Kim English of Hedley has visited Europe approximately 15 times.
She has done volunteer work in Tanzania and lived in a mud hut on Mt. Kilimanjaro. In Vancouver she successfully sold art at the Inuit Gallery. Six years ago she arrived in Hedley to visit a friend and stay “just for the summer.”
When I asked what had prompted her to make this little community her home she said, “I didn’t realize at that time my nephew Jordan would be coming to live with me. He was having significant behavioural challenges in his home and at school. I thought the slower pace and quiet of Hedley would have a calming effect. He’s the reason I stayed.”
During the time Jordan lived with Kim, we had opportunities to observe some of her interactions with him. Not having children of her own, it must have been a steep learning curve. What impressed us most was her total commitment to this youth who was bringing turmoil into her life. She spoke to him patiently but firmly. At times we were surprised at her understanding. Observing her in this relationship has led us to believe that her endeavours in the Similkameen community come from a basis of commitment to the people.
Kim came with little except some pretty decent furniture and a
willingness to do virtually anything to survive financially. She was single and after a failed relationship, had no interest in men. Also, in the city she had used public transit so she didn’t have a Driver’s Licence or a vehicle. She found a home to rent and began building a new life. She had ideas and a desire to make a positive difference. Initially she worked as a waitress at the Hitching Post Restaurant and also did pruning in a vineyard. A lot has changed since that early beginning.
One of the constants in Kim’s life since 1989 has been a friendship with Angelique Wood. As a student in Classical Studies at Langara College and then majoring in archaeology at SFU, she leaned on Angelique for help. “I had some dyslexia issues, particularly a problem with jumbling words,” she said. “Before I handed in papers, I asked Angelique to proof read them.”
In Hedley they have developed a collaborative partnership. While Angelique was an RDOS Director, they attracted a number of Similkameen community leaders to Hedley for “Community Conversations.” Their goal was to inspire creative approaches to community issues.
“One of the challenges for small, out of the way communities like Hedley,” she said, “is that seniors are moving to larger centres to get the services they need. They can’t manage on their own. That’s why we brought in a couple of speakers from Keremeos to explain Meals on Wheels. We don’t want to lose the wisdom and experience of seniors.”
She is also concerned that few families move to Hedley. “We need to make it possible for them to buy a home,” she believes. “One way of doing this would be to establish a Land Trust. We’ve had productive conversations with Michael Lewis, an expert in the field. The trust concept has been proven to be a viable approach in a number of places. We need people to live in the homes that are now empty. We need them to participate in the community. I believe they will come if there are attractive options. We’ll have to be creative to make this happen.”
Recently Kim has ventured into the realm of politics, supporting her friend Angelique who is the NDP candidate for the local riding. She is a member of the Election Planning Committee and a volunteer coordinator for the riding’s southern section.
I said earlier that a number of things have changed for Kim. She now has a Driver’s Licence and owns a shiny, nearly new 4×4 pickup. She has also bought a home and for a time had chickens in her back yard. Probably most exciting, she met Andy English when they were both members of the Hedley Fire Department. They are now happily married.
There is a further very positive development. When Jordan visited Kim and Andy recently, I spoke with him briefly. His growth in confidence and maturity is impressive, even delightful.
Kim’s commitment to fostering change in her family and her community is producing positive results. She has no plans to return to Mt. Kilimanjaro any time soon.