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Alumni Respond to COVID-19 Pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic interrupts the lives of millions across the globe, Windsor Law alumni are stepping up to help their communities in meaningful ways — from offering free accommodations to essential workers, to making hand sanitizer in their distilleries, to launching grassroots fundraising efforts, to finding innovative ways to serve their clients. We will be showcasing some of these inspiring stories on this webpage, so check back regularly for updates.
 

Windsor Law Grads Apply Skills to Fight Against Pandemic

Raising over $2.36 million, conducting media appearances on TSN and Sporstnet, working alongside Hayley Wickenhesier and political influencers, creating a makeshift distribution centre for millions of items of personal protective equipment (PPE), and designing apparel with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment were things that Guri Pannu '07 never expected to find on his to-do list.

He and fellow alum Fatema Dada '07 have been key players in the establishment of the cross-country organization Conquer COVID-19, helping communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Both are board members; Pannu is also chief operating officer and chief legal officer, and Dada plays multiple roles in legal and distribution.

Their critical takeaways from the organization’s explosive success? They relied heavily on the diversity of their team, and believe that the critical thinking and emphasis on ethics they learned at Windsor Law allowed them to adapt and make effective decisions in a global landscape with extreme uncertainty.

In mid-March, as COVID-19 continued its deadly spread across the world and was making its way to Ontario, many were facing similar fears: how contagious is the virus, will my parents and family be impacted, what surfaces can I touch, will I lose my job, as well as paranoia of the most basics needs is it safe to shop for groceries and hug my family and friends.

Events were being cancelled, workplaces were being shut down, financial markets were tumbling. Compounding the lockdown was a fear that hospitals would be unable to handle the surge in COVID patients and protect their workers. Instead of allowing the fear and inertia of the virus to set in, Pannu was asked to join a network of six friends with a similar mindset: to just do something about curbing the spread of the virus to help save lives.

Within a week of lockdown, the team created Conquer COVID-19: a group of physicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, medical students, and other volunteers dedicated to ensuring frontline workers responsible for the health and wellbeing of Canadians have access to masks, gloves, and other supplies essential to treat patients and minimize the spread of the virus.

Conquer COVID-19 had three large catalysts. The first was when doctors on its team came up with the idea of using baby monitors in hospitals to track patients without entering their rooms. The group quickly sourced baby monitors from Toys “R” Us and Vtech, drawing praise from prime minister Justin Trudeau. Volvo provided 15 SUVs to help drive and deliver medical equipment across Ontario. Within two weeks, the grassroots group quickly grew from six people on a What’s App discussion to 120 volunteers and a nationwide movement.

“Not only has Conquer COVID-19 allowed me to reconnect with a long-lost law school friend,” says Dada. “It has also given me the opportunity to work with a dedicated and talented group of individuals who are sacrificing their own personal time to work together to help Canada through this pandemic.”

The second catalyst occurred when Conquer COVID-19 formed a partnership with hall of fame hockey legend and soon-to-be physician, Hayley Wickenheiser. In Toronto for her clinical rotations as a medical student, she had tweeted a plea to help her colleagues with donations of N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and face shields. Her friend, Canadian-born actor Ryan Reynolds, amplified that call for help.

Within a week of the boost from Wickenheiser and Reynolds, Ontario premier Doug Ford attended a Conquer COVID-19 donation drive and contributed 26,000 surgical masks. He unexpectedly requested one of the group’s T-shirts and wore it at a press conference on April 11. The T-shirts were intended only for volunteers, but the following day Conquer COVID-19’s social media feed was hammered with requests to buy them. The group sold more than 22,000 T-shirts in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, and Australia.

The third catalyst was a donation of $1 million by the founders of Shopify, Fiona McKean and Tobi Lutke and their Thisltedown Foundation.

While Conquer COVID-19 has now concluded its fundraising efforts, the group continues to provide links to other organizations and funds that can assist as well as serve as a model of hope and inspiration across the country by showing that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results.

Pannu is pensive about how his experience at Windsor Law allowed him to meet the moment.

“I wasn’t your traditional law student and I didn’t have a burning desire to attend law school since I was little kid,” he says. “However, in my 12 years of practice, my law degree has been invaluable outside of my law career and allowed me to make the most meaningful contribution I have ever made.

“Windsor Law taught us to not only to think critically but also to encourage its students to contribute to the community. The social justice and community feel of the school allows you not to take yourself to seriously and focus on contributing to society.”

He says he always knew he wanted to make an impact. “I came to law school for something more than just building a career as a lawyer,” says Pannu. “The law is such a powerful way to contribute to the world, to take a portion of your time, use your skills and contribute to it.”

With the help of its 120 volunteers, Conquer COVID-19 has raised $2.36 million and delivered more than 1.1 million items of personal protective equipment to six provinces and 94 cities across Canada.

