News & Stories

JA Volunteer Spotlight: Annie Zhang & Jane Van den Dries

Our fourth 2022 volunteer spotlight features Annie Zhang and Jane Van den Dries, two awesome volunteers in our JA Ottawa program! Read on to learn more about why Annie and Jane are a part of the ONFE volunteer community. But first, here’s what our JA Company Coordinator, Robyn Lester, had to say about Annie’s and her mentoring partner Jane’s volunteer work:

Quote about Annie and Jane:

“It’s my privilege to celebrate the volunteer contributions of Annie Zhang & Jane van den Dries. As lead mentors for Stick To It— a JA Company of 8 students—Jane & Annie went above and beyond, often dedicating weekend time for planning sessions and impromptu meetings with students. They managed to strike a wonderful balance between supporting their group while also empowering them to take charge and make their own decisions. Though the company faced quite a few hurdles during its 15-week journey, Jane & Annie were always there to guide, support & encourage. I greatly appreciate all they contributed to the students and the program!”

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Annie: I’m headed into my final year of computer science at uWaterloo! I’m originally from Ottawa, where I’m currently living with my 2 cats and family while completing my co-op term remotely. In my free time, I love drawing, making music, and spending time with friends! 

Jane: I work in communications at Carleton University. I have a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Brock University and I’m currently working on a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies part-time at Carleton. And I have a dog named Beatrice whose antics make me laugh every day!   

2. What made you decide to volunteer with the JA Company program?

Annie: JA was a great experience that has shaped who I am today, so naturally I had to jump on the opportunity to get involved as a volunteer! 

Jane: The JA Company Program has been near and dear to my heart for many years. I first joined JA as a shy high school student. The program brought me out of my “shell” and gave me the confidence to take on leadership positions (VP Finance and President) while teaching me so much about business, leadership, and teamwork. I went from hoping that no one would notice me to leading teams of students and winning several JA awards over three years, including VP Finance of the Year. I was honoured to represent our JA chapter at CANJAC (now called the JA Canada Success Summit) where I met JA students from all over the world! I am grateful for the JA mentors who shared valuable lessons that have remained with me for years. This year, I was happy to volunteer my time back as a JA Company Program Mentor because I wanted to give back to the program that had such a meaningful impact on me as a student.   

3. Who was your favourite teacher and why?

Annie: My piano teacher – she taught me what it truly means to be a good mentor.   

Jane: I’ve had the privilege of learning from many amazing educators through many years of school. Choosing a favourite is almost impossible. But my grade 2 teacher Mrs. Douglas is one of my earliest memories of a teacher who I greatly respected. Her classroom was an especially welcoming, safe space to read, write, and learn—and that’s really what education is all about, isn’t it?   

4. What is your personal philosophy on life?  

Annie: I like to live by the saying “if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.” 

Jane: I often think about something Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is so true. Empathy and kindness matter. Also, laughter is important. And a good cup of coffee certainly doesn’t hurt either.   

5. If you could go back to a particular grade level or childhood age, which would it be and why?

Annie: Probably high school… I’d tell myself to worry less about the future and focus more on appreciating the people and the opportunities around me.  

Jane: I would go back to being a third-year undergraduate student and re-live my exchange semester in Sweden. I loved it! That being said, my goal these days is to enjoy my current age.   

6. What is your favorite hidden gem in Ottawa?

Annie: Jadeland on Somerset has some great authentic Chinese dishes!  

Jane: The Arboretum is one of my “happy places” in Ottawa. It’s not very hidden, but it’s certainly a gem that we are fortunate to have in this city.   

7. Tell us about a lesson you learned this year. What did it teach you about yourself?

Annie: To quote Walter Hagen: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry. Don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.” This year has taught me that it’s okay to take things slower and to appreciate the little things in life. 

Jane: As a mentor, we have to be invested in our students’ work and we have to balance this with stepping back enough so that we don’t interfere with our students’ need to learn by doing. Finding a good balance of providing advice without interference has taught me how to improve my mentoring and coaching skills.   

If you are interested in volunteering with ONFE’s JA Ottawa program, please visit our program page.

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