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Winter 2007
Winter 2007

Table of Contents

Publisher's Message
Assumption students make angels
Fit at Forty-Something
A Christmas story
Immersing You in Wonder
Katie's Gift
The man who sued Santa
The little church that could
From Japan to Canada with love
Faces of Education: The Teacher With Many Hats
Explore Powell River


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Publisher's Message: Making a difference
And you might not know it
By Isabelle Southcott

Not long ago a parcel and a letter arrived in the mail on the same day. I didn’t recognize the name or return address on either of them. As I fingered the parcel, I felt something hard and lumpy. I tore open the large envelope and found a crystal cross.

A letter from a reader on the Lower Sunshine Coast accompanied the cross. As I sat down and read it, I realized that you never know what a difference a few words or a smile can have on another person.

The writer was commenting on a column I’d written several months ago called “Cure for a Bad Day.” I guess I was going through a particularly rough patch in my life when I wrote it. As I re-read that column, I was transported back to that very place and time. The bad day and how it was cured.

The writer said how much he enjoyed Powell River Living and how he figured the crystal cross would help me in times of trouble. He was right.

The letter writer had visited Edgehill Store on one of his visits to Powell River and was impressed by Jane Boulanger’s breakfasts. He stapled a $20 bill to the letter he sent with instructions for me to go and treat myself to breakfast at Edgehill and enjoy one of Jane’s million-dollar smiles!

Jane probably doesn’t remember the customer who sent me the letter. She smiles at many people every day. But that’s exactly what I mean; you never know what a kind word, a smile or a kind gesture will mean to another person.

This issue of Powell River Living is all about Making a Difference. There are so many ways you can make a difference in another person’s life. It doesn’t have to cost money or take a whole lot of time. Every time you smile, hold open a door or give someone a hug you make a difference. When you donate food to the food bank, give toys to Christmas Cheer or make a donation to a group like Willing Hearts for its African orphans, you make a difference.

Today I received a phone call from Al and Arlene Carsten of Okeover. Al’s booming voice message said how much he and Arlene enjoyed Powell River Living and encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing. That message lifted my heart. Al and Arlene probably didn’t know what a difference their encouraging words meant but they made my day.

Every day, every moment, someone is making a difference. Powell River’s many volunteers quietly go about their work in order to make this world a better place. Opportunities to help others crop up all the time, all we have to do is look and then act on them.

What better time than now, during the Christmas season, to pause for a moment and thank everyone who has made a difference in our own lives. What better time than now to do what we can to make a difference in someone else’s life.




Assumption students make angels
“You have one life, do something”

Every 14 seconds a child is orphaned by AIDS. In just one day in Africa 6000 children become orphans.

“That’s like one-third of Powell River left without parents every day,” Liz Brach, Assumption school teacher told grade seven students.

“No one takes these children in and children your age are left to raise their brothers and sisters. They’re starving to death. They turn to prostitution and working on farms to survive. Some go to orphanages like this one,” said Brach pointing to a photograph of St. Nicholas Orphanage Village in Zambia.

St Nicholas Orphanage and three other projects in Sub-Saharan Africa are supported by money raised through the sale of African AIDS Angels. On this November day, the grade seven class at Assumption spent the afternoon making AIDS Angels to sell at an upcoming bazaar. The angels sell for $5 each and make lovely Christmas tree decorations. Each angel is given a typical African name with its English translation. They are in memory of a child who has died of AIDS.

“Four hundred dollars supports one child for an entire year,” Brach told students.

Brach has been making AIDS angels for four years with her friends. Her daughter Katherine, then a University of Victoria student, got her started on this project.

“Katherine met some people through a Catholic church there,” said Brach. “She came home with the idea and said Mom, you can do this!”

The African AIDS Angels project began in 2000 when a group of seven Canadians from Ottawa and Victoria, in Durban for the International AIDS Conference, visited orphanages and hospitals and saw the effects of the extreme lack of funding and the consequent cuts to vital services. They returned, determined to help.

