Opinion » Alta States

On The Road – Sara Jennings chooses the path less travelled



(Humans) cannot discover new oceans unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.'

- André Gide

She lives in the very belly of the beast — a place where conspicuous consumption has been raised to a high art. Where "re-creation" is just another product on the market. Where what you wear says who you are. Where... And yet. And yet. Sara Jennings' conscious decision to radically downsize her life — and pursue an activist's role in the resort town where she was born and raised — well... to me it reveals a side of Whistler culture that doesn't get as much respect as it should.

"Whistler made me who I am," insists the community's "first child." "The way my parents brought me up, the influence of their friends, just the way of life in those days — I mean, there's a story for me in every creek, every trail, every neighbourhood in this valley..." She stops. Sighs. "And I realized after being away from Whistler for a while that I really missed it. I missed being surrounded by mountains. I missed the snow. I missed the pedestrian nature of the village..."

Committed. Engaged. Totally convinced that she's on the right path. No question — Sara Jennings isn't looking to anyone else for inspiration. She's strong and smart and stubborn... and she's not doing it for brownie points or to impress her Whistler-born peers. She is simply doing what she believes she has to do. "I can only lead by example," she says. "I can only show by doing it myself..."

But enough dawdling, let's get on with her story. It's now 1994 and the 18-year old has just left Whistler for university. Convinced at first that she wants to be a sports doctor, she understands after a year that medicine isn't for her. Early childhood education, she realizes, is way more aligned with her principles and interests.

"It happened in a matter of hours," she says of her decision to switch career paths. "There was no real struggle; I just suddenly understood that working with kids is what I really wanted to do..."

Sara didn't waste any time. She immediately enrolled at Capilano College, and set about earning a certificate in early-child education. By 1998 she was working in East Vancouver at a day-care based out of a local community centre. "I was working with three to five-year-olds," she says. "Most of the kids were in foster care and all of them were seeing social workers on a regular basis..." She pauses. Takes a long breath. "I really valued that experience, you know. I'd worked with kids in other jobs — in North Vancouver, Whistler — and the kids were OK. They just didn't need me. But these kids — they needed me! They needed to be loved, hugged... cared for." It was the first time, she says, "that my studies in early child education really made a difference..."