Make a difference, no matter how big or small.
It is a motto for Penticton Secondary School student Victoria Ritchie’s life.
“I really like giving back. I love this community and all it has given me over the years. I share my voice in many areas as I feel it is important youth be involved in decision-making in our community.” said Ritchie.
Ritchie, who was chosen as the Rotary Club of Penticton-Okanagan student of the month, enjoys volunteering whether it is weekly at the local hospital, with the Special Olympic swimming team every Saturday, as the youth voice on the executive board of First Things First South Okanagan, or on the steering committee of the Youth Engagement Strategy, she wants to make a difference.
“Victoria is an altruistic, diligent, courageous, positive and humble person. In my 30 years as an educator, I have never known a student who has given so much to her school, community and the world. She is our top humanitarian student,” said Donna Moroz, Penticton Secondary School vice-principal.
Ritchie credits her grandmother as her first, and biggest, inspiration. She led a fundraiser that generated $50,000 for Cystic Fibrosis Society when a member of the family was diagnosed with the disease. Ritchie also credits her mom, who frequently organizes fundraising events at the Copper Mug Pub where she works.
Mental wellness is a special area of interest for Ritchie.
“I see lots of struggling around me and that is why I got involved with YES (Youth Engagement Strategy), an organization dedicated to make resources available to young people including a Youth Centre in Penticton. Mental health is an important conversation that needs to happen,” she said.
After one of her friends attempted suicide, Ritchie felt the guilt of not having seen the signs. She chose to talk about it and with a group of friends, she organized Planting the Seed, a forum to share strategies and support.
Between volunteering and school, Ritchie has also found time to participate in numerous speaking competitions. Last summer, at the United Nations International competition in New York, she competed with 120 young people from around the world for three days where they were asked to prepare and present on a topic of their choice. Ritchie was one of six qualifying for the final; she won first prize which included a $1,000 scholarship and the opportunity to sit in a session with UN members.
Read more: Teen’s talk takes her around North America
In a highly charged environment, with young people from around the world with different values, she faced racist and sexist comments never before experienced. Presenting in front of “big name people” added to the pressure of the event. Ritchie kept her focus reminding herself she was there not to win but to inspire her peers that there is hope for future generations. Her topic was one close to her heart: climate action and responsible consumption and production.
Prior to winning, Ritchie was set to head to Tanzania on a humanitarian trip which she had to postpone. She had already spent three weeks in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest with the organization Feed the Children, a worldwide development charity empowering youth to become socially engaged.
“It was shocking to me to realize that although Canada is a developed country, it faces many of the same problems of undeveloped countries in our relationships with aboriginal people, sustainable resource development and accessible and inexpensive clean energy,” she said. “In our day-to-day living as a society, we do things without thinking about the impact of our actions. I want to live my values and take personal responsibility as a young person. Young people are supposed to do things.”
Moroz said Ritchie is a prime example of the type of person the school tries to cultivate.
“She is a leader both in the school and the community and also in the world. We are trying to build citizens that are going to out and make a meaningful change in society. She is one of the students that is passionate, has positive energy and she is organized. She will be one of the future leaders, I believe, in our city and in our province,” she said.
As Ritchie looks past her Grade 12 year, she hopes to attend post-secondary to continue her studies in environmental and/or political sciences before pursuing a law degree. As well continue to inspire others.
“I live my values every day to show others it is not impossible to make a difference. I am one in seven billion and one person can do great things,” said Ritchie.
Student of the month is a Rotary Club of Penticton-Okanagan initiative. The award aims to recognize outstanding students for unique combinations of achievement in scholastics, extracurricular activities, community involvement, leadership and service to others. The Rotary Club of Penticton Okanagan is partnering with Penticton Secondary School aided by a generous financial contribution from Gateway Casinos as part of their proactive involvement in wide-ranging community service projects.