Over the past four years African AIDS Angels have sent more than $100,000 providing funding for food, medicine, seeds, books and other essentials.

Brach paused for a moment before turning on videos of Stories of African Children Impacted by HIV/AIDS: The Nyanya Project and Whose Children Are They Now?

“Think about your brothers and sisters as you watch this. You have one life, do something.”

The word nyanya is an African word for grandmother. Their biggest fear is that they will die before their grandchildren are grown. “In African culture, grandmothers are roots and light.”
The students were quiet once the video ended.

“The good news is that we can make a difference. We have enough money in our country to help these people,” said Brach.

African AIDS Angels can be purchased at Paperworks, Breakwater Books and Kelly’s Speciality Shop.



Fit at forty-something
By Isabelle Southcott

It is just after 9 am on a Wednesday morning in late September. I’m meeting with personal trainer and group fitness instructor Roché Rossouw to begin work on an exercise plan she’ll be creating for me over the next couple of weeks. A plan that will increase my fitness level and help me burn some of the excess fat I’ve accumulated in the last 10 years. Those extra pounds that sneak up on you and make your clothes too tight. That stuff  women call “baby fat.” Trouble is my babies are eight and ten years old.

Fit at Forty-SomethingI’m not totally unfit. I jog and swim a few times a week so I can’t understand why I’m carrying around 20 extra pounds. It is at this point that Roché tells me that the exercises I’m doing aren’t getting my heart rate up and I need to do anaerobic exercise to burn fat.

“You need to change your exercise all the time. As soon as your body becomes efficient and used to a certain kind and level and type of exercise then it is no longer effective.”

Roché measures me and asks me what I weigh… something I refuse to share. Did I see a look of horror flicker across her face or was that simply my imagination? I look again and she hands me a heart monitor.

We head into the gym at the recreation complex where I am greeted by the entire Kings hockey team. Yup, that’s right, a whole slew of fit, handsome, young hockey players. Oh great, I think. My first workout in the gym and it’s just me and the Kings. I’d like to run away or be swallowed up by the floor but instead I take a deep breath and follow my wiry trainer towards a bare space in the gym where she tries to teach me how to do squats.

I try not to be too self-conscious as I clumsily imitate Roché. I’m not faring too well on the squats unless there is a chair there to guide me. After a few attempts, we move on to something else but Roché promises me we’ll return to the squats another time.

Roché’s routine is a work of art that will continually evolve over the coming weeks.

I’ve purposely avoided the gym all my life because I felt intimidated by the equipment. I’ve gotta admit it’s hard. I feel like a beach ball with legs and although the scenery is pretty nice in the gym, I’d prefer a place with no mirrors or onlookers at this point.

Focus, I tell myself as I try to take in what Roché is showing me. To my relief, the Kings aren’t staring at me at all.

“Excellent”… she says as I attempt another exercise.

Roché is into strengthening “the core” as she calls it. “You need your core muscles to stabilize so you cannot actually strengthen your core without strengthening the rest of your body as well. I find a lot of people do not realize how important the glutes (butt) is in core training. Most people sit for a long time during the day so its overstretched muscles.”

There’s a huge focus on healthy lifestyles and weight issues these days. People die because they are too fat, she pointed out. “We have an obesity problem that is just overwhelming our health care system. This is the first generation where parents have a longer life span expectancy than their children.”

The solution isn’t that complicated and it is one that each and every one of us has some measure of control over. “You have control over your fitness and your nutrition. You can make healthy lifestyle choices. In 21 days you can foster new healthy habits,” she said.

One of Roché’s favourite workouts is with the kettle bells. I felt like I’d entered army boot camp the day she brought out the kettle bells and told me to follow her to the stairs at the complex. Kettle bells weight 18 pounds each, Roché informed me handing me a pair.

