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.