15 things you don’t know about Abby Schnurr Mongkonrob, BIST volunteer of the year, survivor / thriver category

Meet Abby Schnurr Mongkonrob, winner of our Volunteer of the Year, Survivor / Thriver Category!

Abby is someone who is always willing to help out with anything and everything we need, from being an amazing photographer at our 2017 5K Run, Walk or Roll to co-curating our Expressive Art Show for the past two years. When she’s in the office or at a program, you know she’ll lifting the spirits in the room by cracking jokes or offering an empathetic ear to anyone who could use it.

Congrats Abby – it’s volunteers like you who help make BIST strong!

Abby on a BIST Community Outing to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2017

16 things you don’t know about me in 16 words or less: I’m a teacher, TV actor, digital music producer, artist, photographer, graphic designer – the list goes on!

I was brought up with good family values: treat everyone equally, respectfully and kindly. I instilled these things in my students as a teacher and this is what I act now as a TBI Survivor and volunteer.

The reason I began volunteering for BIST was: the group of ladies [on staff at BIST] gave me hope. Hope and meaning like I mattered. I didn’t quite understand my TBI for the longest time. Being around others around who shared the same experience urged me to help them while I was also unexpectedly helping myself in the process.

I found support with BIST but also enjoyed engaging with other survivors through their outings and activities, especially the creative arts which I guess is the teacher side of me coming out. My old self resurfaces once in a while when I am with BIST and that is a good feeling.

Abby strikes a heroic pose with her family at the 2017 5K Run, Walk or Roll

If I could pick any job in the world, I would be: A well-known actor, but not famous. Just well-known. I don’t like the spotlight on me, I like to choose when to be in the spotlight. Also music producing is something I’d like to get in to.

I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of:  not being in control. Being alone. Death, I think about it every day. Not being able to control my suicidal ideations, which are part of my TBI linked with mental health struggles.

I don’t like snakes but I really like spiders.

My greatest assets as a volunteer are: I’ve been told I’m funny and quirky. Effective communication with other TBI survivors, patient, friendly and helpful. I feel the need to help to take care of them, it’s the teacher in me.

My friends would describe me as: Quirky, a big kid, funny, kind and unpredictable.

If I could invent a super power, it would be: to record our dreams and watch them on TV. Maybe they already have that. LOL. But it’s pretty cool anyways. You can learn a lot about yourself in your subconscious existence.

What inspires me most about BIST is: taking part in the events and feeling appreciated and needed.

If I won $1 million dollars I would: keep it for myself! Give some money to my family, because my parents are always there and so is my sister, no matter what. I would buy my husband and myself a food truck because my husband wants to sell Thai food. I would open a tranquil coffee shop. I would try and help the homeless because I know how to feels to be in poverty.

My personal hero is: any child or adult survivor of an injury, addiction, abuse, mental health, illness or disease that they have conquered or are in the process of conquering.

 My celebrity “crush” is: David Tennant, I think he’s brilliant. I also like Chris Pratt and Noami Watts.




My favourite BIST event is: going to the movies! And the yearly art show, this is my second year co-curating.

A quote/motto I try to live by is: treat others as you would like to be treated – Karma!

If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would: volunteer for Make a Wish Foundation, go to Disney World with the kids.

One time, as a kid, I:  had a radio show in my basement with friends and cassette tapes, the good old days. I won a spot on a 107.9 morning show with Anwar Night and Larry Silver when I was in grade six. Anwar Night was cute, he’s a weather guy now.

I am most proud of: my husband, for moving all the way from Thailand to support me and take care of me.

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Abby and her husband at our Holiday Party in 2015

My favourite BIST moment from this past year is: when Spider Man came to High Park on picinic day – I felt like a big kid!



15 things you don’t know about Kevin Redmond O’Keefe, BIST volunteer of the year, caregiver category

As a small non-profit, volunteers are a central part of how BIST is able to do what we do. Meet our Volunteer of the Year, Caregiver Category Kevin Redmond O’Keefe who for years has come to our office on the third Wednesday of the month, every month, to co-facilitate our Parent Support Group.

Thank you Kevin for all your hard work – you have made a big difference in the lives of ABI caregivers!