Sergeant Major had me running up the stairs at the complex one at a time, two at a time, three at a time, up the stairs sideways with a right crossover, then a left crossover. And if that wasn’t bad enough she had me doing kettle bell swings at the foot of the stairs followed by push-ups, tricep dips and suitcase pickups.

I thought I was going to die but I kept going and then it was over.

Mixing up exercise is important. You have a variety of muscles and different types of exercise work different muscles.

“Do you know what a definition of insanity is?” she asked. “People get on the same bike three times a week for 20 minutes each time and they think they will change their bodies but they are just maintaining what they have. It all depends on your goals. If you want to change your body you need to do something different… you also have to remember your genetics play a role in how much you can change.”

Roché has found clients who succeed are accountable to either her or a friend.  “Someone who will not be nice to you if you do not lose weight. You need a really truthful friend because your husband might be scared and your mom might be too nice.”

Interestingly enough, Roché wasn’t always interested in exercise. When she was 21 years old she hurt her back very badly. She was given three choices, surgery every five years, a back brace or exercise. She chose the latter.

“I fell in love with fitness and I was a natural teacher (she was trained as a schoolteacher). I love teaching to this day.”

With an honours degree in medical bio chemistry, a personal training certificate from Mount Royal College and a BCRPA registered personal trainer and group fitness instructor, Roché knows her stuff.

But although she can teach what she has learned she cannot motivate someone to exercise. “You have to reach a certain point of readiness to take control over our own life and you have to set goals that have numbers and verbs.”

A pound a week is a reasonable amount of weight to lose she told me. My emails kept me on track. First it was five pounds, then ten. I’m now working on losing another five and with luck (and hard work) it will be gone by Christmas.

You can check out Roché’s blog at www.pdotbootcamps.blogspot.com.



A Christmas story

Christmas VillageThe year was 1949. Bob McCarthy and his old friend Bob McKela were on a skiing trip in Sun Valley, Idaho. They stayed at the Challenger Inn where a scene for a movie with the Inn in the background was being shot. “I took a snapshot of this scene and brought it back home to Vancouver and decided to make a plaster replica of the Inn for under the Christmas tree,” said McCarthy.

The little Inn began to grow and in the early 1950s McCarthy purchased a set of miniature china figurines depicting the Dickens era. “So I decided to fashion the village in the old English style. The movie, A Christmas Carol, inspired me even more to set the scene.”

McCarthy’s Christmas village has Tess with her Christmas pudding in hand as the proprietor of the Tea Shop, Mr Pickwick, is seen coming out of the Bookstore and Pip is holding a mug of grog in the local tavern while Jenny Wren and Mrs Gamp along with Scrooge are strolling down snowy streets.

Christmas VillageEach Christmas the little village varies in size depending on its location. “However, I like to keep the overall theme the same. It has moved with me from Vancouver to Pitt Meadows to Chilliwack to Abbotsford and to Powell River. It will be on display at Breakwater Books on Alberni Street this year,” said McCarthy.

The original plaster model of the Inn has long since gone and has been replaced by lighter material. The chimneys are all sculptured and hand painted blocks of Styrofoam. The windows have been formed with various materials, even some trees made of grape stems. The church I have sculptured in clay. The individual houses re lit by over 300 Christmas lights and the Styrofoam snow is coated with white modelling paste. The ice rink is the latest addition.

In 2003 Mike McCardell featured a segment of the village on Global TV News.



Immersing you in wonder
By Terry L Brown

Look! In the water. Is it a frog with a camera…a salamander with a snorkel? Who is that masked man?

It’s the Amphibiographer!

I coined the “Amphibiographer” handle to describe what I do as an amphibious photographer, able to photograph underwater, above water, and both at the same time. An Amphibiograph shows both the underwater and above water worlds in the same image, inspiring exclamations of “Oh Wow, that’s what’s under there!” I capture images of fish, plants, insects, amphibians, birds, mammals and humans as they interplay between the worlds at the interface of water, land and air. In this digital age I make sure to note that none of my photos are digitally created, what you see is what I saw and captured with my camera.

