Her hometown might not be where she pictured herself ending up, but for Kim Nowotny her community in Williams Lake is home.
Nowotny grew up in the Lakecity, and left to attend university, starting out at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops and then finishing her undergraduate degree in biology at University of British Columbia in Vancouver. She then did her teacher training at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby.
She returned to Williams Lake to work, starting out teaching math and science but later taking a part-time school counsellor position to allow time to raise her family.
“I really love this community now,” said Nowotny. “I love all the access to the outdoors. I like knowing people.”
She has been working in town as a school counsellor for 19 years and has been full-time at the Lakecity Secondary School since 2013.
Over the years as a school counsellor, she has seen a lot of changes in the stresses young people are experiencing.
“Especially this year, we’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “The mental health crisis has emerged.”
With a combination of the impacts of kids being away from school and socially isolated during the pandemic, kids are experiencing a lot of stressors.
This is on top of many of the other things impacting the area in recent years, from wildfires, evacuations and residential school inquiries and education.
She said many youth also feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the environment and it can lead to fears about what the future holds for their generation.
All of these can be challenging for youth to deal with, but also for those in the school to know how to support the youth effectively.
“It’s hard to get it right, we want to be supportive,” said Nowotny. “We just really want to be compassionate. I think we’re all just learning.”
Her compassion and the care she has for her students has been demonstrated for years in her hours of volunteer time helping to organize the Medieval Market.
An annual event in the community for over 30 years, the market has been a fundraiser for clubs and teams for the city’s high schools and Nowotny began helping out as a volunteer.
Then around 19 years ago, she took the lead on helping organize the market, along with Christie Mayall.
“She’s awesome, I adore her,” Nowotny said of her fellow volunteer.
Nowotny is humble about her own role, saying that the event is very much a team effort.
She said that the initial years were a lot of work to adapt the event as it moved venues and changed with the schools, it is now much less work with the help of a community of volunteers who each plays a part.
While she does not know how many hours she puts towards the event, she said from September until the event in November, she will do something nearly every day towards the event in preparation.
“We don’t count what we love,” she said. “It’s really fun.”
This affection for the event is clear as she describes the way the event benefits both the school and the greater community.
“We’re really proud of it. I think it’s a really great example of a school-community partnership,” said Nowotny. “Students are involved in almost every aspect of the market.”
The market allows students to gain valuable job and life-related skills. Students design the poster and tickets, work at the concession, help decorate and set up the space, assist vendors to move in, work serving vendors and customers and help with clean up.
Many students also perform at the live music portion of the market, past and present students help provide the live entertainment.
Student volunteers earn school credit they can then use towards school clubs, teams, trips, yearbooks, graduation fees or other costs they might have.
Teachers involved in the organizing also get some school credit
“It’s pretty special for Christie and for me. We know teenagers are pretty cool creatures, they’re great. People don’t always know that if they don’t hang out with them every day,” said Nowotny.
Each year the vendors give rave reviews about how great the students are, she added.
“It’s really special that other people get to see that too. We like the market because it showcases our school and our kids. It’s really positive for the community to come in and see all these good things that are happening,” she said.
“It’s a win-win because it’s a nice event for the community but it’s a really nice event for the school too.”
Teachers who work at the market also get a small amount they can then use to help support youth in need at the school. Larger purchases towards the school itself have included a sound system for the event and school open mics. They also provide two bursaries each year for students pursuing education in fine arts.
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