Like many teenagers may choose to do, Keara Graham spent her 18th birthday in Vancouver.
But while some may be focused on celebrating their big day with a shopping excursion or dinner at a nice restaurant, Graham had other ideas.
Graham, along with five of her friends, spent March 27 in Vancouver committing 18 acts of kindness. Some were planned while others were random.
“Take the focus off me and impact others,” Graham explained about her rationale.
Some of the planned acts of kindness were visiting a seniors residence with handwritten letters while another was delivering flowers and a thank-you letter to a nurse. The random acts included buying Tim Hortons for strangers, giving hot chocolate to a homeless person and plugging peoples’ parking metres.
And with actions like these, it should come as little surprise that Graham is the recipient of the 2013 Pete Swensson Outstanding Community Youth Award. She received her award last week (April 4) at the Township of Langley’s annual volunteer appreciation awards.
Graham is intent on making a difference in the lives of others, whether in a Third World country or her own community.
“I just think there is an irreplaceable joy from helping others,” she explained.
“I think with passion and determination — and if you step outside of your comfort zone and confront what is wrong in the world — you can really change the world.
“I think knowledge and education are so important to bring about that change,” she added.
“I truly believe that no action is too small. Even small actions have large impacts.”
The fact Graham won the award comes as little surprise to staff at Walnut Grove Secondary, where she is a Grade 12 student.
“She is a tireless worker,” said Walnut Grove principal George Kozlovic. “This girl will make a difference in lives.”
Kozlovic took Graham to a We Day event a few years back.
We Day serves to bring together a generation of youth to be engaged in changing the world through an inspirational event and year-long educational program. It is an initiative of Free The Children, an international charity and educational partner that works with schools to implement the We Act program.
After attending the event, Graham was inspired to create a Me to We Club at Walnut Grove.
“I just felt so empowered to make a difference and I wanted to transpire that,” she said.
“So I initiated the club at school to take action and over the past few years, we have held awareness events and fundraisers. It is so inspiring.”
Through the Walnut Grove Me to We Club, they have raised more than $13,000, which will be used to build a school and a well they have adopted in Haiti.
Kozlovic said that Graham is surrounded by a good core of people who have helped her in the club. But there is no mistaking who makes the club tick.
“She is the driver, she is the leader,” he said.
“She is the inspiration behind the group.”
“And her actions are far beyond what you would expect to have from a teenager.”
Graham is very involved in helping her community as well, volunteering at Langley Gardens Retirement Community, Canadian Blood Services and the Langley Vineyard. She also serves on the Walnut Grove student council and is part of the school’s Gator Quality Ambassador Program, mentoring Grade 8 students.
“Keara is an amazing young lady,” said Angela Mallinson, a counsellor at the school. “Keara is very giving and very humble.
“Keara is bright, humble and empathic. She cares about others and most importantly, helping to make the world a better place for (others).”
“I have been teaching for 29 years, and I cannot say that I have come across another student who compares to Keara,” Mallinson added.
“I love giving back to my community,” Graham explained about all of her extracurricular activities.
In addition to those, she is also an avid hockey player — she has played for nine years and was co-captain on the Langley Lightning midget hockey team this past season — as well as running cross-country and being on the track and field team at Walnut Grove.
Graham also excels in the classroom, an honour roll student since 2008 and within the top three per cent for the school’s Grade 12 students in the fall semester. Graham has also won the WGSS Gator Award twice. The award recognizes top students who excel in both academics and extra curricular activities.
Doing so many things does require a fair amount of time management and prioritizing.
“I am just so passionate about all those things I just can’t imagine not participating in them,” she said.
“If you are really passionate about something, then you make time.”
As for her future, Graham plans to study for a career in health sciences and hopes to provide health care overseas.
She is motivated to do this after spending part of last summer in Kenya helping build a school.
“That was a completely life-changing experience,” Graham said. “We helped to build a school there and learned about local issues and global issues.
“Expanded our whole knowledge about poverty in the world and how we can make a difference.”
Keara Graham (below) spent part of last summer helping to build a school in Kenya.