Jessica is a second-year science student at UBC, and she’s so much more than that. Over the summer, she spent almost every day volunteering with the KidSafe Writers’ Room literacy program, and she became a role model, a mentor and a friend to every child she worked with—and to the other volunteers, too.
Shirley, age 8, loved working with Jessica this summer because "She’s cool and fun and helps me write!"
Kelly, age 10, and Helena, age 8, interviewed Jessica about her volunteering experience.
Kelly and Helena: How long have you been a volunteer?
Jessica: I’ve been a volunteer with the KidSafe Writers’ Room for about two months now.
Why did you choose to be a volunteer?
I thought volunteering would be a great way to gain new knowledge while also being helpful to people who needed my help. When I started to look at some volunteer postings I was kind of (read: extremely) picky; I wanted to volunteer with an organization doing something that I felt strongly for. Once I found the KidSafe Writers’ Room and learned more about what KidSafe does for the community, I thought that this was exactly what I was looking for: directly influencing people by helping them, being there for them and just being their friends.
Where else have you volunteered?
I volunteer on a regular basis at home when there is one slice of leftover cake that needs to be consumed. Most of the time, my brother volunteers with me, so we split the slice in half. Other than “volunteering” at home, KidSafe is actually the first official organization I’ve ever volunteered with!
How old are you?
At the moment, I am eighteen, but I will be turning nineteen in September.
How old were you when you first chose to be a volunteer?
I wanted to start volunteering when I was fifteen in high school. However, I was really busy with my schoolwork, being in the partial IB (International Baccalaureate) program, and I also had several extracurricular activities that I was already committed to, so I never got a chance to be a volunteer. It was after my first year of university that I really had the chance. . . So I was eighteen when I first became a volunteer. Haha.
Were you good at it when you first started to volunteer?
No. On my first day with the KidSafe Writers’ Room, I felt really awkward because I wasn’t really sure how I should act. I felt like I was out of place. Through observing Sarah, the spectacular Writers’ Room coordinator; the KidSafe staff members; and the other volunteers, I slowly began to understand how to interact with the children and grew increasingly more comfortable. I like to think that I have improved a lot, but I still have a lot to learn, so through my powers of observation, I will keep on observing them to hone my skills.
What do you do other than being a volunteer?
During the school year, I go on adventures with only my backpack around the UBC campus. I travel from building to building, sometimes on uneven concrete pavement, through massive herds of students, climbing uphill and downhill, all done in order to attend classes and learn from masters of great intellect, my professors. Then I go home and study. I also like music. I play the piano, but right now, I really want to learn how to play guitar.
Do you like volunteering with us? If yes, why?
Yes, I love volunteering with KidSafe! The kids are so much fun to be around; they have so much energy, and doing the activities with them was an awesome experience. I also had the chance to learn from amazing guest speakers, so it’s a good thing I was there to hear so many of those presentations!
What other thing would you rather do other than volunteering?
Other than volunteering, I love singing in harmony with other people. Not that I’m good at it; I have to learn the harmonies first. The melodies are the easiest to hear, and that’s what makes learning and singing harmonies interesting; they’re more challenging!
Are you happy to be the Volunteer of the Summer?
I am absolutely thrilled to be Volunteer of the Summer! Wow, I am so honoured to receive this title. Thank you!
No, Jessica. Thank you! The summer program wouldn't have been such a huge success without you.
Raoul and a young reader of his own
Raoul Fernandes is an award-winning poet, a brand-new father and a super dedicated tutor. After discovering the Writers’ Room at the Word on the Street festival, Raoul has volunteered almost every week—he even tutored
on the day his baby was due to be born! And Raoul has helped the Writers’ Room kids in a wide variety of ways, from creating writing activities to designing volunteer badges to writing a poem just for the kids.Mark, age 8, wanted to interview Raoul for this addition of Tutor of the Month because, “He's a really nice guy. He’s a great friend, and I really like him because he’s kind of mysterious to me sometimes.”
Mark: Do you have a pet?
Raoul: Yes! I have a new baby named Leith! He’s eleven weeks and really. . . Wait, that’s my son, not a pet. I have a lovely black cat named Bat. He likes food, birdwatching, food, and sitting in front of the fireplace. He also really
likes food.Where do you live?
I live in the basement of a house near the Nanaimo Skytrain station in East Vancouver. We have a garden with two quince trees and grapevines and all kinds of plants that you can put in salads.Where are you from?
That’s a good question! I was born in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. But my parents are both from India. Also, I’ve lived more of my life now in Canada. So should I say I’m from Dubai or India or Canada? It would be easier if I met an alien travelling in space and could say “I’m from Earth. Which planet are you
from?”What is your family name?
