseworker for several years, while I was on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). I am not on ODSP anymore. Getting off ODSP was a goal I had been working towards. I am proud that I am now considered one of PARO’s “success stories.” When I first met Linda, I didn’t have a clear direction. I had been blogging online for almost a year, and I had started earning money as a freelance writer.

 After joining Linda’s program, I was able to gain some clarity. Through the Building Bridges-Breaking Barriers program, Linda helped me put together a business plan, and Wording Well was born. It required time and a lot of effort to grow and flourish. Linda helped me through many of my emotional rough patches during its first five years. She listened when no one else would, allowing me to unburden my problems during our discussions, which often ended up being more like counselling sessions. She let me cry, freely, when I needed to. She gave me hugs. Ultimately, she gave me confidence and strength. In addition to the stellar emotional support she gave me, Linda helped me get $2000 of grant money to invest in my business when it was brand new. She also encouraged me to give presentations to PARO entrepreneurs (which I did and was paid for, adding yet another revenue stream to my income earnings!). Plus, she nominated me for an award three years in a row, until I finally won it in 2017. My son attended the awards ceremony, proud of his mother, once again (Photo above). Linda was more than merely my caseworker. She became—and still is—my friend. While searching for a relevant picture to accompany this article, I found one of Linda standing beside me at a book signing I had… and realized that she has stood beside me for many years(Photo beside).

Since winning the PARO award in 2017, I have won a motivational speaker award and an award for having one of the top 50 freelance writing blogs. I’ve had my picture in the paper, too, and I was featured in the 2018 spring edition of Northwest Women magazine! I expressed my gratitude to PARO shortly after I began painting as a hobby. I made a creation of artwork, and I gave it to the ladies at PARO for Christmas that year. They immediately hung up my painting in the reception area of their office space! I have come really far for someone who didn’t even own a computer until 2013! People look up to me and think, “If she can do it, so can I.” The lovely ladies from PARO will help you with your goals. I know they will stand by you and help you succeed. I’m living proof. I’m in charge of my life, and I’m happy now.


Christine Penner Polle

Tapping Courage – Wellness

I am so grateful for the connection with other women entrepreneurs that Paro offers as well as the opportunity to access funding to support my business. The recent COVID-19 shutdown has led to my Paro Circle increasing our online meetings from once a month to once a week, that mutual support has encouraged me when I’ve been feeling down and allowed me to compare notes with other women entrepreneurs experiencing this unusual time.

The loans and grants that I have accessed through Paro have supported my ongoing business development. With that funding, I was able to afford training to help me focus on my specific goals in my wellness practice and to organize myself to reach them. Without Andrea Zappe’s support through Paro, I wouldn’t have known to apply for the NOW program funding which has provided me with funding to hire an Online Business Manager (OBM) to help me improve my online presence, including my website and social media presence. Little did I know what perfect timing it would be for my wellness practice, to transition to a stronger and more cohesive online presence at a time when the in-person sessions I usually offer could no longer take place.

I will always be thankful for Paro!

Giannina Veltri

“Life’s not about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~Vivian Greene Giannina Veltri models the act of stepping up to her students. She both trusts in and encourages their growth. She has been working in the field of Travel since 1975, and began teaching Travel and Tourism at Confederation College in 1995. She bestows passion onto her students, that they may fulfil their own dreams and goals. As the Program Coordinator she Giannina refers to the students as her life. She stands as their mom on trips, as well as a counsellor, teacher, and many additional roles. She views this program as their safe haven for the two years that they attend. The Program has grown with the addition of Eco-Tourism, and an expanding number of International students. A wilderness canoe trip at the beginning of the second year is a draw to students from Southern Ontario to the ‘outdoor classroom’ environment.  She feels that both hospitality training and airline training are also important factors, keeping the program current. In her free time she is a Sea Kayaking Instructor, skillfully refinishes furniture and has started painting canoe paddles.  She is a woman lit up from the inside when speaking about all that she is passionate about. A true traveler for sure, but Giannina also finds adventure in the communities that surround her. A mentor to students, and a woman who inspires leadership qualities in those that surround her, Giannina Veltri is a gift to her community. “Love many, trust few, and always paddle your own canoe…” ~Anonymous