The reason I began volunteering at BIST:  My sister had an acquired brain injury from a car accident 23 years age and I went to a support group for a couple of years at Bloorview. At the time Caron Gan was running the group and she asked me if I would come on as a co-facilitator. She said she wanted a gender balance of facilitators and that having a family member facilitate would be a good idea. A couple of years ago when I found out that Bloorview wasn’t able to do the group and BIST offered to take it over, it seemed as a natural progression. The important thing for me was that the group continue.

Kevin on a night on the town with his sister and niece!

If I could pick any job in the year, I would pick:  For 25 years I’ve been a TV producer making documentaries for TV stations. I’ve been lucky that I usually work on projects that I’m passionate about. Right now I’m trying to decide if I want to work at a TV station or go out on my own and start my own production company. So I guess if I could choose, it would be to start my own production company and only work on projects that I love.

I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of: I don’t think I have any specific fears. I’ve traveled pretty extensively and worked in some pretty dangerous places. e.g. during the civil war in Sri Lanka or in the capital of Honduras which, at the time, was the murder capital of the world. This past year I just returned for working in Haiti which was challenging. I guess I have a fear of trying to figure out what I want to do for the rest of my life (see previous question)

My greatest assets as a volunteer are: I think I’m a good listener and I really enjoy getting people to share their stories. Caron Gan gave me good advice when I first started to volunteer– she said that my job was not to solve people’s problems but to get them to share their story. That took a lot of the pressure off because sometimes I felt bad if we didn’t solve everyone’s problems during the meeting. Since Caron’s advice during the group I look at the people who are not talking and try to get them to open up. I find sometimes those are the most powerful moments.

Salsa dancing with Takashi

My friends would describe me as: Hahahaha. I just emailed my friends as part of a career counselling questionnaire on me, so I have all their answers: warm, friendly compassionate, honest, hard working and committed.

If I could invent a super power, it would be: something to prevent Acquired Brain Injuries  – even though it has enriched peoples’ lives it has also caused a lot of pain and suffering to a lot of people.

What inspires me about BIST is:  Oh my god – family members. Their unbelievable love, devotion and commitment to their children.  They’re all super moms and dads. They have such persistence and tenacity to help their kids. It’s just awe inspiring the way they can overcome obstacles and the incredible strength and courage they have to pick themselves up and keep moving! After every group meeting I leave inspired for sure!

If I won $1 million dollars I would:Oh gosh! I would produce whatever documentaries I wanted as the fundraising is always a challenge. I would use it to do my passion projects. I would also take time off to travel with my husband. We plan to go to Japan for our honeymoon and still haven’t had a chance to do that. (I got married a year ago)

My personal hero is: I’m working on a documentary now on a young Indigenous man from Nova Scotia. Last year he did a Pride parade on his small reserve with a population of under 4,000. He did it because a lot of LGBT Indigenous people had committed suicide and he wanted queer people to feel like they belonged. He is an amazing guy to talk to – to see his wisdom and compassion.

My “celebrity” crush: Lisa Vanderpump! She is on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and also has a spinoff show called Vanderpump Rules. I like watching her shows and the last time I was in West Hollywood, I went to her restaurant Sur and her bar called Pump. I think she’s funny, glamorous and she also does a lot of animal rights work. My guilty pleasure is watching her shows.

❤️ Lisa Vanderpump ❤️

My favourite BIST event was: an art exhibit of survivor’s art. One of our group member’s mom had photographs of her son’s work, such sensitive works and was a really an amazing idea.

Kevin’s favourite BIST event is happening this week!

Don’t miss our Community Fair & Expressive Art Show on April 26, 4-7 p.m. at Christ Church Deer Park. 

A quote/motto I try to live by is: I got from a meditation book I’m reading. It says, “When you’re going through a difficult time try to be as compassionate to yourself as possible. And even try to be compassionate to yourself about your inability to be compassionate to yourself”. (in other words, we all beat ourselves up sometimes and that’s okay too)

If I could volunteer anywhere in the world: I guess I would volunteer in a warm climate, doing something fun cuz I’ve just finished a documentary and have seen a lot of devastations, natural disasters. Maybe as a volunteer on an animal reserve or working with children. I looked at an organization called Right to Play: children who have suffered because of poverty and war and they help children do normal things, playing and helping at the same time.

