Many struggle to find purpose, and often when they do, it comes from an unexpected place. Kim Wheatley, keynote speaker of the 2017 YMCA Volunteer Recognition Conference, found hers by engaging with the community, sharing her knowledge, and turning her “differences” into strengths.
Kim, an Indigenous cultural consultant, speaks for a living. Kim loves her work and is excited for each new day. However, the journey to discover her passion wasn’t easy. As an Anishinaabe, Ojibway from Shawanaga First Nation reserve, Kim says that from a young age she knew she was different. “I grew up in a very separate world,” she explains. “My skin was too dark, my hair was too curly. My culture was too unknown.”
Kim struggled to find purpose in a society where she was often made to feel different. It was volunteering that helped her discover her gift — sharing her Indigenous culture with others and providing a message of hope. “Through volunteering,” Kim says, “somebody saw something in me that propelled me…a leadership quality and an ability to speak that holds power.” Thanks to that experience, Kim is able to live her passion and has appeared in news articles, radio, and television, conferences, and cultural events.
Choosing to volunteer, says Kim, is a powerful choice that can change the course of one’s life. “It makes you a richer human being; it makes you a more diverse human.” Through volunteering, she says, one can find a “sense of belonging in a world that is increasingly disconnected.” Simple actions can bring out the best in others: “It’s by the way you look at somebody, it’s by the way that you talk to somebody, it’s the tone of your voice.” It is the “proximity to another” she says, that “makes us human beings first and foremost.”
Kim also believes that our travels bring us full circle. As a young mother, Kim had limited income and needed support so her children could be healthy. Thanks to the YMCA’s financial assistance program, they were able to learn to swim and take dance classes. “The Y welcomed me,” Kim recalls. “It is so firmly embedded in my life experiences as the place where everybody was welcome. Everybody belongs.” Now a grandmother, she is excited to return to the YMCA to bring her message of hope to volunteers at the Volunteer Recognition Conference on October 21.
Kim firmly believes there is a volunteer role for everybody. She urges all of us to take a chance and not to be afraid. “Try it,” she says, “and see what happens.”