Susan Williams

Owner of Rewire

Posted on March 27, 2020

When life seems full of fear and chaos, the only thing we can do is focus on what we can control. Sue knows first hand how hard challenges can be to over come. After having spent 15 years in the corporate retail world as a trainer and manager, she felt she needed to return to her small town roots. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family in Northern Ontario, she learned to appreciate what being a business owner means to our families and communities. During uncertain times is when we come together, find our tribes and build new strategies. Her business Rewire provides “Small Business Rescue” Working with businesses to problem solve, build their teams and with mindfulness, set everyone up for success.

Currently working along side her Paro Sister Lori of Lori’s Tender Loving Care, Sue and Lori have hired 5 staff to add to their team. Lori’s Tender Loving Care is an essential service of PSWs serving North Bay and surrounding area. Having met the business needs, Lori and Sue then focused on supporting our community further. As part of our strategy LTLC ordered local handmade face masks. Nationwide face masks are currently unavailable for purchase in a timely manner, this protects the LTLC Team as they do their rounds with the elderly and disabled. Ordering Hand Sanitizer from our Paro Sister Joanna Bolt of Dirty Girl Farms takes the care and safety of the LTLC Team to the next level.

Up to date information and resources from our Paro Sister Murielle Roach of Accurate Business Solutions, helps us all stay in the know and navigate government funding and support. Brain storming solutions, encouraging each other during these dire times is how we stay positive and grow. Success is getting up everyday and trying again. Our Paro Circle is a huge part of the success we have shared. Rewire values recognition as a success story, however the true success is the tribe behind this business. The Game Changers Paro Circle. Because working together, helps us all.

Business with 2-4 Employees

Donna Brown

President of P.C. Medic Computers Inc.

Donna Brown initially offered her computer diagnostic services to her community with her home based business back in 1994. The Thunder Bay community embraced her talent and work ethic, and it wasn’t long before she was recognized as being the one who would go above and beyond all expectations in order to ensure that her clients’ computer systems were up and running quickly. Not only did she work tirelessly on expanding her home based business into two full service locations, she always made sure that her family came first by spending quality time with her husband, four children and her three beautiful grandchildren.

She is a true role-model who continually strives to make her community a better place to live in. She actively volunteers and serves on the PARO and Thunder Bay Business Executive Boards, and she is the president of the Thunder Bay Business Exchange and vice-president of the Thunder Bay Business Women’s Network. She is also a 14 year member of the Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

P.C. Medic Computers Inc., has worked diligently with Non-Profit groups that provide Internet Safety Training Sessions for the public, and has recently teamed up with a local bank, presenting information on Virus Protection and On-Line Banking. Her company not only provides a steady and secure workplace for her employees, she is committed to providing a safe and secure environment for her community.

PARO has awarded Donna the Enterprising Women Business with 2-4 Employees Award.

Business with 5+ Employees>

Denise Fortin

Denise’s Cafe

Denise Fortin is truly an enterprising woman who learned early on how to juggle her family life with the many different business roles she successfully maintained. She started out as a bookkeeper and then opened a local flower shop. Never being one to sit idle, Denise decided to open her own restaurant so that she could meet the local demand for good homemade food. Not only did she listen to her communities requests, she exceeded their expectations by offering homemade food that she bakes daily. Some of her specialties include homemade bread, hearty soups, and dessert to die for! Her establishment became so busy at lunch time, other restaurant owners were forced to close their doors during the day because they just couldn’t compete. It wasn’t long before Denise realized she would have to change her restaurant’s location in order to accommodate the growth of her business.

