The Heart of A Volunteer

What propels us to volunteer? Is it a desire to make a difference? An enthusiasm to help others?  A craving to exchange ideas and information?  It is all of these things and more.  While there are hundreds of reasons to volunteer, the benefits to those on both sides are infinite.  Volunteering is about community involvement and the potential to contribute to positive and lasting change.

Shirley Low knows a thing or two about volunteering and contributing to change. A pivotal volunteer and educator at John Allison Elementary School in Princeton, Low has been a kindergarten teacher for over 20 years and has taught many other primary programs in Princeton.

Inspired to research and learn about her family history as it related to food and food trends, Shirley’s love of food and health is certainly in her genes. The link goes back generations as her grandfather, a Chinese-trained herbalist, opened his Get Well Drug Store in Nanaimo’s Chinatown in the 1930’s.

At a time when new concerns about food security, genetically modified foods, poor eating habits of children and a lack of playtime were a part of a national conversation, Shirley was instrumental in forming the JA School Community Garden. The groundwork had been laid.

There was a certain snowball effect as the establishment of the community garden was a catalyst for the school to develop the Kitchen Kids program. Thanks in part to a $5,500 Valley First Community Endowment grant in 2013, the school was able to purchase the kitchen appliances, equipment, and of course, food, to get the project off the ground. Last year, Valley First provided an additional $3,000 Community Endowment grant to keep the program running.

Kitchen Kids, under Shirley’s care, custody and leadership has flourished, culminating with her second cookbook, “Kitchen Kids Cookbook”, thanks in part to a grant from the BCTF. Every child in the school took home a cookbook.

Shirley researches, develops and designs specific lesson plans for parents and teachers to follow. She has developed recipes that are both nutritious and appealing to young palettes. For those of us with picky young eaters, that is no small feat.

From traditional North American cuisine to wonton soup to making egg pasta with a group of enthusiastic young chefs, Shirley is the organizational and creative force behind the program’s success.

Guided by a volunteer heart herself, Shirley has recruited a variety of community volunteers to work alongside her. So many people have come together to give back and help the primary students learn to cook.  These include Valley First employees, active and retired teachers, former students, Rotary members and parents of John Allison Elementary students.  

Cooking days are definitely celebrated at JA Elementary as there is a tangible excitement and anticipation amoung students and staff. And the program benefits are not limited to students alone.  “There is a feeling of community in our school, as staff supports one another,” added Low. “We are closer as a staff and we are a more effective team when we care about the children who are in need of nourishment.”

It can be easily argued that Shirley Low is the heart of the Kitchen Kids program, reaching 130 students in 6 classes each year. Her talent, compassion and dedication make a powerful difference in furthering the well-being, health and happiness of the students at John Allison Elementary School.

In the words of American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, “Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.”