Yulena Wan fuses profession and passion

This article was originally published in Illuminessence, January 13, 2014.

Volunteering and giving back have always been a way of life for Yulena Wan.

Even when she was young Wan was heavily involved in frontline volunteering.

While in high school she organized a food drive, ran a breakfast program and coordinated a mentorship program.

“This is the community that raises you, so it is important to give back. Not just take, take, take, but also to give back…You see things where there is a need and you have the ability to fill that,” said Wan, who is born and raised in Ancaster. Her commitment earned her the Ancaster Youth Award.

Dedication to the community continued beyond school for the 28-year-old who is the oldest of four siblings.

She graduated from Brock University with an accounting degree and got her Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) designation in 2010.

Wan then landed a full-time job at Durward Jones Barkwell & Company LLP, where she currently works as a manager in the litigation department.

Not long after she began work, Wan realized that she could utilize her financial expertise outside of her day job to benefit nonprofits.

With this desire to fuse her expertise with her passion for the community, Wan applied and was accepted as a Treasurer for Volunteer Hamilton’s Board of Directors. It was the first organization that Wan volunteered with as a working professional.

Her role at the governance level has taught her the intricacies of how a fast-paced nonprofit functions, and how important it is to set the strategic direction and vision for an organization to answer the needs of the community. More importantly, it strikes her that volunteering shouldn’t stop after school.

“Volunteering is a productive use of your time. The amount of well-being that you can give to the community and you can get yourself, is huge,” said Wan, who believes each of us has an obligation to give back.

SEEING IS BELIEVING TO EMPOWER GIRLS

On the one hand, volunteering is an extension of Wan’s professional life. On the other hand, she believes that her involvement in the community can send a powerful message to girls.

Wan sits on the Board of Directors of YWCA Hamilton and co-chairs the Women of Distinction Awards committee.

The awards honour women and girls for their leadership, dedication and hard work in the community.

Now in its 38th year, the awards recognize achievements in a wide range of areas from culture to public affairs. There are two categories for specifically for young women (21 and under and 22 to 30).

As the most senior woman in her office, Wan knows that having mentors and role models can enrich a woman’s life.

“If you show them that they can be these things, then they can believe it,” she stressed, adding that women tend to downplay their efforts and underestimate their achievements.

BUILDING HEALTHY COMMUNITIES, ONE COOKING CLASS AT A TIME

Wan is passionate about food and translates her interest into a volunteering opportunity. She serves as a Community Food Advisor (CFA) for the city’s Public Health Agency and does presentations and cooking demonstrations on food handling, preparation and selection.

A province-wide initiative, the Hamilton chapter has about 40 people, a diverse group that speaks more than 20 languages.

CFAs go through a comprehensive 10-week training to learn about nutrition, presentation skills, gain a Food Handling certificate and also learn how to tailor presentations and cooking classes to different audiences. They present to corporations, schools and community groups upon request.

While the presentations are typically 30 minutes to an hour, Wan admits that a lot more hours go into planning them.

For example, to get kids to understand nutrition and make healthy meals, Wan involves them in the food preparation process.

“They start to care about their food, become interested and start to make better food choices. To me, that is very satisfying. Being able to go out there to change people insights and habits on food,” she says.

She has a message for other young professionals: there are benefits to volunteering for nonprofits.

“There are way too many causes out there to NOT be able to find something that calls to you. We [young professionals] have talent and skills to give back,” said Wan, who was one of the winners of the 2012 CLiC Timeraiser challenge, where she bid 100 volunteer hours and completed them within 12 months in exchange for artwork by a local artist.

“It is in you to give,” she said, citing the motto of the Canadian Blood Services.