When Linda Chell was a five-year-old girl growing up in what is now Revelstoke’s industrial park, a neighbour offered her $1 for ever mile she walked in a charity walkathon.
The man, Fred Nobbs, probably figured she’d walked one or two miles at most. Chell ended up walking the entire 30 miles.
“He paid me the $30. I always remember his face. ‘I can’t believe a little one like you could walk 30 miles,’” Chell told me. “That was my first community involvement.”
Chell, now 51, was named the Revelstoke Rotary Club’s Citizen of the Year last week for her decades of service to the community, particularly when it comes to early childhood education.
“I’m truly honoured, a little overwhelmed,” said Chell after receiving the honour. “I’m proud for the things I’ve been involved with. I’m proud to have been contributing to the community. I’m proud to continue to contribute for years to come. I’m humbled to be associated with the names on the trophy.”
The Rotary Club took over naming the Citizen of the Year after the Lions Club folded a few months ago.
“She is a wonderful candidate because she does a lot outside her usual work and she is a real advocate of children and family in the community,” said Rotary member Vivian Mitchell.
As a teenager, Chell was involved with the Selkirk Saddle Club and she was chair of her grad committee. After high school, she moved to Calgary for a bit but returned home to Revelstoke, saying she didn’t like the cold weather there.
She took a job with Parks Canada, obtained a degree in early childhood learning through distance education and received an education assistant certificate through Okanagan College. That started her on the path that has led to where she is today.
“I always enjoyed working with children,” she said. “I started out working at the City of Revelstoke pre-school and Jumping Jacks pre-school and working with children with special needs.”
Now, Chell holds two jobs with the Revelstoke Childcare Society. She spends half her time as the executive director and also manages the childcare resource and referral centre. Both are based at the new childcare centre at Begbie View Elementary.
Over the years she has watched Revelstoke’s child care community grow to encompass a number of providers of varying sizes. The child care society has grown from 16 spaces when it started to 101 spots in day care and pre-school today. Revelstoke is regarded as a leader in early childhood development in B.C., in no small part thanks to Chell.
She said her work has been rewarding, but also a challenge to meet the community’s childcare needs over the years. She credited the staff she’s worked with and the community buy-in and use of the various programs on offer to their success.
“It’s growing the respect of the field within the community. There’s been community education around the importance of the early years and around quality care,” she said. “I think that’s a really big part of it for me, is people understanding those early years are really important.”
Chell listed off the committees she sits on that are connected to her work — social development, early childhood development, youth initiatives, Okanagan College advisory, Okanagan College early childhood advisory, Screen Smart; ready, set, learn; and the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy, where she is a director on that regional board.
She has also taken part in a number of volunteer roles unrelated to her work — youth soccer, community musicals, the Glacier Challenge softball tournament, the multi-cultural society, parent advisory councils and homecoming.
“I enjoy being active in the community. I really enjoy contribnuting to the committees,” she said. “I enjoy meeting people working on these committees and groups. You’re all there for the same reason, so you make great friends through your volunteer roles.”
For Chell, volunteerism is something her family encourages. Her husband Alan is famously involved all over the community. Her two sons are also active – one as a volunteer with search and rescue and another with the Rod and Gun Club. Her daughter is involved with hockey and figure skating, and even her grandchildren are active in the community.
She said volunteerism is innate for her and there’s no person who inspired to be the way she is. “I think it was just in me. I’ve always enjoyed being involved. I don’t think there’s anyone. I’ve always had the highest respect for community volunteers.”
Chell has no plans on slowing down and will continue to be an active volunteer for as long as she can.
“I’m always looking for new ideas,” she said. “Anyone who wants a volunteer, give me a call.”