During the summer after Graham Landells finished Grade 9 at Oak Bay High, a pivotal moment came for the teen.
He had spent a week volunteering at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health, where he was working with a disabled child who was learning to ride a bicycle.
“He was struggling the whole week to get on two wheels, then finally on the last day he did and rode by himself,” Landells said. “My heart just melted while his mother sobbed.”
That was the moment Landells, now 18 and a University of Victoria student, knew that his volunteer efforts were about more than building a resumé. That same year Landells, then a part of Youth Against Cancer Club, Oak Bay Youth Outreach, as well as the track and field and soccer clubs, was recognized with a Young Exceptional Star Award from the District of Oak Bay. For six years the awards have been given to Oak Bay students in Grades 6 through 10 who strive for excellence within their schools and broader communities, often overcoming adversities to achieve their goals.
This year, Landells returned to the event as the keynote speaker and addressed a new group of high achieving youth nominated for the recognition. The awards, celebrated May 8 at the Oak Bay Recreation Centre Sports View Lounge, are based on volunteerism across an array of fields and commitment to a range of artistic, sporting and academic excellence.
The latest Young Exceptional Stars are: Ben Watts-Wooldridge, Kate Horgan, Kosar Rabie, Madeleine DesBrisay, Trevor Izard, and Claire Winther, from Lansdowne middle school; Morgan Roskelley, Olivia Smith Rodrigues, and Cetareh Mohsenzadeh-Green, from Oak Bay High; and Tori Simpson from Monterey middle school.
“You can achieve excellence in so many ways and we leave the field wide open,” said Oak Bay councillor and awards committee lead Michelle Kirby. “Sometimes it’s hard for those kids to be seen and be recognized in traditional awards ceremonies. This is a venue for us to do that, to recognize kids who are really working hard and have achieved excellence and maybe had to overcome some heavy obstacles and had to work harder to do good. It’s really inspirational.”
Landells continues to volunteer with the summer bike camp for children with disabilities, as well as with the Canadian Cancer Society. He hopes to enter the medical field.
“You grow so much as you age,” said Landells, who describes sports and arts as a gateway to lifelong learning and teamwork. “Volunteering and being involved helps that so much. They have their whole lives ahead of them – and so do I.
“It’s just nice to know that volunteering can set you on such a nice path to something bigger.”