For most humans the boundary between water and air acts like a mirror reflecting back what they see above the surface. However, whenever I slide my facemask through the mirror of the water’s surface I am always awestruck by the expansive universe unfolding before me, as alien as outer space, as wild as any place on land, and filled with creatures as bizarre and glorious as any science-fiction imaginings. This inner space universe is incredibly accessible, your local pond, creek or river harbours many fascinating marvels, not just the ocean. A mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit are all that is needed to immerse oneself in an exploration of wonder.

For example I’ve spent many days snorkelling Eagle River this autumn, getting video and photos of some of the thousands of salmon in the river. At one point I was surrounded by billowing white clouds of milt from male chum salmon fertilizing a spawning female’s eggs. Fortunately I always wear protection when messing around in wild salmon sex sites. My drysuit, mask and snorkel kept me safe.

Last December I was freediving off the rocky point at Palm Beach with Jude Abrams, my partner in life and crime. A male California Sea Lion was fishing and we started barking at him in what we thought was a friendly way. Each time he surfaced he barked at us, getting louder and more insistent as we entered the water to dive. At that point we wondered just what we had been saying, maybe we had been insulting? Cautiously we made our way out from shore. Soon we saw the sea lion and took turns diving down with him as he swung by on a few investigations of these curious looking marine mammals. It was very exhilarating to swim with an animal at least three times my weight and so much more graceful and swift.

For those who like the warmer waters of summer this area’s many lakes offer great snorkelling and diving. Follow huge bullfrog pollywogs wobbling over the bottom. Explore the shallows where water lilies grow and float mesmerized by sunlight rippling across maroon and emerald lily pads unfurling just beneath the surface. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see a submerged female damselfly laying her eggs on a lily’s stalk, with silvery bubbles coating her body, providing a self contained breathing apparatus.

In the rivers juvenile Coho salmon zip by in dazzling schools of swimming jewels. Male stickleback minnows, glowing crimson and turquoise, fan the eggs in their very bird-like nests. Eerie green fingers of freshwater sponge reach for you like some creature from the black lagoon.

To be able to share these experiences with others through photographs, video and writing is incredibly rewarding for me. Especially when people say they are inspired to put on a mask and snorkel and explore underwater themselves.

My photographs have graced numerous magazines, federal fisheries reports, and calendars. They are for sale in local galleries and on my website. My photographs and video have also been used by Friends of Eagle River to protect the ecological integrity of the river. Eagle River: Liquid Jewel of the Sunshine Coast is an evocative video journey from alpine to ocean, documenting the wonders of the river in all four seasons. With my amphibiography, and nature sound recordings and original music by Jude, this video reveals an exotic world seen by few. The DVD can be borrowed from the PR Public Library or purchased from me.

Visit my website, www.amphibiographer.com and forget your daily grind for a moment. Slither into a wetsuit and slip away with me into a dripping, moss covered forest. Immerse yourself in a jade green river, where a wonder world emerges as your facemask slides through the looking glass of the river’s surface.



Katie's gift
Big Heart Award Winner 2007

In North America, the custom for children’s birthdays calls for guests to bring gifts to the birthday party.

Katie's GiftBut when someone has all they need and a lot of what they want, what is the point? Is more plastic really necessary?

These thoughts ran through Brigitte Dohm’s head when her daughter Katie began talking about her seventh birthday party. “Katie wanted her whole class and her gymnastics class to come to her party,” Brigitte explained.

Brigitte didn’t mind throwing a large party for her daughter but the thought of Katie receiving 25 gifts made her feel uneasy. “So I said you can have a big party but you can’t have that many presents.”

Katie was fine with that. What she really wanted was a big party, the presents weren’t the big draw for her.

Invitations went out to guests asking that instead of gifts they make a donation to Willing Hearts International, a group that supports orphans, education and development projects in Chad, Africa.

