Meet Your Neighbours – Passionate About the Peninsula: Jennifer Van Es

by Jamila Douhaibi | photo by Leah Gray – 

A staple in the Sidney community, the SHOAL Centre on Resthaven Drive is a hub for the Saanich Peninsula’s seniors, but also offers services for the whole community. Jennifer Van Es joined the SHOAL team in 2015 and recently took on the role of Director of the Centre this past June. Passionate about the Peninsula and the work she is doing at SHOAL, this month’s Meet Your Neighbours highlights the Centre and Jennifer’s work with it.

The SHOAL Centre is owned by the Town of Sidney and operated by Beacon Community Services. It includes assisted living apartments, an exercise room, silversmith shop, games room, woodworking shop, crafts and pottery rooms, and a variety of meeting and auditorium-sized rooms for different events and activities. Heavily enmeshed in the community, the SHOAL Centre caters to the evolving needs of those who use it. Jennifer says that individuals often “come in for one thing and find a multitude of other supports and services that may be of benefit to help empower and improve lives.” More than just a place to be social and meet new friends, the Centre also has wellness programs, helps with navigating housing and assists with preparing and filing tax returns.

Jennifer was born in Alberta and moved to B.C. in 1996. Her background is in dentistry, but she shifted to teaching children and adults through recreation programs. After moving from Courtenay, she started working with SHOAL as an administrative assistant and says “I fell in love with the Centre, the people who use it and the community we serve.” She believes that there is great importance in looking out for, and supporting, each other. Jennifer says that Beacon Community Services finds gaps and looks to address them, and her values align with “Beacon’s vision to help people, empower communities and improve lives.”

There is a big team of volunteers that work alongside the staff to offer an inclusive space where individuals feel connected to the town and wider Saanich Peninsula community. Jennifer says that the “SHOAL Centre is focused towards seniors, but it is open to anyone and any age.” The space is also rented out and caters everything from small meetings to bigger events like weddings. The money made goes back into the Centre, enabling it to be a sustainable space that helps “to bring people together, decreasing isolation and increasing socialization.”

As the director, Jennifer’s responsibilities are nearly endless. She overlooks all of the recreation programs and activities, manages the volunteer support, oversees rentals and catering for events, and manages the SHOAL kitchen, which is open 365 days a year. Jennifer is also in charge of the “Better at Home” outreach program for Saanich Peninsula seniors, and the “More than Meals” program, both of which are funded by the United Way.

When she’s not busy at the Centre, Jennifer says her other passion is her family – with four children, eating, camping, fishing and playing games together are the highlights of her days. To Jennifer, her family and her community are her top priorities. Before becoming Director at SHOAL, Jennifer was the Activities and Rental Coordinator. She received an award from Rotary while in this role because of her dedication to ensuring that the Centre was available to the community following the pandemic. She says “I opened the Centre weekly – at 6 a.m.! And adapted their catering in alignment with COVID protocols so they could have their important meetings.” Jennifer ensured that the Rotary could resume their weekly meetings because of the value of community connections. She says that Rotary’s mission aligns with Beacon Community Services, as Rotary creates change not only locally but also globally, focusing on “well-being and volunteerism,” which are also foundations of the organization.

The SHOAL Centre, and the great volunteers and staff – like Jennifer Van Es – keep the Centre running and are a vital part of our community. “We have a fabulous team at the SHOAL Centre,” says Jennifer, “and it is a privilege to work in this capacity.”

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