Google “Louisa Sanchez, Prince Rupert” and you’ll find the photos of a bespectacled woman with sparkling eyes, sporting a wide smile. Several stories have already been written about her by local papers and this isn’t the first time she’s been interviewed. In short, Louisa Sanchez is a dynamo. She is high energy. She’s been involved with the Prince Rupert community response network (CRN) for over 10 years and with the Prince Rupert community itself since 1973, first as a teacher and now a school trustee, a role she’s held for 12 years. She’s a believer in giving back to the community. If you need help, she’s there. No task or problem is too big or too small for her.
We are very pleased to be profiling Louisa Sanchez, CRN co-coordinator as our volunteer of the month. Thank you, Louisa, for your service and contributions!
From Belize to Prince Rupert via North Vancouver
Originally from the northeastern coastal Central American country of Belize, Louisa received a teaching degree from the University of the British West Indies and started her career as a school teacher. In 1968, she and her husband immigrated to Canada. A few years later, she earned a teaching degree from Simon Fraser University and began to substitute teach K-2 in North Vancouver before going back to university to earn a master’s degree in special education. “There was a high need for special education teachers,” she says. “Once I got my masters, I came back as a resource room teacher. I spent many years teaching children how to read and write.”
A permanent teaching position opened up in the port city of Prince Rupert on BC’s northwestern coast. Louisa applied and got the job. “That was in 1973,” Louisa says. “And I’ve been here ever since.”
Louisa and her husband have two grown sons, one who lives in Calgary, and the other in White Rock, BC.
An Extensive Community Service Resume
Louisa retired from teaching after 30+ years, and promptly became a school trustee for the Prince Rupert school district. After 12 years, she continues being an active school trustee. This year, Louisa is the BC School Trustee Association’s Provincial Council Alternate, school liaison for two elementary schools – one located in Prince Rupert and another in remote Hartley Bay, one of two school board representatives for enhanced student learning, and a member of several committees.
Still a teacher at heart, Louisa is also involved in the community’s adult literacy program, teaching adults reading, writing, and math. “The invitation for adults to come in for help is always there. They can drop in whenever they need it,” Louisa says. “We also help with things like writing resumes and computer literacy.”
On top of this work, Louisa is currently also involved with:
- The North Coast Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society for the last 20 years. She has served several terms as the society’s President. She is also a trained facilitator who has held workshops on topics such as diabetes, elder and senior abuse, financial literacy, frauds and scams, personal planning, mental health, and staying fit at home.
- The Eating and Living Well with Dementia Steering Committee as a member developing a program to benefit seniors living with dementia and their caregivers.
- The Affiliation of Multicultural Societies and Service Agencies (AMSSA) as a member of their board of directors.
- The Kaien Anti-Poverty Society where she sits on the Board. The Society offers support programs as a way to empower and advocate for people experiencing poverty with the intent to eliminate it.
Every week, Louisa also calls seniors, especially those who live in care homes, to ensure they have a chance to socialize over the phone and to see if she can provide them with anything they may need at the time.
“Because of COVID, we can’t visit anyone right now, especially other seniors” she explains. “It’s difficult but we try to find ways to connect. We are even working with local grocery stores to find ways to bring good food to them since they can’t leave the care home.”
An Advocate for Social Justice
In addition to teaching, Louisa is passionate about social justice, especially when it involves seniors, Indigenous communities, and new immigrants.
“There are many instances of physical abuse and financial abuse in the community,” she says. “People call me because they know that I can direct them to someone who can help them. We often go to victim services, transition homes, or the police together. I’ve learned that many people just don’t know what to do.”
To help, Louisa has been invited to conduct BC CRN It’s Not Right! abuse and neglect awareness workshops. “Our seniors and elders appreciated it,” she continues. “It helps them understand the signs of abuse, hopefully, before anything bad happens.”
Louisa was also a member of Prince Rupert’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee where the team raised awareness of the impacts of residential schools on education and health in the community.
Recently, she helped organize an anti-racism gathering for the benefit of the community.
“Our CRN partnered with the school district and First Nations education services for this event,” Louisa explains. “We had a few racist incidents recently – mostly name-calling – and decided to hold a two-day event with speakers and workshops to learn more on what we could do to eliminate racism in the community. We had adults and students participating, which made my heart sing. It was wonderful.”
Collaborating with Neighbouring CRNs to Bring Magical Backyard Medicines to Prince Rupert
Louisa’s next big project is bringing Magical Backyard Medicines, a CRN program out of Houston, Smithers, and Hazelton that helps Indigenous communities reconnect with ancestral land-based healing practices, to Hartley Bay, a First Nations community 145 km south of Prince Rupert that is accessible only by air and water.
“We’re still just figuring things out, but right now, we do have a teacher interested in helping us” she states. “The idea is to have students harvest the plants and then learn how to make the medicines. If we are invited to participate, we may be able to start sometime in the summer. We’ll see.”
Why Louisa is Our Volunteer of the Month
“Louisa has years, decades in fact, invested in the Prince Rupert community and has worked in many capacities,” says Belinda Lacombe, Regional Mentor – North Western BC. “She has the pulse of the community and knows what will land really well with the people who live there. Seniors can count on her. Youth connect with her. First Nations and Indigenous communities trust her. She really knows what to say to keep people engaged…and she is truthful and direct. She doesn’t have time for nonsense and has no problems calling it out either!”
When we asked Louisa why she continues to do all she does, without skipping a beat she says: “I enjoy doing the work and serving my community.”
(Header photo: The Northern View, 2016)