People were very generous and Katie raised $270 for Willing Hearts at her birthday party. Her brother Philipp wanted to help so he collected bottles and made $100 to add to the fund.
Katie is happy to help the children of Chad. “They need the money for food and clothes and to go to school,” she said.

Her mother is also pleased. “The good thing is that both kids learned how the other part of the world lives and this was a good experience.”

Gerri Graber, founder and spokeswoman for Willing Hearts, loves it when children help children. “That money really helps,” she said. “School fees for a child going to elementary school cost $3.75 a month, not including pens or notebooks.”

Life is so different in Chad than in Powell River yet in some ways it is the same. Both have children, both have schools. “But the teachers in Chad write every subject on the blackboard and the children copy all day. Hardly anyone has a textbook. Right now our children are sitting on the floor because we can’t afford desks.”

Katie and Philipp have decided to use their money to send two orphan boys previously adopted by Willing Hearts to junior high school. “They need uniforms, textbooks and transportation.”

Donations to Willing Hearts are used for a variety of items but right now the push is on for classrooms and classroom furniture. “One desk for two children costs $50. We need 15 desks.”

Willing Hearts has applied to CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) for help with school construction in Manda, Chad. They would also like help with building a storehouse for beans and ground nuts so that during the rainy season there is a place to keep food.

Education is important for Willing Hearts but as Graber notes, a variety of education is needed. “We need an agricultural program to produce the food and apprenticeships so we can provide employment training for men, women and teenagers. We need a sewing program so we can teach people how to make and repair their own clothes.”

The world premier of a film about Willing Hearts will be shown on February 9 at the Powell River Film Festival. “Under the Bushy Trees” by Jan Padgett of Bear Productions will tell the story of the group, its struggles and successes.

The following month, Bartholomew Njizokkeh, a young man whose university education was funded by Willing Hearts, will visit Powell River to tell his story. Bartholomew who trained to be a teacher is now the principal of the new school in Manda and project manager for Willing Hearts.

So if you are wondering what kind of a gift to give someone this Christmas, think about a gift from the heart. Your donation to Willing Hearts is tax deductible and a small donation goes a long way. For more information visit www.whisca.org.



The man who sued Santa
By George Campbell

Everybody is familiar with the Christmas story about Scrooge, and most, if not all of us, have heard of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, the Miracle on 34th Street, and watched the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. And what child doesn’t know all about Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer? But—have you ever heard the story of The Man Who Sued Santa Claus?

Now, the thing about this Christmas story that makes it different from all the rest, is that it’s absolutely true, and it happened right here in beautiful Powell River. Fact of the matter is the man who sued Santa still lives here. He is a well known and highly respected, retired gentleman, still active in several local organizations, and he happens to be a good friend of mine.

You might be thinking right about now, “Gee, who’d want to pal around with the guy who sued Santa?” Well, just wait until you’ve heard the full story before jumping to any foregone conclusions. I’m sure you’ll find that not only was my friend fully justified in suing Santa, but also it’s highly likely you’d have done the same thing yourself.

It all started about twenty years ago, give or take a few years, around 1987 in the early fall. This heavyset, middle-aged, scruffy looking individual, walked into the store my friend operated, bought a number of items and paid for his purchases with a personal cheque. He wrote it out for $300, which was considerably more than his purchases, and asked for the change in cash. A few days later my friend received the cheque back from the bank marked NSF.

Of course the first thing he did was try to contact the customer who dropped the bad cheque on him but that turned out to be impossible. The guy had no phone and no fixed address. Subsequent investigation revealed he also had no job. It looked like my friend was stuck with a $300 loss, and so he was, for several months. But there is an old saying that “It’s a long road that has no turn,” and it was a couple of weeks before Christmas that year that the road turned for my friend. He found out through the ever-reliable Powell River grapevine that the paperhanger had got himself a job as Santa Claus.

