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Background on Board Members and Staff

Katie Hoffman, President


Katie Hoffman  officially joined the REAL Board at our June 2018 AGM, and was elected President in July 2019.  In May 2018 she won the Charles Gilhuly award from the Town of Smiths Falls for working tirelessly to improve the quality of leisure time for residents, so REAL has gained one gem of a volunteer.  Katie and her husband David moved to Smiths Falls in 2003 from Ottawa when David retired.  Her very first volunteering in this community was done at Lombardy Public School, but since then she has moved on to many other organizations.  She is currently the Chair of the Friends of the Library, quilts with the Heart to Heart quilt group in Perth, is on the steering committee of the Smiths Falls Youth Campus, and bakes for the after school program run by Big Brothers/Big Sisters.  The Smiths Falls Station Theatre and DJ Schoular Breakfast program also benefit from her talents. 

Before retirement Katie ran a travel agency in Toronto,  owned the eight-room inn Auberge Sauvignon in Mont Tremblant and was secretary to a federal cabinet minister on Parliament Hill.  She once took a 27 ft cruiser from Kingston to the Bahamas with three kids 2, 5, and 7.  She has three children, three step daughters, eleven grandchildren and four great grandchildren. 

Katie sincerely believes in the Three R’s and says “It is the only way to save the environment from getting deteriorated. We are quickly running out of space and now it is important to learn the three R’s of the environment and put it into practice.”  Katie is already happily enlisting sponsors for REAL’s Local Foods Harvest dinner.

Barb Hicks, Vice President


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. Effective July 2019 she will take the Vice-President’s role.  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.

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.

Karen Schecter, Treasurer


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.. By day Karen is 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.

Donna McKenna, Secretary


Donna McKenna joined the Board in 2011, and became Secretary in September 2016.   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.”

Jane Anderson, Board Director

Jane joined the REAL Board inJune 2011.  You may know her as the Treasure of the Royal Canadian Legion Br. 95.  Bio coming soon!

 Tony Cote, Board Director



The best piece of advice a retiree can get is “don’t turn the TV on before 7 p.m and keep yourself busy.”

And that’s what Tony follows. The retired journalist joined the REAL board earlier this year after a stint on the board of Friends of Foley Mountain. 

Tony has been active in social causes throughout his life and has managed to fit in more than a few protests, including the initial Women’s March on Washington a few years ago.

He is on the board of a major political party riding association, has represented workers as a board member on two national organizations and was once president of the Canadian District Council of the Newspaper Guild.

One of his most memorable experiences was spending three weeks in Chile building a home with Habitat for Humanity.

He lives, with his partner Barb Sohn between Rideau Ferry and Perth.

Gloria Pavey, Board Director


Gloria has lived in Smiths Falls for the past ten years with her husband and two children.  She grew up in the Toronto area and attended Carleton University in Ottawa, earning her degree in Mechanical Engineering.  Having worked in the aviation and robotics industries, Gloria has developed a growing concern about the environmental impact of commercial operations in general.  Closer to home, she was driven to take action by getting involved with REAL when she noticed that the frogs who shared the neighbourhood, usually welcoming the warmer weather with their familiar song, had all but gone silent.  May of the wooded areas in town have also made way for new developments.  As a REAL board members, Gloria hopes to contribute new ideas and support existing programs to increase the impact of the environmental efforts in our community.   Gloria was elected to the board in July 2019.

Mercedes Steedman, Board Director

Mercedes joined REAL Board in May 2019.  She is relatively new to the Perth area, having lived in Gatineau for several years, but having spent most of her working life in Northern Ontario.  As a labour historian, Mercedes has taught at the universities in Sault Ste Maire and Sudbury and served many related organizations such as the Canadian Association of University Teacher (CAUT), the Ontario Heritage Board, and the Sudbury Workers Education and Advocacy Centre (SEAC).   

Mercedes was part of a group of community activists that enlisted Environmental Defence Canada to challenge the reports of two major Sudbury mining companies that were greenwashing the human and environmental risks of mining in the region. 

Mercedes is looking forward to working with REAL on environmental issues of concern to people living in the Perth and Smiths Falls area, and has already volunteered to assist with the monarch garden and establishing a method of volunteer coordination.

Niki Dwyer – Smiths Falls Town Council Liaison to REAL

Niki is a newcomer to the Smiths Falls Town Council, having won her seat in the fall 2018 election.   Nikki was Senior Planner at the Town of Smith Falls for eight years.  In addition to REAL she will be involved with the Smiths Falls Community Food Bank, the Child Development Centre Advisory Board and is the Hospital Board alternate town representative.  Niki’s first board meeting with REAL was January 14th.  We look forward to working with Niki and getting to know her.


Al Leonard, Certified Energy Auditor

Al Leonard

Alan Leonard has over 30 years experience in construction and renovation and twelve years experience in home energy auditing. He is knowledgeable, thorough and conscientious and wants the best for you and our natural environment. Alan has extensive education and training in building science and construction and is always striving to expand his knowledge further with additional courses and research. He is an ASNT Level 1 Infrared Thermographer. Alan lives with his wife near Lombardy and together they have a young adult daughter.

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.”