- Published June 18, 2020


Law Alum Returns to Nursing to Serve Indigenous Community

When Martina Dwyer '11 pursues something, her passion shines through. Upon learning of the public health nursing shortage due to COVID-19, she made the decision to temporarily leave her law practice in Hamilton to make an impact on the frontlines of the pandemic in Northern Ontario.

Indigenous health services dwindled significantly amid the pandemic, and Martina answered the call. Commissioned by Indigenous Services Canada, she was assigned to the nursing station in Keewaywin First Nation, an Oji-Cree First Nation and one of the northernmost communities in the province of Ontario. During her four-week appointment, Martina's duties include COVID-19 preparation and screening within the community.

Martina's education is expansive. In 1985 Martina graduated with a diploma in Health Sciences from St. Clair College and became a registered nurse. She continued her career in perinatal intensive care while obtaining a certificate in public health nursing from the University of Windsor in 1993. She then pursued a Pedorthics degree, as well as a Bachelor of Science and Nursing in 2008, before obtaining her law degree from Windsor Law in 2011. She was appointed to the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion (Public Health Ontario) in January 2020 and was recently appointed as chair of the Governance Committee.

Martina travelled to Keewaywin First Nation with a month’s worth of medical supplies and scrubs. She is using her education and experience to help keep the community safe and ensure it can both protect itself from the first wave of this virus and prepare itself for the inevitable second wave as well.

"Not only do I have an immense feeling of self-satisfaction to help this community," says Martina. "But I am also humbled by the invaluable learning experience I am receiving about Indigenous Peoples in Northern Ontario, their culture, their challenges and their resilience.”

She says her days are intense, ensuring that no details are missed as she teaches other frontline workers essential processes ranging from how to properly gown before a shift to how to safely return home at the end of the day.

As if she wasn't busy enough already, Martina also hosts a one-hour radio program twice per week. The show provides an opportunity for community outreach, involving community members in the education process amid COVID-19.

Although she didn’t know it at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak, she was perfectly positioned to assist the community when they needed it most. As the courts suspended much of their operations due to the pandemic, more time became available for Martina to act. During her temporary leave from her law practice, Martina has entrusted the day-to-day operations to her daughter, Julianne Fogarty – also a lawyer and University of Windsor alum, obtaining her Bachelor of Science in 2014.

Founded in 2014, Martina's law practice offers 30 years of experience in pedorthics and nursing, which has uniquely situated Martina at the intersection of law and health. Moving forward, Martina's plan is to continue working in the areas of both law and nursing. She states, “being busy has taken on a whole new meaning. I am driven by helping people overcome their life challenges."

- Published May 19, 2020


Kingsville-Based Hotel Offers Free Accommodations to Essential Workers

Amid the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic, Windsor Law alum Jennifer Flynn and her family have opened their boutique hotel in Kingsville to essential workers who are putting their family lives on hold to care for those in need. Over the last few weeks, The Grove Hotel's 'Hotel For Heroes Program' has welcomed firefighters, police officers, paramedics, doctors and nurses — allowing the Flynn Family to see firsthand the Herculean effort of essential workers to keep our community healthy and safe.

Caring for others seems to be wired into the Flynn DNA. Jennifer, who obtained her law degree from the University of Windsor in 1998, established a career in law before shifting gears to pursue a career in healthcare. Her husband, James, obtained his degree in Sociology from the University of Windsor before pursuing the family ethos set forth by his grandmother, Janette Schram (Flynn), who opened her first senior housing facility in Tilbury, Ontario.

Since then, the Flynn Family has been a leader in the senior housing industry, with over 30 years of experience. The family expanded to the hotel industry in 2016, taking over one of the oldest properties in Kingsville (established in 1854) and turning it into a beautiful and unique boutique hotel. According to its website, The Grove Hotel features 18 themed rooms - each as different as its guests - and offers a memorable visit each and every time.

“We feel Canadians, as a whole, are doing a good job of social distancing, but realize there are many heroes who work in healthcare who selflessly continue to go to work, only to have to worry about their own health and that of their families after a long and undoubtedly physically and mentally draining shift. That’s where we think we can offer some help and peace of mind”, said Jennifer. “We love and respect the work done by the heroes in our healthcare system and if we can be a small part of helping all of us get through this, we would be honoured and humbled.”

Their daughter Emma Flynn, a third-year Health and Biomedical Sciences student at the University of Windsor, continues: "I'm proud of my family for choosing to step up, despite the significant economic impact of the provincial closures on our family's business." 

“These uncertain times that we are facing together, if anything, has given us time to reflect on what is really important and what really matters. We know that it’s the members of our community, those whom we have made a connection, and it's our health, happiness and the ability to see through tough times together and come out the other end," said James.

The Grove Hotel, in Kingsville, Ontario is looking forward to welcoming back guests as soon as possible. The Grove Hotel can be found at www.mygrovehotel.com, on social media (Facebook and Instagram: @mygrovehotel) or be contacting them directly at (519) 712-9087.

- Published May 1, 2020