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Speaking Engagements

:Learn more about Denise Bebenek and how she is creating a circle of hope through the power of community and supporting one another. 

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Denise Bebenek

Denise Bebenek is the Founder, President and driving force behind Meagan Bebenek Foundation: Creating a Circle of Hope.


A Toronto resident and graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Honours in Psychology and the University of Toronto Faculty of Education, Denise, a former schoolteacher, is a tireless advocate for families who are touched by brain tumours, and for the empowerment of all children to help one another. Meagan Bebenek Foundation also promotes ground-breaking research, providing much-needed funds to Toronto’s Brain Tumour Research Centre (BTRC), fostering a culture of discovery and care that is improving the care, quality of life, and survival rates for young brain tumour patients.


The spirit of Meagan Bebenek Foundation is a combination of Denise’s personal experiences and mission, as well as her professional background.


In late 2000, Denise’s youngest child, Meagan, was diagnosed with an inoperable and malignant brain tumour. She died six months later, only two weeks past her fifth birthday. That June day, leaving Meagan at the hospital, Denise envisioned a real yet symbolic “hug” of the hospital, sending a message to all within that they are not alone.


The vision became an annual 5 km walk and “hug” event, initially known as Meagan’s Walk and now known as Meagan’s HUG, with thousands joining in every year, trekking through the streets of Toronto to the Hospital for Sick Children. At SickKids, they join hands to form the “circle of hope”, the world’s only hospital hug. Well known across Canada, this Mother’s Day weekend event draws people from Toronto, across Ontario and beyond.


With endless energy and determination, Denise has taken Meagan Bebenek Foundation from humble beginnings 22 years ago on a journey that has resulted in more than $6 million raised for paediatric brain tumour research, and has attracted global interest and acclaim from doctors, hospitals, and medical organizations.


In 2014, Denise’s efforts resulted in the establishment of the Meagan Bebenek Foundation Neuro-oncology Fellowship. This Fellowship is made available to eligible candidates around the world and offers the opportunity for fellows to further their clinical and research training in sub-specialties of paediatric oncology.


Today, Meagan Bebenek Foundation includes a robust school program and a yearly Crane Ceremony in which students from a number of schools present hand-made origami cranes to Meagan’s HUG Heroes. Year-round community events also support the mission.


Denise is a musician, who deeply believes in the healing power of music. In 1991 she won the SOCAN New Talent Demo Award and in 2019 released the single “Love is a River a Song for Meagan’s Walk” featuring Kim Stockwood.


Denise has received recognition and awards for her achievements, including being named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Women: Top 100 by the Women’s Executive Network; The Women’s Post Glass Slipper Award; the Etobicoke Urban Hero Award; and the Province of Ontario Volunteer Service Award.


In 2012 Denise received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and in 2014 she received the June Callwood Award for Outstanding Achievement in Volunteerism. In 2019 she received the Rotary Club Toronto West Lifetime Achievement Award, at their Annual Youth Impact Awards Gala, as well as the Mompreneurs Momentum AwardMaking a Difference (Locally and Globally). In 2021 she received the Volunteer Toronto Legacy Award which celebrates volunteers for their outstanding contributions to the community, as well as the being recognized as one of 21 Admired Women in Business, 2021 by Aspioneer. She was a recipient of the 2022 Top 25 Women of Influence Award, recognizing the extraordinary accomplishments of Canada’s diverse role models.


Denise volunteers in the Women’s Executive Network’s Mentoring Program, the RevolutionHER Mentoring Program, and serves on the De La Salle College Board. She has served as a speaker and panel member for, among others, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, the Paediatric Brain Tumour Foundation of America, and the International Brain Tumour Alliance’s World Summit for Brain Tumour Advocates.

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