Virginia Nikkel pauses mid-question, waiting for her classmates to walk by.
“I don’t like talking about myself,” she apologizes, explaining she would rather be in the background than in the spotlight.
But the spotlight was definitely on the Langley teenager on Tuesday night, in front of 280 people.
The D.W. Poppy Grade 12 student — who turns 18 on Friday (April 7) was recognized as the 2017 winner of the Township of Langley’s Pete Swensson Outstanding Community Youth Award. The award was presented at the Township’s annual volunteer appreciation and awards evening.
The Swensson award is presented to a Grade 11 or 12 student and recognizes their athletic achievement, scholastic effort, community involvement and personal qualities. It is named after the Township’s first recreation director.
Nikkel beat out seven other worthy candidates: Justin Curran (Walnut Grove), Elizabeth Lacey (Langley Fundamental), Meaghan Laycock (Brookswood), Caleb Onderwater (Credo Christian), Katrina Schulz (R.E. Mountain), Karen Shakirae (Aldergrove) and Taylor Swift (Langley Secondary).
“It is difficult to imagine a candidate who has encouraged more people to get involved in athletics, the arts and the community, and who has created a more positive classroom, team or school,” wrote Rory Allen, the head of the Poppy science department and the Redhawks’ senior girls basketball coach, in his nominating letter.
“She is simply outstanding.”
Nikkel said community involvement is something her parents, Peter and Janice, always encouraged.
In Grade 5, Nikkel and her friends organized their first fundraiser, collecting money and donations for LAPS.
That was just the start.
Every summer since Grade 8, Nikkel has worked at Stillwood Camp, as both a counsellor and part of the work crew.
Also a talented artist, Nikkel recently raised $1,000 by auctioning off some of her work at the Lighthouse Voyage Gala.
Lighthouse Voyage, a Trinity Western University-based organization, aims to fight sex trafficking of girls and women in India. The $1,000 Nikkel raised was enough to rescue five people.
This past summer, she also volunteered for 10 days at an orphanage in Mexico. While there, she spent some time at a migrant camp.
“That was probably my first time seeing real poverty, which struck me really hard,” she explained.
“And I realized I had a heart to serve other people.”
Nikkel also became involved with the Wellspring Foundation, a non-profit organization that her mother works for.
Nikkel, after persuading her parents, spent her spring break last month with her father in Rwanda, helping run sports camps and volunteering at a health clinic.
“It was hard to see (the poverty) but it was a real eye-opener,” she said.
Her time there also convinced her she had made the right-decision about her post-secondary aspirations.
“I learned how important it is to care for others and it got me so excited to come back and become a nurse,” she explained.
And if her volunteer work wasn’t enough, Nikkel also boasts an impressive resume of extra-curricular activities.
She excels on the soccer pitch, rugby field and basketball court, as well as taking part in the musical theatre program at Poppy.
Nikkel even stepped out of her comfort zone last year — with a gentle nudge from her teachers — to audition for the lead in the school play. She got the part last year and again for this year’s production.
Nikkel also excels academically, being named to the Principal’s Honour Roll in Grades 8 to 11 as well as receiving several top student awards.
“Virginia is a rare young woman who lightens up any theatrical stage, playing field or classroom, or initiative she is involved with,” wrote Poppy principal Balan Moorthy in Nikkel’s nomination.
“But it is her heart for others that has led her to use her talents to serve others. She is a young woman with a lot to offer others (and) her involvement and achievements will serve her well in her goal to become a nurse.”
So how does she manage to find the time to fit everything in?
“I don’t really know how,” Nikkel said with a laugh.
“Sometimes it is hard but I just have to prioritize my time and not waste it.
“It can get really exhausting (and) I just recharge when I need to.”
As for next year, Nikkel has been accepted into TWU but is contemplating taking a semester off to enrol in the Youth With A Mission (YWAM) program in Amsterdam. The program includes three months of training, followed by two weeks in Israel and then a two-month outreach program.