Opinion » Alta States

Cheeying Ho — sustaining the vision

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Given her growing passion for skiing and her impressive accomplishments in the non-profit sector (particularly in the expanding world of environmental education), Cheeying was obviously a sound choice as the founding executive director for Whistler's new Centre for Sustainability.

But for the woman herself, it was a dream-come-true. "I had to pinch myself every day to make sure it was really happening," she confesses. "I mean, it was amazing! You could already feel the pre-Games buzz. You could feel the excitement in the air..." She pauses. Takes a long breath. "And that got us thinking — how could we leverage the Olympic attention on Whistler to promote the centre to the world?"

Things don't always turn out the way you want them to. And Cheeying learned that the hard way during the Games. "We thought we had the perfect program," she says. "We'd organized this little Ted-X talk during the two-week Olympic run. We even had (National Geographic writer) Wade Davis there as a speaker." She sighs. "We thought it would be so interesting. But we barely got a response from media." That was a profound lesson, she adds. "Never count on using other people's event to promote your own cause..."

But the lessons were just beginning for Cheeying and her team. "I was still super stoked," she maintains. "I had a great team. Great ideas. And the fact that one of the centre's main role was to manage and promote the Whistler2020 Vision — well, that was supremely important to me. Especially since part of our mandate was to share our story with other interested communities."

The WCS team quickly got to work, devising a working strategy to further engage the community on 2020 principles. "You know, stuff like how do you make the restaurant sector 'stronger'... things like that. We had a whole new program in place." She sighs. "We were ready to go."

Then came the election of 2011, and the elimination of many Whistler2020 supporters — among them former mayor Ken Melamed. By the time the new council had addressed all the financial issues occasioned by the worldwide money crash, they found the community no longer had the shekels for what many residents in the valley thought (and still think) was an unnecessary luxury. Funding for Whistler2020 dropped precipitously.

And yet the centre endures. Cheeying and her team of indomitables continue to break new ground. And while they're still keepers of the Whistler2020 Vision — and have a small contract from the RMOW to monitor and report on its progress — they've expanded their marketing efforts to include a lot of outside business. "Our annual budget is roughly $500,000," says Ho. "And less than a fifth of that is Whistler-based. Our biggest clients in 2013 include the city of Fernie (B.C.), the city of Lacombe (Alberta) and the city of Faro (Yukon)."

Stay tuned... I'll be writing more on Cheeying Ho and the WCS in the coming weeks.

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