Off scurried my friend to the Government Agent’s office where he filled out the necessary forms, and paid the required fee to legally garnishee the paperhanger’s aka Santa’s wages. Then he hit a snag. It seems the sheriff, who customarily served the paper to the person being garnisheed, was tied up for a few days with other duties. This was disastrous, Christmas was just a few days off, and if the papers weren’t served forthwith, Santa would receive his wages in full and be off again into the distance, his $300 debt still unpaid.

Desperate measures had to be taken, and my friend took them. He received permission from the Government Agent to deliver the papers himself. Off he went to the mall, and got in line with all the little kids and Mom’s hanging onto toddler’s hands to see Santa. When he got to the front of the line, he handed the garnishee notice over and said, “Here Santa, this is for you.” It is said that Santa’s “Ho, ho, ho” died right in his throat.

Well, that’s the story, and if you don’t believe it just ask my friend. He’ll vouch for its veracity. Of course, it all happened over 20 years ago, and the paperhanger has long since disappeared from the shores of Powell River. As for my friend the maligned merchant, he is long overdue for some recognition for his part in the tale.



The little church that could
Helping at home and abroad

Pastor and WifeOne of the surest ways to make your heart smile is to help someone else. In this day and age you don’t have to look very far before you find someone who needs a helping hand.

So many Powell River residents make a difference every day. Margaret Cooper of Westview Baptist Church was part of a team that travelled to India last year. Along with Chantale Jackson and Pastor Roland Lewis they had been invited to run Alpha Training Conferences. They ended up doing that and a lot more.

Cooper, Lewis and Jackson realized first hand how much of a difference one can make by doing just a little. “What we are doing is just a drop in the bucket but it can make a huge difference to the people we are helping,” said Cooper.

One year has passed since that trip that she describes as life changing for them. “When we came back and showed our videos in Powell River, it just ignited people and they opened up their hearts,” said Cooper.

All For OneSince then, the church has been able to send enough money to build two churches in India for small congregations that had been meeting on verandas, and they are now in the process of buying land for a third church led by Manideep, the young Indian pastor they worked with for the conferences. They have also helped put a roof on Manideep’s house and paid medical bills when his infant son had an accident. “Our money can go so far there,” explained Cooper. “For just $5000, they can build a church that seats 200 Indian style (seated on the floor)! And they can get it built and occupied in about one month!

“We went to India and we saw. It changed us. It went from something you see in your head to something in your heart,” said Cooper. Not only were they touched by the faith and perseverance of the people they met, but they were also moved by the plight of the area’s many orphans.

“Some churches have orphanages that are like a house with a dozen or more children in it whom they house, feed, clothe and educate,” said Cooper. Most of the children are AIDS orphans. They receive a simple education in English which is important, as both education and English give opportunity to a better future. One couple that Cooper met during her travels was running a school (in English) for children of rickshaw drivers, who are among some of the poorest.

Opening DayA children’s home can be built with similar costs to a church, and then $350 per month keeps it going—house, clothe, feed and teach 12 to 20 children. So now, Westview Baptist has also teamed up with Redemption Ministries India to build and then sponsor an orphanage in the Guntur City area.

As well, in Africa, Pat Lessard recently returned from Kenya where she worked as a short-term missionary helping with an orphanage being built there, called Mercy and Caring Children’s Homes. Pat will speak about this at Westview Baptist Church on December 16. Westview Baptist Church also supports a teacher among the Digo people in Tanzania.
On January 30 and 31, Westview Baptist Church is hosting the Watoto Children’s Choir and their Concert of Hope from Uganda.

There are many ways at home people can help. The church’s “love fund” supports these special projects both locally and abroad. If you would like to help or would like more information on any of these projects or events, please contact Westview Baptist Church.



From Japan to Canada with love
The story of a landed immigrant
By Akane Mori

In July 2003, Akane Mori arrived in Vancouver from Japan. Her first impressions of the city weren’t great. Vancouver was noisy like Tokyo, and there wasn’t as much nature in the city as I had imagined. Also, she could hear people speaking in Japanese on every block and see Japanese signs on stores and restaurants. How could this help her English? Luckily, a classmate told her about a wonderful, quiet place called Powell River and she decided to visit. This is Akane Mori’s story about Powell River.

When I first saw the city from the bus window, it was so beautiful that I started singing. I thought Powell River was unreal, like a painting. No surprisingly, “my two-day trial” turned into an eight-month visit. It felt like I was living in a national park, surrounded by mountains, oceans, lakes, rivers and wild animals.

In my first five months, I juggled studying English with working part-time at Minato Sushi. I celebrated Halloween and Christmas Canada style with my wonderful home stay parents, Sandra and Larry. This combination was perfect for me: my English was improving every day. I was completely immersed in an English world. And to top it all off, Christine, a family friend, volunteered to tutor me every week.

By December of 2003, I had added something very special to my English education: a boyfriend. I met Richard at a staff Christmas party. He was working as a cook, but our shifts had not overlapped until then. Richard loves all things Japanese and has a better grasp of Japanese culture and history than I do. And, most importantly, he makes delicious sushi for me. Now, with a Canadian boyfriend, my knowledge of English expressions and Canadian slang was growing rapidly.

From the first day in Powell River I knew, “This is it! I want to stay here!” But my wish took many years and much paper work to become a reality. Finally, I became a landed immigrant in April 2007. My new status has opened up more opportunities for me: in work, in health and in education. I decided to refocus on school and study ESL. Next year, I want to take the Home Support Resident Care program at Malaspina; improving my language skills will help me get there. What a contrast from my previous career goal of police officer!

This interest in home care support did not surprise my Canadian friends. For the last two years I have volunteered at Olive Devaud taking residents shopping every week. I look forward to this time and feel comfortable with the residents. They are funny and laugh a lot. Many of them have had hard lives, but they are happy. For me, these seniors are like real history books. They are always telling me interesting old stories. My best friend at Olive Devaud is Maria from the Ukraine. She doesn’t speak English well, so not many people understand her. With English as my second language, I can feel what she wants. The bond I have with Maria is like the bond I have with my grandmother, Hide Kusama, in Japan. She is 84 years old and a part of me. With my grandmother so far away, it’s nice to have older companions here.

One of the biggest cultural differences between the west and the east is the ability to relax. In Japan, it’s work, work, work, all day. The Japanese are always in a hurry and emphasize punctuality. If someone is late, that person is fired. In Canada, I’ve become more relaxed and open. I have extra time for my hobbies now – something unheard of in Japan.

What do you think I’ve taken up as a Canadian hobby? Learning to play the bagpipes, of course! I have always been enthralled with the bagpipes. Not many play them in Japan. Now I start my Tuesdays with ESL class at Malaspina College and then shopping with Olive Devaud residents. Then, I get to cap my day off with a beginner’s bagpipe class. I love the Scottish songs and practicing on my chanter.

In Powell River, people are open to learning and everyone welcomes you into their group, club or class. I had come to Canada because I was so narrow before. With Canada and its mixed cultures, I can talk to people from different countries. In my ESL class I am learning about Germany, Russia, India, Korea, Quebec, the Philippines and Laos. And no matter what age, it’s never too late to study. Skills that are for men in Japan are equally available to women in Canada. For example, since I came here I have learned how to chop wood, use the weed-eater, renovate kitchens, and use power tools. I love this do-it-yourself attitude.
In Japan, I needed English in order to get a better job. In Canada, this English has given me a better, well-rounded, fuller life. Powell River made me a people person. I never connected with strangers before—now my life revolves around connecting with strangers.



Faces of Education

The teacher with many hats

Gerry BrachGerry Brach loves the challenge and variety of his job with School District 47.

“I have five different jobs this year,” Brach laughed when asked what his title is.

Best known as Head Teacher for the Choices and Challenges Alternate Program with the school district, Brach is passionate about working with at-risk youth.

“There are lots of days when you feel like you are beating your head against the wall but if you can keep them out of jail, or off the streets or get them back into the regular school system again, that is where your success comes from,” he said.

Brach admits it is difficult to get youth to change their behaviour by the time they are in their teens but he refuses to give up on them because he knows that there are some he will be able to help.

For the last 20 years, Brach has also been the home/hospital teacher for the school district. He works with students who are unable to attend school for a variety of reasons. “I go into the hospital or the home and work with them,” he explained. “They may be recovering from an operation or an illness or an injury.”

Brach, who has a master’s degree in counselling, loves the variety of this part of his job because he works with so many different age groups. “One day it could be a student in Grade 1 or 2 and the next day a gifted student in Grade 12.”

When Brach first started working for School District 47 in 1980, there were close to 5000 students. Today that figure is nearer to 2500. He’s taught at James Thomson Elementary School, Max Cameron Secondary School, and Oceanview School and since 1988 as a special needs, counselling and home/hospital teacher. This year he is also the counsellor at Edgehill Elementary School.

These days Brach is excited about working at Ahms Tah Ow, which is an alternate school at Sliammon.

He spends one afternoon a week at Sliammon where he works as a counsellor, special needs teacher and helps provide input into program development. “This school is run as a partnership with the school district. I really like going there, the people are very genuine, warm, open and appreciative of what I do.”

Brach is involved with the community transitioning program as the case manager of six students with developmental disabilities. “They’re 19 and 20 year olds who finished at Brooks last year. I am the case manager in a partnership between the school district and different community groups such as PRACL.”

The weekly schedule posted on the wall in Brach’s office has his time neatly organized and divided. “I’m lucky in that I have some flexibility between programs depending on what it happening. It’s like this big jigsaw puzzle that I put together every week.”

Throughout Brach’s teaching career he has benefited by having several unofficial mentors. “When I look back at my career I was fortunate to have wonderful people like Bruce Anderson and Tom Freeman help me when I was teaching in the classroom. Owen Gaskell and Russ Macdonald taught me a lot about counselling. Retired Supervisor of Special Services Harold Carson helped shape my focus in working with special needs students. I have tried to emulate aspects of all these fine caring individuals.”

Brach focuses on making students aware of their own strengths and then zeroing in on those strengths. “If students can become aware of their strengths, skills and passions then you increase their chances for success in school and in life.”

Sometimes students don’t know what they are good at and what they like to do, so it is important for teachers to help them to discover their talents. “You have to find ways to give them opportunities to build their strengths so they can feel good about themselves. If you are passionate about what you do and you work hard at it you can be successful.”

Brach tries to model coming to school every day and putting in a good effort at what he does. In fact he currently has an “iron-man” streak of not missing a day of school for medical reasons for the past 19 years.

Everyone’s strengths are different. “I have a masters degree in counselling but I can’t tune a lawnmower,” Brach pointed out. It’s almost validating for students to hear that they are good at something that I’m not. The light bulb goes off in their head and they begin to think.”

Many of the students that Brach works with have had difficult upbringings and have many hurdles to overcome. “But I tell them about other students who have had similar problems who have done just fine. I emphasize optimism and resiliency with them.”

Many of these same students don’t like school, but if they are good with their hands and you provide them with opportunities to display their strengths, then you are increasing the likelihood of them staying in school.

It is all about meeting student needs be it through building self-esteem, helping a student achieve academic success or providing mentoring. If you can motivate a student and keep them in school until they are in the higher grades, a variety of exciting options open up for them.

The school district’s Trades and Technical Programs are one of these options. It makes Brach’s job easier as it enables him to provide more options to students. “If a student has an interest in a trade, then I can steer them into that program. There’s this window of opportunity right now that they have to get the skills they need to make $20 or $30 an hour.”

In the twilight of his career, Brach looks forward to the choices and challenges of the road ahead. It’s his hope that by drawing on his own strengths and interests he will be able to provide the kind of leadership and mentoring he was fortunate to receive during his formative years both as a student and as a teacher.




Explore Powell River

Winter 2007: Click to enlarge
by Terry L. Brown