Cindy Kim came alone, no giggling gaggle of girls to hide among.
Kim was about 14 the day she showed up for what could be a daunting task: helping coach the Special Olympics Victoria track and field team.
At least that’s how head coach Gord Cooney remembers it. Her mature approach belied her age, he says.
“She just integrated right into the (coaching) team and the athletes. She just slapped on a big grin and away she went,” he says. “She’s just simply a sweet, nice girl. It’s nice to meet someone who’s just wonderfully honest.”
Now 17 and in Grade 11 at St. Michael’s University School, Kim has amped up the volunteer gigs, spreading her time among Royal Jubilee Hospital, Gordon Head Recreation Centre and iCan Shine.
“You need that in a society where it can be ‘me, me, me.’ I felt selfish before,” Kim says.
Last summer, Kim got revved up about giving her time and “was obsessed with volunteering.” In a night spent scouring the Internet for volunteer opportunities she found many among the Saanich Recreation kids programs in her Gordon Head neighbourhood. “I love kids, so it merged really well.”
She spent the summer playing games, making crafts and caring for young campers week-long summers camps for elementary-aged kids.
“It’s so much fun,” she says. “I get to be a teacher-slash-mother.”
Those responsibilities are not without challenges, she says, but much like hiking difficult terrain, the rewards are sweeter with defeated obstacles.
Kim thrives on challenges, seeing them as opportunities for growth.
When she discovered iCan Shine it was immediately clear the biking program could provide that personal emotional challenge she sought. Volunteers teach kids with disabilities a rite of passage for any child – to cycle solo.
“The children get easily frustrated, but then they get the hang of it. And by the end of it they’re biking on their own,” she says. Most kids are two-wheeling it by the end of the camp – hosted by the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island – leaving Kim and the other volunteers near tears.
Kids aren’t the sole focus of her extracurricular activities, though she does strive to be a pediatrician. At Royal Jubilee Hospital the teen mans the information desk and says she loves even the antiseptic quality of the place.
“I really like the hospital environment. It’s so comforting,” she says. “Some days it’s calm and I just give directions. But some days, a hospital isn’t a happy place and families are in distress.”
Extremely involved in the school community as well, Kim maintains straight As.
“She’s one of those students who is so excited at every opportunity that comes up at the school,” says teacher Raechel Marchand. “She’s one of those students who people in her grade respect. She’s not a showy self-promoter, but has the most positive attitude.”
Kim appeared in the school play and the school musical this year. She performs regularly in SMUS chapel services, as well as in her own community congregation.
“She exemplifies all those qualities you want to see in a young person … motivated, modest, enthusiastic,” Marchand says.
Kim’s previous participation on school soccer and volleyball teams perhaps formed a foundation for those first days with the local Special Olympics team. Cooney looks forward to her return as the season starts this month.
“She’s a very genuine person, she’s open and honest. She comes across sincere and interested. (The athletes) know if someone’s just listening to humour them versus listening to them to hear what they have to say,” Cooney says adding that Kim is patient and kind, yet diplomatically holds the line when tempers flare because of physical or emotional
“That’s another valuable experience,” Kim says. “You learn from your challenges. Without them it would be boring.”