One time, as a kid:I built a volcano. I used to do a lot of building, mechanical stuff, creative things growing up.

On a shoot in Haiti

I am most proud of: the people in my life who have overcome tremendous obstacles whether it be my sister, the people I do the documentaries on like the young aboriginal man or the families I meet at BIST.

My favourite BIST moment from the past year is: At one of our family support groups we all went around the room and talked about whether this experience has made us better people or a worse people. We got some really emotional, powerful answers and we all agreed that in the end, even though we would never chose to go through this, we had all become better people.

15 things you don’t know about: BIST volunteer of the year, Ambassador Category, Tonya Flaming

The reason I began volunteering for BIST was:  While I was still a discharge planner at SickKids I was asked to join the awareness committee and I jumped at the opportunity.
Tonya Flaming holds up an #areyouaware button

If I could pick any job in the world, I would:  An actor – I love the idea of taking on different characters and pretending to be someone else for just a little while.

I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of: Bears – although I go camping every year.

Picture of a sign that reads:

My greatest assets as a volunteer are: My flexibility, enthusiasm, and my ability to jump in where I am needed.

My friends would describe me as: Kind, fun loving, up for just about anything, and someone who loves to dress up!

If I could invent a super power, it would be: To be able to touch people and fill them with compassion and the inability to be mean to or hurt others.


What inspires me most about BIST is: I have been involved with BIST for quite a few years now and it has been incredible to see to the organization grow and expand their reach to help even more people. BIST is filled with amazing people are constantly coming up with innovative and creative ideas to create awareness and help those living with the effects of a brain injury.

If I won $1 million dollars I would: buy a big country home and fill it with children in need and rescued animals.

My personal hero is: Would have to be my Opa – Roelof Spikman.  He was a young married man with young children living in the Netherlands during the war. In reading his memoires there are stories of being taken prisoner of war, biking 250km to get home and then joining the Underground – or the Dutch Resistance movement. What he lived through and fought for was incredible. After the war he then packed up his young family and moved them Canada and started a brand-new life. Opa Spikman was someone who was loved and respected by all who knew him.

My celebrity “crush” is: Jensen Ackles aka Dean Winchester…Carry on my Wayward son, there’ll be peace when you are done.

dean winchester wink GIF-source

My favourite BIST event is: The Halloween Bash in support of BIST. I know I helped organize it – but I love to dress up (hence the actor side of me.)

A quote/motto I try to live by is: There are two mottos’ in my life – “It is what it is, but it will become what you make of it”. And the second, which my kids always hear me say – “There is a solution to everyone problem.”

If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would: Join Animal Hope and Wellness and help to put an end to the dog meat trade.

Tanya Flaming dressed as a cop, red background

One time, as a kid, I:  I lived out in the country just outside of Guelph. My brother and I (I was around six and my brother was around ten) left the home at the crack of dawn with a saw and chopped down our own Christmas tree, dragged it home and decorated before my parents even woke up. Apparently, it was an ugly tree, but my parents kept it up anyway 😊

I am most proud of:  My children. Sometimes I sit back and look at them and think, wow, I have really good kids. We all try our best as parents but when you see you children emulating the characteristics you are trying to model you can’t help but feel proud (and a bit relieved!)

Tanya F- Halloween Bash

My favourite BIST moment from this past year is: The Inaugural Halloween Bash in Support of BIST. It was a fantastic evening filled with great costumes and we were able to raise money for BIST. Can’t wait for next year!!


15 things you don’t know about: Diana Rockbrune, BIST Volunteer of the Year, Ambassador Category

If the definition of a superhero is someone who swoops in just in time and saves the day,  it can be said that Diana Rockbrune, a marketing and events coordinator at Oatley Vigmond, is the superhero of our 2016 Birdies for Brain Injury Golf Tournament.

