United Way community investment representative Tara Taggart visited Reynolds secondary school on Tuesday (June 2) to present Grade 12 student Hannah Berry with the 2015 United Way Youth Now Green Award. Berry was unable to attend the awards on Friday as she was at the Reynolds graduation ceremony.

United Way honours local teens of action

Saanich teen receives Green Award at United Way-Greater Victoria's YouthNow Awards

A local volunteer is giving back to the community by shining a light on a topic that most people shy away from.

Come summer and strike, Hannah Berry made sure to attend to Reynolds secondary’s recently established courtyard garden.

“For a good while there it was just my mom and I making sure the garden lived on,” Berry said, laughing.

Berry chose to attend her graduation ceremony on Friday (May 29) and as a result, was unable to collect her United Way Youth Now Green Award.

Happily, United Way’s community investment representative Tara Taggart came to Berry on Tuesday and presented the award in teacher Heather Coey’s classroom in a ceremony that was rather intimate: just the two of them.

“That’s okay. It’s been a busy, busy week, I’m honoured to receive it any way,” Berry said.

“It was a difficult process for the Youth Now council to choose a recipient for this year’s Green Award, and we’re proud to give it to Berry,” Taggart said.

It was Berry’s volunteer efforts in the Reynolds garden, and how they tie into her passion for permaculture and sustainability, that stood out for the council. Berry’s leadership teacher, Coey, nominated Berry for the Green Award.

“Berry’s past and future actions demonstrate she’s an incredibly positive role model for all of us on our journey to take care of this planet we live on called Earth,” Coey said.

In her time at Reynolds, Berry has been a key member or the Get  R.E.A.L. (Reynolds Eco Action Leaders) group, has maintained an inner courtyard garden space at the school (which grows some of the produce for Reynolds’ weekly organic salad bar serving over 100 staff and students), and has attended courses with local organizations such as the Victoria Compost Education Centre and Wild Edibles, to further her understanding of garden systems.

“Berry’s work has made the inner courtyard an aesthetically pleasing place for students and staff to go and relax outside in nature,” said Coey. “Berry spent all summer maintaining this space even when she was not in school and designed workshop modules for teaching (elementary school) students about gardening and appreciating nature.”

“The garden is not where it could be but it’s getting there, I’d like to see it contributing a lot more food to the weekly salad bar,” Berry said. “For me, I really have a passion about permaculture and the concept of low maintenance, food producing gardens.”

Rather than head to post secondary school in September, Berry is taking a gap year to focus on local initiatives and study permaculture and urban agriculture further.

“When I do go back to school it will be at Quest, where I previously attended the summer scholars program which included a gardening component,” Berry said. “My ideal focus long term would be to integrate permaculture concepts into our everyday culture, with all environmental installations featuring permaculture, such as food forests (producing nuts or fruit).”

Earlier this year Berry was the recipient of Reynolds’ outstanding Eco-Award.

The United Way Youth Now council is made up of locals aged 14 to 19 years old and accepts nominations year round.

Victoria resident Chelsea Clouthier is a volunteer with NEED2, a service that works to prevent suicide through anonymous chatting and texting services for youth.

(Below: Winners of this year’s United Way YouthNow Awards (Back row left to right) Kaitlyn Nohr, Willow Mak, Shaheen Rabie. Chelsea Clouthier (second row left), Liz Radermacher and a member of the Youth Environmental Leadership Program at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre last Friday.)

Clouthier is a suicide education and awareness presenter, responsible for going to high schools on Vancouver Island and speaking to students about suicide prevention.

It is a topic that is close to Clouthier’s heart.

“In elementary school, some of my first memories are people saying really mean things in the locker rooms. Then I switched schools and things got worse and worse, I was really isolated at the new school and I was getting bullied,” said Clouthier, who originally went to school in Saskatchewan.

“All that just built up and it ended up with me being hospitalized for a few weeks after a suicide attempt.”

After the attempt, her parents found counsellors and psychologists for her to speak to.

“After I attempted suicide, it helped me realize there are people out there that care for me,” said Clouthier. “[My family] gave me something to continue living for.”

Now, the 23-year-old, who moved to the Island to attend university, has spent hours telling students about the resources available to them, something she has done at least once a week since she started with NEED2 in September.

“The thing I like about NEED2 is the presentation that we give; it gets people talking and it’s helping empower youth by telling them that they’re the ones that are going to be around their friends five days a week. We’re giving them the tools to see when their friends are struggling or when they’re struggling,” she said.

Clouthier was recognized for her volunteer efforts at the 17th annual United Way Greater Victoria YouthNow awards last week where she was awarded the individual volunteer award aged 20-29.

It was Renata Hindle, manager of suicide education and awareness program with NEED2, who nominated Clouthier for the award.

“Chelsea has a wonderful energy about her. She’s dedicated, she’s passionate about the work that we do. She’s committed in the sense of ensuring that she’s a positive role model for students,” said Hindle. “She’s just a wonderful person.”

According to Taggart, there were roughly 50 applicants for this particular award, but it was Clouthier’s work that resonated most with the council.

“What resonated with the council was the type of volunteer work that Chelsea does,” said Taggart.

“It can take a lot out of you on an individual level and it’s such important work that they’re doing. A number of young people have been touched personally or know someone that has struggled with [suicide] so it resonated with almost everyone on the council.”

This year’s winners also include Shaheen Rabie, Willow Mak, Kaitlyn Nohr, the Sierra Club and Youthspace.ca.

-with files from Kendra Wong


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