Opinion » Alta States

Sara Jennings — changing the world, one act at a time



"Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don't complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don't bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!"

- Bob Marley

I'm not usually at a loss for words. For me, a blank page (or a blank screen) holds no angst. Bring it on! But this week, I'm struggling a little. You see, Sara Jennings' story is so big — so remarkable, so inspiring, so distinctively hers (and yes, so relevant) — that I feel a huge responsibility to tell it well. Frankly, I don't even know where to begin on this one. World traveller, political activist, environmental warrior, actor, puppeteer, educator, local mover-and-shaker... these are all tags that partly describe Sara's path through life. And yet, her personal journey encompasses so much more. So what to do? I guess I'll just start with the obvious.

Did you know that Sara holds the distinction of being Whistler's first baby?

It's true. "My mom made me promise that I'd bring it up in our conversation," confides the 36-year old, a nervous/high-energy chuckle following her revelation. "I even have a little Cup that says I was Whistler's firstborn." More laughter. "I don't remember it, of course. But I do have a picture of me in my parents' arms receiving the Cup from mayor Pat Carleton..."

And no, for those detail-sticklers out there, Sara wasn't actually "born" in Whistler. "I first saw the light of day in the Squamish Hospital," she says. And laughs again. "But I was back in the Valley in no time." And for Mayor Carleton and his council of the day, that was good enough for her to qualify as the new community's firstborn.

I know. I know. There were other babies born to Whistler Valley residents before Sara came along. But when they first appeared, the place was still called Alta Lake. And that's where her story is so compelling. You see, Sara's birthday — October 13, 1975 — occurred less than a month after the Resort Municipality of Whistler was officially created by an act in the B.C. legislature. Thus her first-born designation. Cool, eh? And somewhat fitting. After all, Big Sis is now showing the rest of her Whistler "siblings" what it means to get involved in making the world a better place.

"It's funny," she says. "Among the kids I grew up with — particularly those who were born around the same time I was — there was always a hint of competition about the whole first-born thing." She pauses for a beat. Sighs. "You know, it's kind of ironic that I'm number one. To be honest, I couldn't care less about it." She smiles. "But it's a neat little quirk of mine..."

Speaking of babies, did you know that the WCSS's current Food Bank coordinator is actively engaged in trying to adopt a child? "I always, ALWAYS, wanted to be a mum," says Sara. "Since I was three years old, you know, I thought I'd have the whole family thing: husband, kids, bustling household." But it didn't happen. And so she finally came to a life-changing decision. "I realized that I could live with myself if I never found the right significant other," she says, "even though it would be really hard... But never being a parent? That's just not acceptable."

So why adoption? "I've always had a desire to adopt," says the woman whose training and work in early child education seems particularly well suited to a parenting role. "There are just too many kids already here in this world that need the love of caring parents," she continues. "And for me, personally, I don't think I need a blood-bond to make a real connection with a child."

A very private person — and not at all accustomed to revealing her personal issues in public — it was Sara herself who encouraged me to talk about her adoption plans in this story. "I've been trying to adopt for a long time," she explains. "But I want an open relationship with the birth parents so I'm trying to adopt within the local program — as opposed to an international adoption."

Hmm. Does an "open relationship with the birth parents" mean they remain part of the adopted child's environment throughout his/her life? "That's exactly what it means," she says. And laughs nervously again. "You see, I want things to be out in the open. I want my children to know where they came from. What their roots are..."

But that kind of a process (where the birth parents actually pick their favourite adoption candidate) can't be easy for someone in her situation. "You're right," she says. "Being a single parent, it's very unlikely that I'll get picked. But it's all about word-of-mouth, you know. So..."

She sighs. And for just a moment I see just how challenging this adoption process has been for her. But then the veil drops again and she's back to being the bright-eyed, gung-ho woman she always is. "You never know," she says. "Maybe there's somebody out there who wants to put their child up for adoption who knows somebody who knows me. And maybe that person is reading this story right now." Another long pause. Finally she shrugs. "I've gotta stay positive about the process," she says. "And I've gotta hope that it will come together somehow. After all, that's the way the world works."

So are you listening out there? This could totally change the direction of a kid's life. "I know I could be a good mum," she says. "Even though I'm single — even though there's no man on the horizon — I know I can do this. I just have to trust that it will happen some day."

Amazing... I'm almost two-thirds through my column space already and I've yet to address Sara's life path. And in her case, it's the kind of journey that defies the imagination. But before I get to her actual story, there's another issue I need to bring up. And it concerns a fundraiser she's putting on at the Food Bank next week.

I first heard about it from local TV producer Nicole Fitzgerald. "The Food Bank has this big event coming up on May 8," she told me. "It was Sara's idea and she needs everyone's help to make it work. You know, it would be great if you could mention it in Alta States..." Typical Sara, I thought. And then: how can I refuse?

Here's a paragraph I stole from the Whistler Community Social Services website:

Knocking Hunger Fundraiser - Volunteers are needed for the Whistler Food Bank's first annual Knocking Hunger Day on Tuesday, May 8 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in various neighbourhoods as part of Hunger Awareness Week.  Whistler's shoulder season is fast approaching, a time when many residents are laid off or work hours are reduced. And so the Whistler Food Bank is reaching out to the community, asking them to give their neighbours a hand – more specifically a knock.  Volunteer [will work] alongside RCMP, Firefighters and Rotary to canvas Whistler neighbourhoods, knocking on doors to invite residents to donate food items to a neighbourhood drop off site that will be open for the week of May 9 – 16. Volunteers will issue reusable bags and a much-needed food items list to various homes.  First and foremost, the event will help stock Whistler Food Bank shelves, but it will also provide an opportunity to raise awareness about the food bank and the growing need for this service.

As for the event's raison d'etre, says Sara, it's pretty simple: "Basically, we're always brainstorming for ways to raise funds, food, and awareness for the Food Bank." Another burst of nervous laughter. "It never ends," she admits. "We never have enough..."

As for the door-to-door component of the food drive, she explains: "It's worked in other communities. And it's been particularly effective in raising people's consciousness to the issue of hunger in their own backyard. So why not try it here?"

"Besides," she says, "Whistlerites are so busy — reaching them at home is probably the best way to get their attention. By going door-to-door distributing bags and information, we get to help people in the community understand who uses the Food Bank, why they use it and what's needed here. In other words, we get to answer some questions about hunger at Whistler..."

It's not sexy. It's not like being a volunteer at the Olympics or the X-Games. But it's certainly a worthy cause. And in a community as wealthy as Whistler, the fact that there are families and individuals going to bed hungry every night is inexcusable. "People just don't realize how tough it is for those in want in this valley," concludes Sara. "Donating to the Food Bank — whether by providing food, funds or as a volunteer — is one sure way to make a positive and immediate difference in our community!"

Next week: follow Sara's transformation from a typical young Whistlerite to a globe-trotting social and environmental warrior.