Last year, Diana came in literally at nick of time to help an overstretched golf committee and under-staffed BIST team organize a successful golf tournament. From the BIST office side of things, we were on the phone with Diana every day, as she guided us with her expertise, made suggestions and did a heck of a lot of grunt work. Simply put, we can’t thank her enough!

Diana Rockbrune with her sons

How I became involved with BIST:  

I am a marketing and events coordinator with Oatley Vigmond and was approached by a partner to assist in the preparation and execution of the BIST golf tournament in 2016.  I was thrilled to help and in the end see the event all come together as a big success.  I felt like I made a difference. Now I’m hooked – I love this organization.

If I could pick any job in the world, it would be:

An international photographer.

I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of:  

The dark. Shhh…. Don’t tell anyone.

My greatest assets as a volunteer are:

That I have a great ability to meet people (network) and empower people. My flexibility and ability to solve problems while remaining calm in a pinch makes me good at event planning.

My friends would describe me as:  

Someone who is compassionate and caring who enjoys meeting people and making people feel welcomed.

If I could invent a superpower, it would be:  

To eliminate pain and suffering in the world as a superhuman healer.

What inspires me most about BIST is: 

Being connected to an organization that helps so many people. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many new people that inspire me to become the best I can be. I have learned the true meaning of gratitude.

 If I won $1 million dollars I would:   

Adopt children and provide a loving home for them.

My personal hero is: 

My grandmother who passed away from breast cancer when I was a young girl of nine-years-old. While I did not fully understand the disease, it had a big impact on me growing up. She fought the disease alone at first, not telling the family while she proceeded to take the subway to her treatments at Princess Margaret hospital. She showed much mental toughness and bravery, and for that I truly admire her. I have always had a connection with her despite her passing away when I was so young.


My celebrity “crush” is: 

Matthew McConaughey.



My favorite BIST event is: 

The Mix and Mingle. It is always great to see the number of people supporting BIST all in one location. It is overwhelming how many people BIST empowers. This event is a true testament to the popularity of such a wonderful organization that helps so many people with brain injury.

A quote/motto I try to live by is:  

Living by the words I heard a long time ago. I am pretty sure it was my Mother that said this to me – A wise old owl sat in an oak; The more he saw the less he spoke;  The less he spoke the more he heard;  Why can’t be all be like the wise old bird?

If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would:

Help with community development in Fiji.

As a Kid, I:  

Lived on a hobby farm. We were from Toronto and had no idea how to run a farm. My Mom and Dad wanted us to experience responsibility and hard work in addition to balancing school. We had dogs, cats, chickens, geese, rabbits, cows, horses and even a pig. Before and after school I had to do my chores. At the time I thought I was born into slave labor but now I see it as a rewarding childhood. Our local friends called us “city slickers”.

I am most proud of:  

 I’ve been married for 11 years to my husband Joe. He is someone really special and has been an excellent father to our three amazing, athletic sons. Our sons astonish me with their talent in their respective sports. They make me proud when I hear people tell me that they are good ambassadors.  I am blessed.

#areyouaware: Meet BIST’s Amazing Brain Injury Awareness Month (BIAM) Committee


Volunteer Appreciation Week is just around the corner – and we at BIST have been using the month of April as an opportunity to congratulate the winners of our Volunteer of the Year Award: Christiane Kokko (Caregiver Category) and Rob Ashe (ABI Survivor / Thriver Category). Stay tuned next week when we announce the winner of ABI Ambassador Category!  In the meantime, find out more about the hardworking members of our Brain Injury Awareness Month (BIAM) Committee below!

Member of the 2017 BIAM committee
Members of the 2017 BIAM Committee: (L-R) Tonya Flaming, Kelly-Anne Rover, Jordan Assaraf, Meri Perra, Matthew Chung, Celia Missios, Colleen Boyce and Joe Pileggi Missing: Alex Piotti (chair), Ian Bowles, Ian Furlong, Miranda Hong and Vivian Ng (on leave)  

At our last meeting, BIAM Committee member and long time BIST volunteer Colleen Boyce mentioned, “I have a display of Brain Injury Awareness events going back to 2000 in my basement, would BIST like to have it in the office?”