It’s Fernandes, which has Portuguese origins. This is from the Portuguese coming to India a long time ago. I just checked on the internet and it means “brave space traveller”! Ok, I added the “space” but still. . . that could be what they meant.Do you like the Writers’ Room?
I do, indeed! My favourite thing is getting to play hangman and hearing the awesome stories and poems that the students write. Monsters and princesses and sharks! Sometimes all at the same time! It seriously makes me want to put more sharks in my poems.
Last week, Bob Kronbauer
, awesome editor-in-chief of Vancouver Is Awesome
, dropped by the Wednesday/Thursday Crew to chat about their blog; answer questions about his own über-positive, über-popular site; and give them tips for how to improve the Wednesday/Thursday Crew blog
What resulted was an internet show-and-tell, the kids showing Bob their favourite online past-times, and Bob sharing his own.
As a thank you, the kids wrote about Bob’s visit
on their blog. Here's an excerpt:
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[Bob] said that he chose to become a blogger because he likes Vancouver. He meets famous people and he interviews them. He checked out our own Wednesday/Thursday Crew Blog and had read it. That was pretty cool. We showed him Epic Rap Battles of History. We watched the videos and talked about how cool it was. We thought that the best one was Einstein vs. Stephen Hawking. Bob is such a nice guy because he donated us a camera, and we are so excited to use it and take pictures around our school. . . Thanks Bob! Vancouver is awesome and so are you!
Bob also wrote about his visit
on his own site. Then the kids started posting some of the photos they took with the camera Bob donated, including this amazing stop-motion video
! Then Bob wrote about that
. So they’re pretty much blogging pen pals now. Which is truly awesome. Thanks so much for being a part of the Writers’ Room experience, Bob!
Jen is a freelance editor and the former managing editor of
Color magazine. She began volunteering at the Writers’ Room two days per week, and when we needed a program assistant to start a new program, Jen stepped up her commitment to three days per week and helped a group of grade 6 and 7 kids create the Wednesday/Thursday Crew blog. She now spends almost every day with KidSafe kids, as she also runs GEMS, a KidSafe girls’ group at Nightingale Elementary!Here’s how Francis, age 6, described meeting Jen, “We met her on the first day. Then she got our names. Now she helps me and Addy.”
Francis and Addy, age 7.5, interviewed Jen.Francis and Addy: Do you like food?
Jen: I love food! In fact, I love it all so much that it’s hard for me to pick a favourite. If I had to pick something that I wouldn’t want to live without, it would have to be seafood.Do you like to play?
I do. I like to play lots of different games, but not computer games. I’m more into board games or basketball or making up silly games with my friends.Do you like to play outside?
You bet. Vancouver is the best city to live in because you can play outside all year. The rain can even make some games more fun.Do you like to skate?
I can skate, but I can’t stop so I have to go round and round and round the rink until its time to go. Then I just crash into the boards. I’m sure you guys are way better skaters and stoppers than I am.Do you like the Writers’ Room?
Of course! If it weren’t for the Writers’ Room, I would never have met you guys. Coming here is one of the best parts of my whole week. I love being read to and working on fun projects with you and all of our other buddies.
The Writers’ Room has been lucky that our friend Alexandra Gill, the food critic at the Globe and Mail
who generously donated her time to our Art of Food Writing
fundraiser in October, has now visited the Writers’ Room twice.
She easily wound her way into the primary kids’ hearts through food, letting them sample a food that represented each taste—they even liked the sour lemons!
After talking about the different tastes, each child received an apple, and, before discussing the flavour, they described the look, feel and smell—and the sound of an apple? On the count of three, everyone took a bite at once. The sound of an apple is a resounding crunch
followed by a room-full of mmm
s. Finally, the kids wrote about the apple-eating experience. Here's just one of the great works:
I Ate an Apple!
It looked like a heart.
It felt smooth.
It smelled like a rainbow.
It sounded like a nice cracking sound.
It tasted like sushi.
It reminded me of my dog, my house, candy, worms.
—Ana, grade 4
After spring break, Alexandra returned, this time to chat with the grade 6 and 7 students about food. Whereas the primary workshop was packed with kids and energy, the grade 6/7 workshop was a chance for the eight students who attended to spend some quality time with Alexandra, tasting, food writing, and sharing their thoughts with her on restaurants that the kids and the critic had all been to. That workshop resulted in some great writing, too, like this review by Taran, grade 6:
My favourite restaurant is Top’s on Kingsway. I had the sweet and sour chicken wings. It was very awesome!
It wasn’t awesome after I ate the wings! I got more on me than in me. For dessert I had banana cream pie. It was very fluffy.
