It’s hard to know if Abbotsford’s Jory Smallenberg early successes is from learning about leadership at a young age, or if she is one of those people just born a leader.
Either way, she’s a must-see as a public speaker, and she’ll be hitting the stage this October.
The world-travelled, 27-year-old masters student is one of several special guests for the 2022 Character Abbotsford Conference, being held Oct. 21. More than 100 students will attend alongside community leaders and volunteers.
And as she’s gearing up to speak, she is also looking fondly on her own high school years and how her choices and influences back then brought her to where she is today.
“My focus will be the youth,” she said in an interview with the News. “I can remember so clearly being in their shoes. Youth is such a brief moment in life, and yet choices made during this time are key for the foundation of what is to come.”
She has been involved with Character Abbotsford for the past 10 years, after learning about them in high school. She said that back then, she didn’t really understand all the opportunities that awaited her. Since then, she’s had a successful TedX Talk, was invited to attend the G20/T20 global summits in Berlin and Tokyo, co-founded AMS Refugee Relief at UBC, and earned accolades from multinational companies and educational institutions.
She wants the future graduates of Abbotsford to know that opportunities abound for them.
“I want the students to know that no matter the challenges they are facing, there is support and opportunity,” she said. “Too often, students are given cliché advice that does not resonate. I hope that my message will help the students feel empowered.”
After her first international Character conference, she returned to high school, W.J. Mouat, inspired. There, upwards of 50 students would meet after school to discuss how they could make a positive impact in the community.
“This is where I learned how much space there is in Abbotsford schools for willing students to make a difference,” she said. “Since 2015, I have sat on the Character Abbotsford Council and am currently on the board of directors.”
Her TedX Abbotsford talk was in 2017, and it reflected on her travels and time spent as a volunteer with refugees in both the Canadian and international contexts.
She is hoping that the upcoming conference will be as eye-opening for today’s students as it was for her. And she hopes to be a part of that.
“If 10 years from now, even a few students can say that the words I shared made a positive difference to their trajectory, or emboldened them to step out towards their dreams, that is the goal,” she said. “I also hope to show our youth that they have the power to engage in any area of society. If something frustrates you, my advice is always to get involved.”
She says Abbotsford is welcome to young people who put themselves out there with dedication. And while she has made a “big” life for herself, change and passions can be fueled right here at home.
“The point is not for each student to become an activist, speaker, or athlete like my co-panelist, Jasmit Singh Phulka,” she said. “The point is for each student to believe in themselves in what they are currently doing and to broaden their horizons of what is possible down the road.”
The conference is focused on homelessness, and finding solutions together as a community through dialogue and sparking ideas within others. For Smallenberg, she finds inspiration in how her own mom has made an impact.
“When my mom would see a person experiencing homelessness in the winter, I remember her pulling over, purchasing gloves and socks at the nearest store, and coming back to make sure that any immediate needs were met,” she said. “My mom still gives people rides in the community. This is the kind of relationship-focused care and day to day interaction I am talking about. No matter what someone’s reality is — whether experiencing homelessness or not — repeated kindness and empathy are key to our shared humanity.”
Smallenberg is just one of several speakers lined up for the 2022 Character Abbotsford Conference.
Participants will also hear from Joe Roberts about how he went from being an addict living on the streets in Vancouver to working with Fortune 500 companies, professional associations and organizations internationally.
They will gain a data-based understanding from city leaders who are working hands-on with Abbotsford’s more than 400 citizens experiencing homelessness.
The cost for the day is $25, and it takes place at Abbotsford secondary school from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
For more information visit characterabbotsford.com.
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