Having learned to master the steps of Ukrainian dance, Rochelle Larivière, a Grade 12 student at École secondaire du Sacré-Coeur, has fed her appreciation for Eastern Europe.
Although not of Ukrainian descent herself, she was touched and influenced by members of the city's Ukrainian community.
“Ukrainian culture, which I was exposed to thanks to the people at Saint-Mary's Church, has had a deep influence on me,” Rochelle said. “I chose to study the country's history, values and relationship with Canada for some of my class projects.”
Like many others, Rochelle watched in horror as Russia invaded the Ukraine.
“When images started to appear of the suffering that had been inflicted against these innocent people and destruction cast on their beautiful land, I was deeply distraught,” she said. “My mentality quickly changed when I heard about projects that had started up across the country to help support the Ukrainians, and I started looking for ways that I too could help.
“I heard many members of my school say the same. As the days went on, there was still nothing. Finally, I could wait no longer and set out to be the first to take action.”
And she did just that. In an effort to assist the victims of the ongoing struggle in Ukraine, on every Friday for the month of April, and with the support of the school's cook Suzanne Carr, Larivière organized an in-school sale of perogies.
Through her initiative, the Griffons from École secondaire du Sacré Coeur were successful in raising $1,310, which was donated to the Canadian Red Cross’ Ukrainian Humanitarian Crisis Fund.
It should be noted, as with all donations made to the Red Cross’ mission in Ukraine, the sum collected is being matched by the Government of Canada, making for a total of $2,620. All leftover perogies from the sale were brought to the Blue Door Kitchen in Sudbury to help feed the hungry here at home.
Larivière wasn't alone. On April 29, Sacré-Coeur students and staff honoured their brothers and sisters from Ukraine by wearing blue and yellow clothing. In addition, staff members and students took a few minutes in the morning to write a message of solidarity on small Ukrainian flags, which were displayed in the shape of a heart in the school’s atrium.
“Rochelle and her fellow schoolmates were successful in supporting the victims in Ukraine,” said Suzanne Lapointe, the principal of École secondaire du Sacré-Coeur. “This effort raised awareness among students and allowed them to realize that they can make a difference at a local level while supporting the victims in a conflict that is touching the lives of many in Eastern Europe. Such actions prove that our students are truly citizens of the world.”
Larivière has always loved to seek challenges in her life, she said.
“Not only are they exciting, they also allow me to discover the extent of my abilities,” she said.
When asked what she takes most from volunteering, Rochelle didn’t hesitate.
“Volunteering can come from anything you enjoy. The largest part of my volunteer hours come from coaching youth cross-country skiing. It gave me an excuse to go exercise out in nature during the winter with the added bonus of being able to share my sport with the younger population.”
Asked who influenced her to give back by giving her time, Rochelle credits her parents.
“They've supported many of my missions in life,” she said. “Sports competitions, science fairs and volunteering are prime examples, but any interest I developed my parents were happy to contribute to. It’s not always easy for them though. Sometimes my mom would have to leave work from Espanola to come pick me up from a practice in Sudbury, making for a total trip of about two hours before getting home.
“With the Ukraine project specifically, my dad offered to cover the cost of the perogies we sold at the school so that more of the sales could go to the Red Cross. My parents have always had one condition when it came to their help: that the work had to come from me.
“Through this principle, I learned how to apply myself to my fullest in all my activities, no matter the importance and it has never been too difficult when my family and friends are there to cheer me on.”
Rochelle’s future proves busy. This summer she will be representing Canada at the London Youth
Science Forum in the United Kingdom. She is also applying to be a senate page, the training program for which starts in August, and looks forward to studying economics and political science at the University of Ottawa.
“My ultimate goal is to participate in international forums and projects like those of the IMF, OECD and the World Bank that take on various global challenges such as poverty, conflict, health and resource management among others.”
Rochelle Larivière's words of inspiration
“Do not limit your soil to one plant. While finding your main passion is important, committing to a variety of things can allow you to adapt to changes, discover new paths and add more flavour to life. Moreover, you can find ways to apply what you've gained from other experiences to give you a unique advantage in any field.”
James Stewart is a freelancer writer in North Bay. Inspire is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.