Alexandra promised to return again for more fun with food, and we can’t wait! Thanks so much for being an ongoing part of our writing (and eating) lives, Alexandra!
Photo by one of the kids in the winter break program.
Lucy Xie has been a dedicated Writers’ Room volunteer since the very first week we opened. She often tutors more than once per week, and she spent every day with us over the winter break! She even completed her women’s studies practicum at the Writers’ Room, during which she took on the role of communications intern, compiled and helped design the latest Writers’ Room chapbook, and set her hilarious sarcasm aside to master the super-perky Writers’ Room e-newsletter tone.
Ana, age 11, is not easily impressed, and even she likes Lucy: “I like her because she’s good at math.”
Shirley, age 8, interviewed Lucy.
Shirley: Do you have a cat?
Lucy: No, but my family used to have one when we were in China. I do have a dog right now, though!
Do you like playing?
I love playing all kinds of games! My favorite game is Scrabble.
Are you scared?
I'm usually not scared, but I am scared of a few things, like spiders (yikes!).
Have you had a sun burn?
Luckily, I don't burn very easily in the sun. But I did get a tan recently from wearing shorts in the sun.
Are you allergic to anything?
I'm happy to say that I don't have any allergies, at least none that I know of.
Do you go to school?
I do go to school. I'm a student at the University of British Columbia. It's a really big school with many, many students.
There isn’t a lot of fighting in the Writers’ Room—except for when it comes to Blaine Menon.
Every grade 3, 4 and 5 kid wants to work with Blaine. And, somehow, he manages to make time for all of them, checking in with everyone about their latest test or trip to the aquarium before settling down to help a small group of enthralled tutees. Blaine is patient, kind and jumps at a challenge—he even baked cookies with a large group of girls to demonstrate equivalent fractions! And it doesn’t hurt that the kids think he looks exactly like Brady from Pair of Kings.Here’s what Mico, age 9, had to say about Blaine: “He’s helpful, because he inspires the students and he does lots of fun stuff and he’s funny and he’s an experienced man.”Donna, age 10, was very excited to interview Blaine for this addition of Tutor of the Month.
Donna: How old are you, Blaine?!
Blaine: I’m 19! Though turning a whole two decades this July.
Where are you from, Blaine?!
I’m from Gig Harbor, Washington. I’m in Vancouver because I go to UBC.
Why did you join Writers’ Room, Blaine?!
To work with sweet kids like you, Donna! And to convince everyone I’m Brady from Pair of Kings.
Do you have pets?
Yes, I have the most amazing dog at home. He is a five-year-old golden retriever and my best friend.
Do you have any brothers or sisters?
This is sort of complicated. I have two brothers and two sisters, though technically I’m an only child (go figure). I have an older step-brother who teaches math in Indiana, and an older step-sister who works at a retreat center in New York. I also how a younger brother (age 12) and sister (age 11) who are growing up faster than I can believe. I missed them when I went to school, so that's part of the reason I decided to tutor with elementary school kids.
Where were you born?
Nashville, Tennessee, though I grew up most of my life in the Pacific Northwest!
Over spring break, the KidSafe kids and Writers’ Room tutors had the pleasure of working with Deborah Willis
, Governor-General’s Award–nominated author and the Writer in Residence at the Joy Kogawa House
She ran a whimsical workshop called Postcards from the Future, where the kids imagined that they had travelled to the future and then wrote a postcard back home to 2012 about what they saw in the future. They also drew the world of the future on the front of the postcards.
These fantastic, futuristic works were displayed at the KidSafe Pancake Breakfast, where three brave writers stood up and shared their visions of the future with a group of their peers, friends, family, KidSafe staff and supporters, and TV crews. Here’s just one of the creative notes from the future:
Finally, after three months of redecorating and two months of procrastinating putting up these photos, you can now check out the completed Writers’ Room in this handy-dandy before-and-after slideshow. Thank you so much to all of the generous donors who made this renovation possible. The kids really enjoy the new, creative space, and they have made it their own through their awesome artwork and writing that now lines the walls.
The very first guest author to run a writing workshop in the Writers’ Room was the courageous and poetic Fiona Tinwei Lam
. In Fiona’s poetry workshop, the primary kids (and one brave tutor) donned brightly coloured socks on their hands and acted out Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks,” which inspired us to write odes of our own.
Here’s one ode written by Angelo, grade 1:
Ode to the Moon
The moon is cool and the moon looks like games.
The moon looks like TV. I love the moon.
The moon is awesome.
Fiona not only enthralled us with one day of poetry, but she also left a batch of fantastic ideas for working poetry into our Writers’ Room lives. Thanks so much, Fiona!