It was no surprise that Denise’s cafe quickly became the local favourite gathering place in Chapleau. Her establishment offers a homey feel that makes everyone comfortable. She always takes the time to speak with her customers and makes a real effort to get to know them by name. She doesn’t just accommodate her patrons, she makes sure that her female staff are accommodated with their schedule so that they can work during the day and take care of their families during the evening.

Denise also stepped up to support the local Co-op program in her community when she was approached by a local school looking for placement for a student with disabilities. Denise offered to help, and it turned out to be a very positive experience. The young person that she took in was a hard worker who contributed to the operation of her business. It was a win-win situation for both. The impact of her business in her community is also a win-win situation. She provides a secure and positive workplace for her staff and she also offers a little piece of home with every meal she serves.

PARO has awarded Denise the Enterprising Women Business with 5+ employees Award.

Aboriginal Entrepreneur Off Reserve

Penny Carpenter

Business Manager K-Net Services

Penny Carpenter is an enterprising woman and business manager of K-Net Services telecommunications department of Keewaytinook Okimakanak. Penny played an essential role in the team which oversaw K-Net Services transform from a publicly funded First Nations programme, to a sustainable social enterprise. She contributed to this transition by being a strong female role model in First Nations technology where voices are predominately male. She was the first Aboriginal woman to become the Director of Finance at a tribal council, and the first woman to be part of the management team of Keewaytinook Okimakanak.

Penny’s strength and vision comes from her deep community roots. She places as much emphasis on the needs of her home community as she does with communities across the north and globally. She constantly strives to make her community a better place to live in by being a good role model as a social entrepreneur, business manager, mother and spouse. She teaches and mentors young First Nations girls on the importance of education, goal achievement and balancing family and professional responsibilities without compromise.

Penny is on the front lines building the Kuhkenah Network which is the largest First Nation owned broadband network in Canada. Although Penny would prefer to remain at home with her family and friends, she diligently travels to gatherings in the south to raise awareness and teach others how First Nations in remote communities are adopting and adapting broadband to create new opportunities for youth, women and entrepreneurs.

Penny isn’t just an enterprising woman, she’s a true trail blazer charting the path for other women to follow.

PARO has awarded Penny the Enterprising Women Aboriginal Entrepreneur Off Reserve Award.

Young Entrepreneur | Green Entrepreneur

Serena LeBlanc

Owner/Operator of The Green House

Serena LeBlanc is known in the Thunder Bay community as being a hard working & enterprising woman who is often described by her friends and colleagues as being “resourceful, spirited, enthusiastic, adventurous, innovative, caring and passionate.” Her deep concern for the environment and her keen interest in diminishing the heavy footprint of society on the earth, has been her driving force in opening an “eco-general” store in Thunder Bay. In 2008 she concentrated on studying and completing her small business training with PARO, which helped her seize the opportunity of turning her life-long dream of opening an “eco-general” store into a reality.

Serena has aways been supportive and conscious about complementing rather than competing with existing businesses. Her vision has helped strengthen our community by providing opportunities and raising awareness by concentrating on building a stronger localized economy. She continually demonstrates a strong enterprising ethic for her children, by involving them and welcoming them in being active in the family business. Their pride is evident for all to see when her eldest son (age 5) exclaims, “The Greenhouse is not just mom’s store, it’s our store.”

The Green House has filled a void in our region by providing natural alternatives for sustainable living. Many products that were at one time unavailable, such as breastfeeding shirts and reusable and biodegradable diapering products, are now available, not only to Thunder Bay residents, but to members of remote First Nations. She also worked with the Healthy Babies Co-ordinators supplying biodegradable diapers, baby slings, breast pumps and organic baby food to new moms in the remote north. Serena is an outstanding citizen who has gone to incredible lengths to ensure that the environment that we live in, is one worth living in, and that in itself is a breath of fresh air.

PARO has awarded Serena the Enterprising Women Green Entrepreneur Award and Enterprising Women Young Entrepreneur Award.

