Wendy Williams is “a pretty little thing” many might say. “Probably hasn’t a serious thought in her head.”
That might be — until you learn her lifestyle, and what drives her. She may be a gentle soul — yet passionately dedicated to “making a difference”.
Of course there is her yoga. She teaches a full week of that and belly dancing. Yoga at all levels — and it’s not only possible to begin at five, but to be practicing it still into one’s 90s. (By then, of course, one may have advanced to Chair Yoga. You’ll still get a full range of stretches.)
Belly dancing? She’s managed to turn it into its ancient art form, while still making sure it’s a great form of exercise, and above all, fun.
She takes a group of her dancers on tour each spring. This year they visited towns on Vancouver Island and the Kootenays, and presented concerts in Kamloops and Kelowna. Williams likes her dancers to pair up with a local musical group. It gives the locals a chance to shine, and to gain prestige by appearing with the visitors.
But I think her greatest achievement is her appreciation of, and work with, teenagers. I talked recently with two of these teenagers, and was very impressed. Within Wendy’s (and John, her husband’s) fine influence, these teenagers have created an Esteem Team.
They explained to me that teenagers have acquired a bad reputation — one of being destructive and uncaring. I asked why this had happened — and they explained it was the way the media described them. Too often teenagers were heard of only when something unfortunate happened — perhaps an incident at a beach party, or an accident involving a teenager driving when impaired. They wanted to turn this image around, and not only the public image, but the way teenagers thought of themselves. Thus the Esteem Team was born.
At first it involved only “hanging out” at Wendy’s studio, with John and Wendy inconspicuously keeping guard. Halloween was a natural starting place. Think about it — what is there to do for teenagers on Halloween? For youngsters there is trick or treating — usually carefully supervised by parents or grandparents. There’s a party with treats given at a mall. But nothing for teenagers — unless defacing walls in town might be the answer.
So Wendy and John let the kids hang out at Wendy’s studio. They might play games or watch a video before pulling out sleeping bags for the night. This proved popular.
Then it turned out that they were not too welcome — or comfortable — at their parents’ Christmas Eve parties. So Wendy and John again stepped in There would be a movie, or games, a sleepover, and a small gift under a tree after breakfast in the morning. Kids from many types of homes mingled and had fun. It was a wonderful solution for many family problems — or just a fun spot to be.
Many things impressed me about the two teenagers who spoke to me. They will be in university next year, and have chosen to spend the year in Penticton, to help assure the healthy survival of the Esteem Team. What dedication! Another was the words they used — both wanted to “make a difference” in the world. Those words made me feel much more optimistic about the young people of tomorrow. And I felt humbled — the world needs many more like Wendy and John. Shining examples — as the Esteem Team attempts to be.
This month the team goes to the middle school, to mentor students as they were mentored. What will the future hold for these extraordinary young adults? Somehow I feel it will be all good.
Dodi Morrison is a retired educator and freelance Penticton writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.