Metro Morning

Torontonian of the year nominee: Jacquie Ott

For the second year in a row, CBC Radio's Metro Morning went on the lookout for the Torontonian of the year. Jacquie Ott has been nominated for her work collecting toys for children newly arrived in Canada from Syria.

Ott founded Let Them Be Kids a year ago so she could help children coming to Canada from Syria

Jacquie Ott has been nominated for Torontonian of the Year for her work collecting toys for children newly arrived in Canada from Syria. (CBC)

For the second year in a row, CBC Radio's Metro Morning went on the lookout for the Torontonian of the year.

The call went out for Toronto residents who are making a positive impact in their communities.

Nominee: Jacquie Ott

Jacquie Ott, pregnant with her second child, was sitting on her couch watching her toddler play about a year ago after watching news reports about the war in Syria, and she knew she had to do something to help.

So, despite chasing around a busy toddler and preparing for another baby, Ott founded Let Them Be Kids, an organization devoted to collecting toys for children newly arrived in Canada from Syria, to let them have the childhood that they've long been denied.

"I thought, 'this isn't fair.' I live a very comfortable life and there are people out there that can't sit and watch their child play in the same way that I can," Ott told CBC Toronto's Metro Morning last week.

She was no longer content with sharing news articles on social media about what was happening. She wanted to actually help fellow parents and their children who were leaving everything behind and preparing to start a new life in Canada.

"I just thought, 'what could I do, as a mother, to help fellow parents, to help kids enjoy the same freedom and happiness that I have from watching my children play?'" Ott said.

Jacquie Ott, right, and Julie Mahfouz-Rezvani took a selfie at the CBC Toronto building when they came in to talk to Metro Morning. (Julie Mahfouz-Rezvani/Facebook)

For all of her work helping newcomers, Ott has been nominated by Julie Mahfouz-Rezvani, who also runs a non-profit, Mes Amis, that also works with refugees.

Mahfouz-Rezvani met Ott a year ago when she was making collections for a clothing drive.

"She had a six-week-old baby," Mahfouz-Rezvani said of Ott. "And everybody in the city was doing these remarkable things for the Syrian refugees like clothing and ESL classes and housing, but nobody had really thought about the children and this frivolous thing called toys that would bring back their childhood."

'She's made such a difference'

Ott was collecting toys on her front porch and piling them up in her garage, according to Mahfouz-Rezvani. She's collected toys for 1,500 children who have newly arrived in both Toronto and Kitchener.

"She has put so many smiles on these children, most of whom have come from camps, from Lebanon and Jordan. She's worked relentlessly," Mahfouz-Rezvani said.

"I had a baby and I was at home for six months, I was not going around collecting toys for other children. So to do this, especially with baby in tow, was remarkable. And I think she's made such a difference to the hearts and the minds of the people in this city, as well."

Toys let newcomers know they're safe

Ott actually credits Mahfouz-Rezvani with inspiring her to start Let Them Be Kids, since she had already been working with newcomers on her clothing drives.

But knowing that others were focused on necessities such as clothing, food and shelter, Ott wanted to give something to children that Canadians often take for granted.

"That's exactly behind the motivation for the name, Let Them Be Kids. It's bringing back a childhood either that was lost to them or that they never had the chance to experience," Ott said.

"Many of these children may have never owned toys of their own before. They've had a very hard life up until this point, and I think toys is one of the ways that we can improve their life and let them know they are safe here."

With files from Metro Morning