Colleen said that just after committee chair Alex Piotti handed over a DVD of a BIAM event from fours years ago she ‘happened’ to find amongst her stuff. Take away: you know you’ve got a committed group of volunteers when members of the committee literally carry the history of the work with them.

Colleen said her reasons for sticking on the BIAM committee all this time have stayed the same, “The goal at the time and still is awareness and for me personally to give back to the community and the brain injury industry. I did and still feel you need to talk the talk and walk the walk!”

(top L-R) Vivian Ng (third from left) and volunteer Rob Ashe (in blue #areyouaware shirt) at Sunnybrook Hospital in 2016; (bottom L-R) Alex Piotti, Ian Furlong and volunteer Mychal Reeves in 2016

There are several BIST committees, and all of them are where work crucial to BIST happens, our major fundraising events such as Birdies for Brain Injury, the 5K Hero Run, Walk and Roll and the Mix and Mingle would be impossible without these volunteers. Simply put, without volunteer hours, BIST would not be where we are today.

Enter the BIAM Committee, where some members such as Boyce (who was the founding chair of BIST in 2004) has been involved since 2000, before BIST existed.

Throughout this time, the committee’s work has expanded from throwing Brainstock events at Nathan Phillips Square (check out none other than Mr. Ben Mulroney as our special guest in 2012) where members of the ABI community would gather, snag some swag and celebrate the strength of brain injury thrivers / survivors in the heart of Toronto.


Committee member Tonya Flaming helped organize Brainstock events after joining the BIAM committee (because a colleague told her it was ‘fun’) in 2009. Jordan Assaraf, currently a BIST board member, has sat on the committee for three years. New-this-year members such as Celia Missios (also a board member), Matt Chung (a former Communications Committee member) are contributing new ideas and energy to the group, as is Kelly-Anne Rover who replaced her colleague and long-time BIAM Committee member Leslie Allen this winter.

Joe Pileggi, director of client services at Thomson Rogers has been active on the BIAM committee for years. He and Thomson Rogers partner Ian Furlong ensure the committee has meeting space in the Thomson Rogers boardroom, including free coffee and doughnuts as a bonus. (Legal assistant Esther Wiik helps a lot with this part!) Joe is also responsible for giving the committee free access to professional design services through Lime Advertising for BIAM’s print materials.

Super BIST volunteers Tonya Flaming and Frank Bruno at a TTC Brain Injury Awareness campaign in 2015.

BIST Volunteer of the Year winner in 2012, Ian Bowles, joined the committee six years ago, he says partially as a survivor representative, but also because he was interested in ‘reaching out to people who do not know the implications of brain injury.’

Members of the BIAM Committee at Brainstock in 2013, (bottom right) Ian Boyles wins BIST Volunteer of the Year award for his work on BIAM and the Communications committee in 2012. 



In 2014 and 2015, the committee, along with dedicated BIST members, went into the TTC during June to distribute brain injury awareness messages.

Last year, the committee invested in ads in the TTC and held awareness booths in Toronto hospitals.

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Screen Shot of areyouware.ca


areyouaware logo

In 2014 and 2015, the committee, along with dedicated BIST members, went into the TTC during June to distribute brain injury awareness messages.

Last year, the committee invested in ads in the TTC and held awareness booths in Toronto hospitals.

Former BIST executive director, Michelle McDonald and BIAM committee member Vivian Ng at the TTC in 2015
Former BIST executive director, Michelle McDonald and BIAM committee member Vivian Ng at the TTC in 2015

The switch to focussing on social media and the #areyouaware message worked, and in 2015 the committee won an award from the Ontario Brain Injury Association Advisory Council for their work:

Brain Injury Awareness Month Committee
The Ontario Brain Injury Association’s Advisory Council award, proudly displayed in the BIST office with #areyouaware material from previous years above.

This focus is continuing in 2017, so be on the look out for brain injury awareness booths in Toronto hospitals in June, our booth at Pride Toronto  and another great social media campaign!

And thanks to all BIAM Committee Members (past and present) for their hard work!


Meri Perra is the Communications and Support Coordinator at BIST – she feels very lucky that she gets to work with so many amazing people at her job – including this committee!




