When Theresa Kingston signed up for her first trip to China in 2008, she never thought she’d be back more than a dozen times in six years.
Her trips to China began with working on a migrant labour rights project with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. There she discovered a quality she didn’t know she had.
“It wasn’t a gift I knew that I had, understanding culture and being respectful of culture.”
At the end of that trip, Kingston was asked to stay in Beijing for a week to meet David Mulroney, the Canadian ambassador to China at the time.
Instead of traveling, Kingston decided to use her time to help.
“I got five different offers,” Kingston said.
One of those was IDEAS, a youth rights organization, that she’s been volunteering with ever since.
While her first trip to China was initiated through the FCM, Kingston has become so passionate about her volunteer work that she’s spent much of her free time since travelling back there.
The lesson’s she learned have been invaluable, she says.
“We’re all the same. At the person level, we’re all the same. We may eat different food, we may live in different homes, we may speak different languages but parents all want the same thing for their kids and kids all want the same thing.”
She took another trip to China in 2011 and has gone many times since on her own time and her own dime.
She spent July 2014 at a youth leadership camp in Beijing helping craft a public participation guide being used in multiple Chinese municipalities; she based it on her beliefs about the importance of empowering and respecting youth.
“My fundamental belief and our job on this earth is around respect. Respecting every human being who we come into contact with, even those who might not respect us. It’s really appreciation of the way we can serve.”
While the common saying is that respect must be earned, Kingston doesn’t see it that way.
“I call bullshit. Who am I as a leader to say you have to prove yourself good enough for me to respect you? It’s given unconditionally.”
While as Port Alberni’s director of corporate services and deputy city manager Kingston is constantly speaking to crowds and leading workshops, she’s an introvert—something that helps guide her approach to leadership.
“It really leads into my philosophy around leadership, that my job is to serve people.”
A traditional view of organizations and leadership places the heads of an organization at the top of the pyramid and at the front of the organization.
“I really subscribe to the opposite, that actually their job all the way through this is to support and serve others,” said Kingston.
“So my role as a leader isn’t to be at the front, my role as a leader is to support everyone else to be out in front.”
“The most important people in this community are the citizens.”
Another idea that Kingston doesn’t put much stock into is that “youth are the leaders of tomorrow.”
“Absolutely not, they’re leaders now and they’re making a difference.”
There’s no “magic age” that a person needs to reach before their opinions are valid, Kingston said.
It’s a problem that’s present all over the world, from China to Canada to our own community.
“Most governments are paternalistic to youth.”
It’s an approach that she’s hoping to change not only abroad but here in Port Alberni.
“The city has got a memorandum of understanding with IDEAS to a program called A-Action.”
A-Action will be a youth volunteering initiative through Parks & Recreation that Kingston hopes to get off the ground in the next few months.
Following her philosophy of making a difference one person at a time, she hopes to empower youth here to make a change in their own community.
“Adults and youth need to work in partnership and the adults’ role is to facilitate and get the heck out of the way.”
Anyone interested in the upcoming program is invited to call Kingston at 250-720-2506 or Nathan Kwan from Parks & Recreation at 250-723-2181.