PEOPLE OF THE PARK: Krista Voth

 PEOPLE OF THE PARK: Krista Voth

By Ruby Ewens

I see the sun, squeezing itself through the clouds onto my lap, pressing me down into the chair in which I sit. Then I see a young woman, silvery hair down her back like a mermaid, talking at great speed, lifting me up from the warm sun’s embrace, bubbling us both to the surface with her enthusiasm. These two images are from the first day I met Krista Voth. That day was like an explosion of inspiration and pragmatism: what was supposed to be a ten-minute introduction to see how I could help the Pacific Spirit Regional Park Society (‘the Society’), turned into an hour of creative brainstorming and the realisation that I had just met someone even more passionate than I was about the Park. Krista has that effect on people; her energy and knowledge pulls people into her orbit. I have yet to meet a person who does not talk about her with open adoration.

For the past two years Krista has been the Program Coordinator for the Society and like all potent narratives, this one started with a vision. While undertaking an Education degree, Krista found a mandatory geography class kindled something in her. She immediately abandoned her teaching career and transferred to what Krista defines as “a perfect combination of science and human geography.” Krista even won a grant to expand her research, which uncovered her curiosity in urban parks: how they are used and how people care for them. In this time Krista was a Board Member for the Society, where she found herself brimming with ideas: “I was volunteering a lot of my time and I really wanted it to be legitimate. I was so excited when the job of Program Coordinator came up. I was like ‘I want that. This is exactly what I want to do with my life.’ I was itching to get in there and shake things up.” In a small amount of time, she has certainly done that.

I interview Krista a few months after that summer day we first met: autumn has descended and UBC is cool and brittle. The forest has trapped early morning mist in, like steam swirling in a bowl. We shelter by a large window with salty chips. I ask her how she is, not out of politeness, but because I love hearing about Krista’s day: it is always varied and full of wild developments. A self-confessed generalist, Krista is the epitome of the ‘many hat wearer.’ She tells me two-thirds of her time is at the desk and one third is in the field.

“I am at the computer a lot,” she describes. “I think that is what surprised me the most. The amount of communicating involved: talking to all the stakeholders and getting all the people playing their parts and coordinating all those parts and that just takes a lot of emailing. And then there are all the mundane things – insurance, data entry. I hate data entry, that kills me, but I have to do it…” Krista admits this with a big smile. “Then leading the events and all the things that go into that. A lot goes into an event,” she emphasises. “I have worked really hard this last year at delegating. What you can let go and how much you can ask of people. If people feel engaged and a part of it, they are willing to put in so much time. Because they feel it is intrinsically valuable for them: it’s not just something that they do to get hours.”

I see the picture of Krista as the thumping heart of the Society, pushing out blood to the other organs and keeping the machine moving. It’s not that the heart is taken for granted, but we don’t often think about each heartbeat, we are just thankful that it keeps doing what we need it to do. Much of the work that Krista does is like this: behind the scenes, under the radar.

If Krista is the heart, then the Board is the network of veins, providing guidance and helping Krista fulfil her mission. Krista says: “the Board was so accepting and supportive. I would bring ideas to them and they would be like – you GO! Go for it. I was never held back.”

With this encouragement, Krista hit the ground running: “I spent the first six months doing ABCD (Asset Based Community Development): looking at what are the assets in the community and how can I bring them out to develop a program. I could see all this potential…I networked like crazy, I interviewed people and listened to all the leaders. I got to know all the volunteers and then we developed programming. We changed from a basic plant removal to ecological restoration.”

I have heard the appreciation for this change expressed by many of the volunteer leaders. Krista realised early that most of the volunteers are students and are a diverse, deep pool of talent: entomologists, fish and wildlife, geologists, forestry, and geography students. “We need to harness this knowledge,” she insists.

I wonder if Krista gets a chance to take in a deep breath and enjoy the park in the same way she used to. She confirms it’s one of her favourite things about Pacific Spirit: “I like being outside in the field with the volunteers and see them come and get excited about things. I get really excited about that. Also, the sounds. They catch my attention and get me out of my head and into my environment.”

I began wanting to know what made this woman who she was. I find out she did something that would provoke a panic attack in most people: she moved from Manitoba to Vancouver with no contacts and no job. This risk-taking makes sense to me, given the quick and spontaneous decisions Krista has already demonstrated in her studies and career: taking giant leaps of faith and seizing every opportunity. Thankfully she found regular income as one of the first waitresses at Vij’s, an iconic Indian restaurant named after the man who created it, Vikram Vij.

“It was the first year he opened,” she tenderly recalls. “Vikram really taught me a lot in the years that I worked for him that formed my current role. He knew everyone by name and everything was done well. People would come from everywhere to stand in the cold November rain and drink the tea that he would give out while they waited. He put his heart and soul into it. It was not a job, it was a vocation.”

She continues: “This has been how I approach it. It’s not something I do from nine to five, but it’s something that is a part of me. That is the Vikram model. It’s not my park but I want everyone to feel really welcome, this is a place for all. I want to get people excited about the park. How do I get it out there that this park is valuable and worth protecting?”

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that if anyone can do it, it is Krista Voth.

 

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PEOPLE OF THE PARK: David Bromley

We met on a cool, bright afternoon, full of late autumn sunshine. I was quick to identify the reasons people had spoken such fond words about him as he greeted me in a crowded coffee shop, his hand extended, a yellow mug balanced in the other, asking me my name. The confidence David exuded did not deter my shock. After a few formal introductory emails, and information that I had clearly misunderstood, I realized my critical mistake: David was not a volunteer of the Pacific Spirit Park Society (‘the Society’) for seventeen years, but a volunteer of seventeen years. The next half hour would prove the biggest nightmare for any interviewer, as I was forced to abandon my premeditated questions. However, something equally lovely happened: I found myself not needing that hackneyed script and became increasingly curious about this high school boy who gave up a lot of his free time to volunteer.

 

David juggles his role as Volunteer Leader at the Society, events for Sea Watch, seasonal work at an Equestrian Farm in Southlands and is also the head sound technician at his high school, working in the technical aspects of theatre production. He has also applied for a scholarship with Metro Vancouver Regional Parks for youth leadership – something the Society would love to see David flourish in. As part of the leadership team for PSPS, David guides groups of volunteers, ensures they are handling tools safely and correctly, and helps them complete the day’s assigned task. The thing I found myself really wanting to know was why. Why come out every week, away from family and friends, to tramp around in a large, musty park? David, humble and obliging, said he started volunteering for the Society simply because it was something to do. Weekends for David in his early high school days had plenty of room to fill, and he explained further: “it felt nice to be part of an organization on some mission. I liked the stuff we were doing. I enjoyed the restoration and it felt like we were helping the park and helping people use the park.”

As our conversation continued, I discovered he was both clever and pragmatic.

“The Society has made some good choices,” he informed me, such as “making the tasks more and more large mission orientated as opposed to individual changes every day. It’s good for a low level volunteer perspective to see it as mission orientated.”

He was sitting in front me: layers and layers of blue like a cloudless sky, the combinations endless. The crystal blue of his eyes disappeared under long lashes, head bent forward over a sky blue buttoned shirt, accompanied by a baby blue puff jacket. When I heard David talk I thought of what it feels like to volunteer myself, this mix of purpose and fulfillment, time spent doing things you love, not needing monetary exchange to give it value. The value already inherent in the act.

“I think the thing with volunteering is the feeling you are doing something terribly important,” he said, voicing my thoughts, then bringing it back to the Park: “especially with the mapping and the water monitoring, because to me that feels like data gathering and helping research. Ecological restoration in all forms is valuable…we are collecting data and it feels nice that the data you are collecting is going in at least some capacity to someone to use for research purposes.”

I commended him on his efforts, telling him he is valiant in this altruistic attitude. He encouraged people to join the Society and described they had a few regulars but generally there was a high turnover of volunteers, the majority being made up of UBC (university) and St George (high school) students. The time commitment is understandably difficult, especially after people graduate. David is in his last year at Prince of Wales High. I asked him what he wants to do when he graduates and cringed: I hated getting asked this and remember only too well the mundane pressure, the desperate inability to forecast a career, the vultures that circle when you become too introspective. But David is looking beyond the local paddocks. He has eyes for East Coast or American universities that don’t require you to elect a Major until the second year, thus offering him greater freedom for a little while longer.

“Right now I’m sticking with a Math based focus,” he told me. “But I like the more social aspects of sciences as well: how it connects to policy. That interests me. I say Mathematics because I’m interested in it but it’s hard for me to rectify that with also liking governmental policy and how that is influenced by scientific thinking and research…That is one of the things I look forward to in university: the ability to explore different avenues. More so then anything else that is the most valuable thing to me.”

This clear articulation inspired in me a desire to have had David’s certainty around something that in its very nature is uncertain: the future.

 

Towards the end of our chat, when we were winding down, David said he had an interesting and useful story for me. I chirped in anticipation. And so he told me how he found out about the Society in the first place, in 2014, through a school tutoring program, Brain Boost. “I joined along for the day … removing ‘invasives’ and it stuck with me, and then I remember a year later I thought: ‘how could I get involved in that?’ I guess the message for that is I think it is valuable for some sort of involvement – trying to get schools to get out – I don’t know how viable that is. But I didn’t know it existed beforehand.”

 

He also gave me a new perspective, something I had not really recognizing before. He talked about how the new developments going up were more and more a reflection of the Park, tall wood buildings scaling to Vancouver’s big skies when the clouds weren’t sitting there, bellies full of rain. All that wood: the raw and the planed, the creaking and the polished. I loved the thought of how they could mirror each other, one side crafted by nature, the other side crafted by man. Even drinking our coffees we were surrounded by wood: the spirit of the park never far from our consciousness.

“It’s important for the UBC community. It really makes the whole UBC architecture work. A lot of the new architecture is very environmentally focused … new uses of woods. To a greater extent just the general feel of the UBC area and the greater Endowment Lands; I think the park is very important to its style. That’s what I like. I think I appreciate the Park first for just being there, almost, as opposed to being a bunch of residential buildings.”

I loved the small answer David gave me when I asked what his favorite thing about the Park was; apart from liking that it was maintained. Sometimes things are best when they are put simply: “it’s beautiful.

Written by Ruby Ewens

Photo: Andre-Phillip Picard

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