Social Entrepreneur

Sandra Hay

Certified Reflexologist

Sandra Hay was introduced at a young age to her family’s prominent business widely known as Gordon Trailer Sales and Rentals. Eager to put her own entrepreneurial skills to the test, she built her first company, The Pampered Pet, shortly after graduating from high school at the young age of 17. Her successful endeavour did not go unnoticed. At the age of 18 Sandra won the Minister’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Business in the age group of 18 to 25. After 6 successful years she sold her business and took a short hiatus giving birth to her first child. However, her passion and desire to start-up another business took hold and she found herself delving into the challenge of starting up yet another small business called Touch of Country. Customers raved about this unique store and showed up week after week for over nine years to see what was new until the unexpected happened. Sandra was diagnosed with a severe spinal cord malformation that required surgery.

Several years before her diagnosis, Sandra met a woman who was studying to become a reflexologist. Sandra volunteered to be a case study for the soon to be reflexologist. This encounter changed Sandra’s life. The sessions relieved the severe symptoms she was experiencing and she fell in love with Reflexology. After Sandra’s spinal diagnosis and surgery, she started Reflexology training in Edmonton. When she returned home as a certified Reflexologist, her services became so popular she knew she had to close her general store and focus on providing Reflexology to clients desperately seeking her care. Twelve years after opening her practice, Sandra continues to use her skills to relieve pain for her clients and also donates her time and skills to numerous retreats and fundraisers. The Alzheimer’s Caregiver Retreat is one of her favourites.

Sandra has been an enterprising woman for over 27 years. During that time she has impacted the economy of Northern Ontario in a positive way by providing a much needed income to dozens of female employees that she has hired. The generous donations that she provides to various local charities through her Reflexology office and her Prestige Limousine business (that her son runs) are too numerous to mention. She’s always the first in line when it comes to supporting a worthy cause. In short, Sandra is a successful business woman, an incredible mom who makes sure her children always come first, and a generous contributor to our community. She is the true meaning of what an Enterprising Woman is.

PARO has awarded Sandra the Enterprising Women Social Entrepreneur Award.

Established Business

Stephanie Ash

Firedog Communications Inc.

Originally from the UK, Stephanie Ash launched her home based business Firedog Communications shortly after receiving her landed immigrant status in Canada. Not only did she face the challenge of starting up a new business in a new country, she had to build her business from the ground up with no connections at all. Her persistence and determination helped her grow her small home based business into a large regional and national award winning company with an impressive client base in Northern Ontario, Canada and North America. Those that have witnessed her dedication and passion have stated that she puts in long hours working through the evenings and weekends so that she can fullfill her clients deadlines. It’s been said that she is oddly motivated by stressful situations and unique challenges. One of her greatest accomplishments is starting and raising a family without sacrificing her business or community commitments. Her 3 year old and 4 month old provide her with great joy and also provided her office staff the opportunity to nickname her the “Manic Momtreprenuer!”

Stephanie’s talent is not only appreciated in her own Thunder Bay community, her accolades reach far and wide. She was recognized by Canadian Marketing Magazine in 2005 as being an “innovative and influential trailblazer,” and was named as being one of Canada’s Top Ten in the publication’s “One’s To Watch Awards.” Her persistence and drive didn’t end there, in 2006 she won the Northern Ontario Business “Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award,” was honoured with an Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award in recognition of her work with First Nations youth, was also the recipient of “Career Guidance Winner” in 2010, awarded the “RBC Innovative Project of the Year Award” in 2011, and received Thunder Bay’s “Top 20 under 40 Awards” in 2012.

To say that Stephanie has become deeply engaged with and invaluable to her community is an understatement. Her business has created rewarding careers for 9 staff members under the age of 35. When she is not mentoring, teaching or encouraging those around her, she is continually giving back to her community by actively participating on numerous boards and committees. Her passion and commitment is reflected in everything that she does, and is evident to everyone that she meets. Stephanie Ash is truly an enterprising woman.

PARO has awarded Stephanie the Enterprising Women Established Business Award.

