Xianzhi (Paul) Chen, in the Lakers T-shirt, not only led programming at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, but participated in it. (photo from JCC)
Xianzhi (Paul) Chen came to Canada from China in 2011 with his family. He loves outdoor sports, especially basketball, and has always been community-oriented, including providing care for Chinese seniors at a nursing home. But how did he find his way to the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver?
Paul is pursuing a recreation and leadership diploma at Langara College. Last year, he approached six organizations for an internship, to apply the training and skills of this program to a real-world environment, but was turned away by all the organizations he approached. When he initially interviewed for a position at the JCC with Lisa Cohen Quay, Adult 55+ program coordinator, she also said no. However, the issue was not whether he could do the work required, but rather that the requirements and expectations of the Langara internship were too much for her department to oversee.
Paul is blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other. He requires accommodations. But accommodations were not the issue either. Lisa’s mom lives with extremely low vision. She knew that, with slight adjustments to the work environment and access to a CCTV machine and specialized software like ZoomText, Paul would be able to meet and even exceed expectations. His disability, as so often is the case, was not the barrier.
Fortunately for the JCC, Paul would not take no for an answer. Without an internship, he would have had to delay the completion of his education. So, he wrote Lisa after that first meeting and asked her for a chance to show his skills. Paul – bright, friendly and tenacious – left a powerful impression. Lisa could not stop thinking about his abilities and the challenges he had faced. Determined to provide him with a meaningful and useful internship, she reached out to me, the coordinator of the JCC’s inclusion department, to see if we could create one between our two departments.
We did just that, agreeing to co-supervise Paul’s internship. We decided to provide him with program planning experience and program support experience, while also allowing him to actively participate in some of the JCC’s inclusion programming. Lisa then reached out to the Langara internship coordinator to negotiate a modified internship for Paul. The school agreed to Paul interning between the two departments at a reduced load over a longer, five-month period.
Paul was very nervous at first. He did not know how to set up for events like mah jongg, poker or bridge, how to manage a budget or how to plan programs. But, he took instruction well, was eager to learn and did his best. He demonstrated care in all his interactions with community members and poured his heart into every project in which he participated.
“I oversaw Dumpling Night at the Community Kitchen to share the Chinese New Year with community members,” said Paul by way of an example of how he incorporated his previous experience into his internship at the JCC, and learned more about leading programming.
“I oversaw all aspects of a balcony beautification project, including [doing] the budget by myself,” he added. “I learned how to use my hands to make art during the Art Hive program.”
Paul tried many new activities during his internship and, as a result, made a lot of friends. He learned quickly that friendships are forged through recreation.
Paul said the highlights of his internship were “making three excellent art pieces,” the beautification project and the “terrific relationships with people that I met in this community.”
“Paul has demonstrated a passion for community development through his internship at the JCC, with a focus on diversity and inclusion,” said Erin Wilkins, department chair, recreation studies, at Langara College. “He has also demonstrated how to provide engaging recreation experiences that support diverse community members and build resilience through empowerment.”
She said the department is “so proud of Paul’s accomplishments at the JCC, and thankful for the support he received throughout his internship, which is the final semester of the recreation leadership diploma.”
The JCC is proud to have been part of Paul’s training and professional development. We are happy to have provided him with a meaningful and diverse introduction to recreational programming, to community building and to leadership development. We are equally grateful for what he has given back to our community and us as professionals, and hope that he will continue to participate in our community and lead programming in the future.
Access to opportunity, we are reminded, requires adjustments and flexibility and is always worth the effort.
Leamore Cohen is inclusion services coordinator at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver.