Home > About > People Bios

Background on Board Members and Staff

Karen Schecter, Vice-President


Karen Schecter joined the REAL Board in 2006 as Secretary, became Secretary-Treasurer in 2011,  was elected Vice-President July 2014 and became Treasurer effective September 2016.  Effective July 2020 she is REAL’s Vice President once again.  Karen has recently retired from over 30 years as the Chief Librarian of the Smiths Falls Public Library. One of the original REAL members, Karen has been involved in the newsletter, finance, executive and recruitment committees to name a few. She also played key roles in the Spooner and Chimo School Councils. Karen lives in town with her husband, Jack, has two adult daughters, and enjoys reading and cottaging.

Barb Hicks, Secretary


Barb Hicks was one of the founding members of REAL in 1989. Barb moved to the area in 1987 and was working in the computer field, but having graduated from a university program in Environmental Studies, was interested in putting that background to use. Little did she know what was in store for her! Barb has been on the board for most of its history, apart from a few years when her four children were small. Barb took the President’s position from 2007 until summer 2013,  became Secretary-Treasurer in July 2014, and assumed the President position September 2016. After a year as Vice-President beginning in July 2019, she became Secretary in July 2020.  She has had a hand in many REAL activities, such as the newsletter, web site, Environment Centre, REAL Deal, Pitch In, and fundraisers. She also works part-time in an optometric office and is on the board of the Otty Lake Association. Barb enjoys reading, movies and cottaging in her free time, and has held many positions on local school councils.

Dave Thornley, Treasurer


Dave Thornley is the newest member of our board.  He joined us in December 2019, and volunteered to take the Treasurer’s role effective July 2020.

Dave  moved to Smiths Falls in 2012 after retiring from software development management with HP.  Dave has been volunteering in Smiths Falls, including Search and Rescue, Foodbank, Friends of the Library, Station Theatre, and Lanark Services income tax preparation.  Dave’s favorite activity is playing Pickleball, and he is the treasurer of the Smiths Falls Pickleball Club.

Dave looks forward to working with the REAL members on local environmental issues and in particular helping on the financial side of the organization.

Peter Au, Founding Member

Peter Au


Peter Au, along with fellow educator Ron Stewart, were the inspiration for the formation of REAL in 1989. At that time Peter was a science teacher at SFDCI. Peter served as President of REAL from 1989 until 1997 and again from 2001 until 2007. Peter  held the Vice-President’s position from July 2017 to July 2019.

Peter is a major player in a number of other organizations, including the Rideau Roundtable, the Chinese Community Association, Trinity United Church and the local immigration partnership. Peter has been recognized as Smiths Falls Citizen of the Year and was presented with a 20 year award from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, to name just a few of his accolades. Peter “has never met a project he didn’t like” and excels in seeing linkages and getting people of diverse backgrounds involved.

Peter lives in Rideau Lakes with his wife Daisy, and has a grown son and two grandsons.

Donna McKenna, Board Director


Donna McKenna joined the Board in 2011, and was  Secretary between September 2016 and July 2020.   Donna has volunteered and worked in the delivery of social programs in this community.  Donna retired in the fall of 2015 from a position with the North Leeds area for Community and Primary Healthcare as a Coordinator for Community Support Services for Seniors and Disabled Adults.  Now she has more time on her hands, she volunteers a day a week in REAL Deal smalls.

Donna developed her connection with nature and gardening growing up on a small dairy farm in the area.  She, husband Peter, and three children continued the family farm until 2007 raising Dexter cattle, chickens and turkeys. Donna is committed to growing and preserving her family’s food: “I know everything about how this was grown”.  Donna decided to join the REAL Board after her daughter Marla was a summer student with the organization.  “It was such a positive and great learning experience for Marla working with the staff and volunteers at REAL that I wanted to give something back to them.  I have always been interested in preserving our environment and believe that the work that REAL does to ensure a positive footprint in our community is something that I want to be a part of.”

Aira Sarmiento, Member at Large

Aira Sarmiento moved to Canada in 2008 and is passionate about nature. She was an ocean ambassador in the Ocean Bridge Program with Ocean Wise. She ran numerous service projects including beeswax wrap making workshops and education the public about ocean health. She graduated from Algonquin college in the environmental technician program in 2022.

Dawn Quinn – Smiths Falls Town Council Liaison to REAL

Dawn Quinn was appointed  REAL’s Town Council Liaison person following the Fall 2022 election.  Dawn will participate on our Board and be an information conduit between our Board and Town  Council.  Dawn is no stranger to REAL or to Council.  She was re-elected to town council after a one term absence.  Dawn was also part of the REAL Deal Committee back when the store moved to its William Street  location in 2008.    We look forward to  tapping into her  enthusiasm for the Smiths Falls community and the local environment.

John Appleby, Registered Energy Advisor

John Appleby retired in 2018 from the Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada as a chief economist working in energy efficiency modelling and GHG analysis.  Looking to make a direct contribution to the climate change solution John pursued a career in building science and has a diploma from Algonquin College in Home Inspection and is a certified Energy Auditor.  John has applied his interests in building science renovating several heritage homes. He is looking forward to working with REAL community homeowners to achieve their energy efficiency goals.  He lives in Merrickville-Wolford with his wife where they enjoy life along the Rideau River. They have two sons and two grandchildren.  


Alan Leonard, Registered Energy Advisor

Al Leonard

Alan Leonard has over 40 years experience in construction, renovation and consulting and has been an NRCan Registered Energy Advisor for 16 years. His education in environmental and building science along with training and certifications in energy auditing, home inspection, HVAC and infrared thermography helps him assess all sorts of houses and both their problems and opportunities. His goal is to give the best advice to his clients so that they can make informed decisions about how to most effectively make their home more energy efficient, comfortable and healthy.

Alan lived ‘off grid’ in Lanark county for twenty years using photovoltaic solar power while organically growing much of his family’s food. He and his family now live near Rideau Ferry where he has transformed a typical 1980’s house into a much more efficient home that now has an energy rating equivalent to an Energy Star home. 

Due to health reasons Alan is now on medical leave and hopes to return soon to full time work as an energy auditor. He is still doing post-renovation energy audits for his existing clients so that they can all benefit from the Greener Homes or Enbridge incentive grant programs and/or to receive their improved ENERGUIDE rating for their home. If you are one of his clients and have finished your renovations and upgrades please contact him soon.


Dan Cunningham, REAL Deal Store Manager

Photo by Matthew Benoit



Dan Cunningham took over as the REAL Deal Store Manager in November 2018, and is responsible for the smooth operation of our REAL Deal Store, inside and out! 

Dan’s customer service experience running a family owned cash and carry furniture store, as well being a past Rona sales associate, makes his a good fit for the Store Manager position.  He is a firm believer in reducing waste, providing green jobs for residents, reusing and repurposing merchandise, and offering great prices for people looking for a bargain.  He is a life-long garage sale enthusiast, and says his favourite TV show is Canadian Pickers.   He has previously worked at Hershey’s and as the Health and Safety Manager at Stanley Tools, so feels a strong connection to the people and the area. 

In his free time Dan is a naturalist who enjoys year-round outdoor activities like hiking , camping, cross country skiing, snow shoeing, boating and fishing. He is a huge sports fan, who enjoys playing and watching all sports. 

Says Dan, “I look forward to working with  our staff and volunteers to make the REAL Deal a great experience for our donors and shoppers, as well as helping customers with their redo and reno projects.”