A tireless leader known to many as the community’s Little Engine That Could, Sharon Brooks is this year’s recipient of the Woman of Excellence Award.

A champion of children’s programs, Brooks is the force behind Kids Can Fly, which operates Launch Pad, Roots of Empathy, Storybook Breakfast, Parachute Program, ECE Awards, and Dolly Parton Imagination Library. Some 10,000 kids have used the programs.

(Article by Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor)

“It’s not really about me,” said Brooks, as she accepted her award in front of a packed room at the fourth annual International Women’s Day event on Wednesday at the Best Western Brant Park Inn.

“I’m the person on the front line that many people see, but it takes a team. This is about all of us together helping children get a good start in life.”

Brooks was one of five finalists for the Woman of Excellence Award, presented by Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services and The Expositor.

The other finalists were Jean Anderson, Sherry Kerr, Marilyn McCulloch and Teresa Percival.

Other nominees for the award were Doris Post, Dorothy DeVuono, Giovanna Notarandrea, Stacey Farrant, Jacqueline Buscombe, Susan Swackhammer, Judy Ham, Dorothy Calbeck, Nancy Tomkins and Kristin Pass.

The women have a vast list of achievements and community involvement.

“It’s wonderful to know what women are able to accomplish and how they get the job done in the community,” said Brooks.

With a motto of “lead, follow or get out of the way,” Brooks is a “powerhouse who knows how to get the job done and inspires greatness in others,” said Robin Matthews-Osmond, The Expositor’s marketing relations manager.

A lover of horses since childhood, Brooks brought the Canadian Paralympic Equestrian Team to the Athens Olympics in 2004 by first creating, without a budget, facilities or volunteers, an International Paralympic Equestrian Qualifying Event.

Brooks is the recipient of several early childhood educator awards, and was chosen by Fraser Mustard to sit on the original Ontario Council for Early Childhood Development.

“She is an activist and, at a deeper level, she is a humanitarian,” said Nora Leung, who is a member of the Kids Can Fly executive.

About 440 people attended Wednesday’s International Women’s Day event, which organizers hoped would raise at least $25,000 for Nova Vita, which operates a women’s shelter in the city.

“There are eight bedrooms at the shelter in need of renovation,” said Michelle Heaslip, Nova Vita’s community development co-ordinator. “They need new flooring and furniture.”

Juno nominee Kim Davis performed, sharing her personal story of domestic abuse through words and song.

Davis’s estranged husband was killed in 2005 by her abusive boyfriend. The singer was also seriously injured in the incident. Both were stabbed and left bleeding in the driveway.

Davis said her eight-month relationship was “awesome” at first but quickly descended into fits of rage and jealousy.

“The abuse became normal,” she said. “He would hit me, spit on me, call me names.”

Davis said she found solace in music, turning the words of her journal into powerful song lyrics.

“No one is immune to domestic violence,” she told the audience. “It’s important for us to tell our stories.”

Nova Vita has provided services to more than 18,000 clients over the past 30 years. Today it operates a 30-bed emergency shelter for abused and homeless women and children, a 24-hour crisis line and transitional and housing support services.