A passion for getting involved and encouraging others to do so as well has earned a Nanaimo student a national award.
Mingye Chen, 17, is one of Youth in Motion’s Top 20 Under 20 award winners this year. The award recognizes young Canadians who demonstrate a significant level of innovation, leadership and achievement and includes $5,000 towards her post-secondary education and a trip to Toronto to meet the other winners.
“When I heard I received it, I was just freaking out,” she said. “The other 19 recipients just blow me out of the water. I have impostor syndrome. I’d like to think they’re recognizing not what I have done, but what I’ll do in the future.”
Chen’s long history of community involvement started several years ago when she started helping out in the book store at Literacy Central Vancouver Island.
In the summer of her Grades 9, 10 and 11 years, she volunteered at the Pacific Biological Station, helping to prep test tubes for sample collection amongst other things.
“It was a great opportunity to work with top-notch scientists,” said Chen.
When she was 15, Chen decided to move to Vancouver on her own to attend Britannia Secondary School’s International Baccalaureate program – a high-quality international education program – for her senior years.
Once there, Chen got involved in the Britannia Garden Club, a student group that helps maintain a small garden near the school’s basketball courts and worked with the community to build a 100-square-metre garden on another part of the school’s grounds the last two school years.
By February 2011, Chen was leading the club and had built up its membership by encouraging her peers to get involved. She was also the driving force behind a new composting program for her school.
Club members planted trees, ran workshops on composting, emptied the compost bins they placed around the school, and helped care for and harvest the vegetables planted in the gardens.
Chen enjoyed working with her hands in the garden, growing and then harvesting the food, which was used in her school’s cafeteria for a meals program for low-income students.
She said community members could access the meals program as well – the Britannia campus includes an elementary school, secondary school, learning alternatives program and community centre – and one of the benefits of the gardens project is easing the costs to the school of providing the meals program.
An even bigger benefit is the educational component.
“It teaches the youth in our area about sustainability, where food comes from,” said Chen. “I like to address the needs of my area before looking at international issues. I like to see the tangible results and the benefit for the community.”
Chen heads to McGill University in Montreal in September to study arts and sciences.
She doesn’t know what she wants to do for a career yet, but hopes to narrow it down once in university.
“No matter what I do, I hope I will have some sort of impact on my community in general,” said Chen. “I hope to continue my work in a leadership position, but at the same time, it’s not so important that I am the leader, but that I am involved.”
Ian Marcuse, coordinator of the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, the neighbourhood association that Chen’s club worked with on the larger garden project, wrote in a reference letter that Chen was able to motivate her peers to get involved in the garden by ensuring everyone has tasks and are participants in all projects.
“She has a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and confidence that is so very important as a leader but also embodies a positive attitude towards her peers,” he wrote.