New Business

Valerie Fraser

Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post

Valerie Fraser’s dream of opening a trading post became a reality when this courageous woman took a chance and launched her unique business in a very small community. The Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post provided this enterprising woman the opportunity to follow her vision by promoting all the things she truly loved and believed in. Her store became all about celebrating the community, supporting and promoting local talent, and visiting the history of our past Voyageurs.

Her business continues to promote and showcase the work of many fabulous local artists, songwriters and authors. These gifted individuals are part of what makes the Atikokan-Quetico Trading Post a great success. She has showcased rare and amazing colour photography exhibits, offered local singer songwriters a performing place to call their own, and provides a rare opportunity for the public to share and participate in the creative workshops that she hosts. When Valerie isn’t arranging new artistic workshops for all to enjoy, or taking the time to organize special events, she will most likely be found organizing annual fundraising walks for the MS Association. In fact, The Trading Post and many of it’s artists came together and supported the Lucy in the Sky Walk for MS honouring the memory of Lucy Gasparotto.

When you visit the Trading Post, you will find that Valerie’s store provides more than a revenue stream for many local and regional artists. Her store often serves as the community’s information and tourism bureau. She always takes the time to talk with visitors, and usually entices them to stay an extra day or two after she provides appealing information that helps promote the area.

Valerie is a futuristic thinker who helps celebrate the past, promotes the present and showcases the future.

PARO has awarded Valerie the Enterprising Women New Business Award.


Francophone Entrepreneur

Donna-Lynn Wiitala

Checkmark Centre d’Excellence

Donna-Lynn Wiitala’s story is an incredibly inspiring story! Donna-Lynn was born with cerebral palsy. Daily physical functions that we take for granted became increasingly difficult for her, yet she didn’t allow her disability to hinder her. Making no excuses for herself, she set the bar high and obtained her Masters in Education. When she began teaching, she started using a scooter to get from class to class. She was determined and driven to see that all students experiencing difficulty with their French studies would receive the help and support they needed in order to succeed.

Donna bridged the gap felt by many in French Education with the launch of her business Checkmark Centre d’Excellence. Students that struggled on their own now have an outlet that supports them with their studies. Because Donna-Lynn believes that all students have a right to expect quality education, she obtained extra training and certification to teach the ‘Apprendre à lire à deux’ program from the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Donna doesn’t just concentrate on her own business, she supports other small businesses and Francophone organizations in Thunder Bay. She has volunteered at the Learning Centre at St. Martin School, has been influential in helping Push and Hagi, and volunteers her time to Sunday school. It’s clear to see that Donna is truly concerned for the education of our children and will stop at nothing to ensure they receive the quality education they deserve.

PARO has awarded Donna-Lynn the Enterprising Women Francophone Entrepreneur Award.

Aboriginal Entrepreneur On Reserve

Shirley Cheechoo

Founder Of Weengushk Film Institute

Shirley is an award winning Cree actress that initially founded the prestigious “De-ba-jeh-mu-jig Theatre Group” in 1982. This highly regarded theatre group became known in Ontario as being one of the longest running Native theatres in North America. Being continually driven by her vision to ensure Native youth are given opportunities to find their inner voice and see their lives portrayed on stage, she continued to expand her network by establishing her film company Spoken Word Productions, and her newest project; Weengushk Film Institute, at M’Chigeeng, Northeastern Ontario.

Not only has she impacted the lives of those whom she has worked with and mentored, she has created growth for business owners by providing them with opportunities that they could tap into by utilizing their catering services for her cast and crew while filming, and by attracting art enthusiasts and tourists into her community with her work.

She has opened up many hearts of those around her with her compassion and determination, and has built a bridge between native and non-native communities by sharing stories and experiences lived by those who at one time, felt like they had no voice.

PARO has awarded Shirley the Enterprising Women Award for Aboriginal Entrepreneur on Reserve.

Businesses Supported
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Grants from PARO Programs
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