Meri Perra

Communications and Support Coordinator

Brain Injury Society of Toronto (BIST)

15 Things You Don’t Know About Rob Ashe, BIST Volunteer of the Year, Survivor / Thriver Category

No stranger to doing amazing things for the brain injury community, Rob is a long time BIST member known for his amazing style, friendly attitude and commitment to BIST. This year, Rob joined the Ontario Brain Injury Associations’s Advisory Council, where he attends meetings as a BIST representative.

Congratulations Rob – we think these answers show your amazing spirit and we can’t thank you enough for everything you do for BIST!

Rob shows off his art at a Community Meeting in 2016

1. The reason I began volunteering for BIST was:

I get great satisfaction from being round people (my peers) and knowing I was giving without expecting anything in back.

 2. If I could pick any job in the world, I would:

Work as a social worker.

 3. I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of:


 4. My greatest assets as a volunteer are:

I like to laugh with people and do what I need to do.  Be caring and see people feel good about themselves.

Rob at BuskerFest, in summer 2015

5. My friends would describe me as:

Dependable, likes to be active and give of myself and know I am making a difference.

 6. If I could invent a super power, it would be:

A purveyor of love.

 7. What inspires me most about BIST is:

The people I’m around, who, despite challenges, give me hope as I see how they overcome them.

 8. If I won $1 million dollars I would:

Give it to charities that mean the most to me; ie. Brain Injury and help people.

2014_island_Kat and Rob
Rob with former BIST programs and services coordinator, Kat Powell, at Toronto Island in 2014

9. My personal hero is:

Mike “Pinball” Clemons because he was part of the winning Argos team in 2004 and he has time for everyone.  He actually gave me a hug once and I bawled my eyes out.  It felt like about four minutes but was really only 15 seconds.

 10. My celebrity “crush” is:

Jennifer Lopez!

11. My favourite BIST event is:

The summer picnic because everybody enjoys getting together, catching up with each other.

 12. A quote/motto I try to live by is:

“Keep calm and carry on”  “Always look on the bright side of life.”

 13. If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would:

Live in England and volunteer with a Brain Injury group.

 14. One time, as a kid, I:

Had a paper route that showed me what responsibility was.

 15. I am most proud of: 

Going to Renascent Treatment Centre and being sober for 24 years now and being married to Amanda for 24 years.

Stay tuned as we announce the winner in the Ambassador category next week!

15 things you don’t know about Christiane Kokko: BIST Volunteer of the Year, Caregiver Category

We are thrilled to announce the first winner of our BIST Volunteer of the Year award in the caregiver category – Christine Kokko. If you popped into the office this fall, you would have noticed some changes – mainly that the office was super, duper organized. That’s all thanks to Christiane, who took time out to help do massive de-cluttering and -reorganizing of our space.

We can’t thank her enough!

Christiane Kokko

1. The reason I began volunteering for BIST:

Because I love what they do, and wanted to be part of it!

2. If I could pick any job in the world, I would be:

The first Female Governor of Bank of Canada, as such I would promote the economic and financial welfare of Canada!

3. I have an (irrational or otherwise) fear of:


4. My greatest assets as a volunteer are:

Multitasking, administrative skills and my love for networking 😉

5. My friends would describe me as:

A Leo – passionate, tenacious and full of love!

6. If I could invent a super power, it would be:

A cure for my husband’s condition

 7. What inspires me most about BIST is:

The team – and the quality of work that comes out of the organization.

8. If I won $1 million dollars I would:

Help people in need  – to give them the opportunity to smile and be happy.

9. My personal hero is:


10. My celebrity “crush” is:

Sting — AND — Colin James … shh – it is a secret!

11. My favourite BIST event is:

Tuesday’s activities – and caregiver me time.

12. A quote/motto I try to live by is:

Be yourself, be and in the moment.

13. If I could volunteer anywhere in the world I would:

Volunteer in Canada — the best place on earth!

14. One time, as a kid, I:

Would run down the hill after school to be the first on to get a candy from the crossing guard – proud moments.

15. I am most proud of:

Who I have become – thanks to my friends and family believing in me.

Stay tuned throughout April as we announce winner in Ambassador and Survivor/ Thriver categories!