Meet Shawnda Walker, her husband Patrick Leu and their amazing daughters Vanessa and Abigail.
This is a family that meets challenges head-on and turns them into opportunities. Shawnda runs Nitwits.ca. As the founder and Chief Nitwit, Shawnda is the first Canadian certified by The Shepherd Institute, a USA based research, education and lice removal treatment center. Shawnda started Nitwits when her daughter came home from Kindergarden with a complaint of head-lice. As it turns out, her daughter didn’t have lice, but Shawnda discovered that Ontario also did not have certified guaranteed programs to help families. She took it upon herself to seek out a certification program in the USA and the rest is history. Unfortunately, children continue to contract lice, usually at school, or from sleepovers, playgrounds, or sporting events. Infestations easily happen when children are playing in close proximity and are most common in young children, especially those in preschool and elementary schools. The Nitwits clinic is consistently busy and has remained open during the pandemic.
Patrick Leu is a senior marketing manager for Subway restaurants. During Covid-19, Patrick has led the franchise operation to success with third-party delivery options.
The family were one of the first to purchase in the neighbourhood. While visiting her mother who lived on the north west corner of Barber Green and Don Mills, Shawnda and Patrick took time to view the display office for the development (some will remember it was in a temporary office at the corner of Green Belt and Don Mills, now the new construction site). One week after 9-11, they purchased off plans. That was 2001. They moved in when Abigail was a babe in arms.
“We love the community,” says Shawnda. “It feels like a small town in the heart of the City of Toronto.”
“The girls grew up here and love it. It made it really hard when circumstances took us out of the neighbourhood for 18 months. It was the girls who implored us to move back. Due to new needs in the family, it meant having to renovate but that was accomplished just before the Covid-19 lockdown and we were able to move back in.”
Everyone has a super-power, and the two girls are no exception. Abigail is 19 and in her first year of university at Wilfred Laurier University’s School of Business. During her last two years of high school, Abigail was involved in Junior Achievement (JA), a global non-profit youth organisation. JA’s mission is to provide the opportunity for kids to develop skills that will be with them for the rest of their lives. Abigail’s signature program was a venture to identify how accessible various retailers in the city are. A digital based business run by students, the platform draws attention to the need for accessibility in our city. Check out @ACCESSOCanada or (accesso.org). Abigail is so committed to her project that she ported the program and turned it into a full-fledged Not-for-Profit.
Vanessa is 16 and in grade 11 at York Mills Collegiate in French Immersion. She has turned her creative skills to an Instagram based business @ConfectionsbyV. Take a look at the page, Vanessa creates cupcakes that look just like bouquets of flowers. Since she’s in school full time, these amazing confections are very limited. If you would like to order for a specific event, get in quickly. She sells out every week.
“For us, the Covid lock-down was actually good for the family,” says Shawnda. “We were like everyone else, focused on the kids and everything they wanted to do. A lot of running around doing busy stuff. The lock-down made us slow down and focus on the family. Both Patrick and I continued to work, but now primarily from home. It was during the first lock-down that Vanessa was able to start her business.”
“We’re lucky, we have a holiday home in Collingwood. It’s only 1 ½ hours from the city. It does give us a place to escape to. We love the night life, and all the activities that are available. We even have neighbours from this community that we see in Collingwood.”
“But nothing replaces this unique sector of the city.”