UPDATED: Langley teens serving as role models for needy children overseas

A trio of Langley teens are currently in the Bahamas.

It sounds like a dream vacation for Zuri Vankevich along with 14-year-old best friends Rachel Haak and Monique Bouchard.

And while some fun in the sun is definitely on their agenda, they are there to brighten the lives of refugee children.

In December, 17-year-old Vankevich signed up for an online Leadership Class with U.S.-based Landry Academy. The class is open to high school teens from around the world

Part of this class is a missions trip to the St. George’s Cay, an island in Spanish Wells in the Bahamas.

Also on the trip is Vankevich’s 16-year-old cousin Chloe Fulton from Ladner.

They are serving from Feb 19-26, helping French-speaking Haitian refugees affected by natural disaster.  

In a letter asking for sponsorship from friends and family, Vankevich wrote, “These refugee children and their families lost everything in the earthquake… and are rebuilding their lives with the help of the Living Stone ministry.”

A point guard with the Langley Fundamental Middle and Secondary School Titans senior boys basketball team, Vankevich is offering hoops pointers to the Haitian children.

“My mom was the first one to introduce me to it,” he said. “When she brought up this, where I could be helping out kids, doing what I love, I was all for it.”

Fulton is offering soccer instruction, while Haak and Bouchard are teaching dance.

The Langley girls are ballet dancers who are learning their craft at Cameron Academy of Dance in Willoughby.

“Rachel said that she feels so much love for the Haitian children,” related Haak’s mom Chrystal last Thursday, after her daughter’s arrival. “[She] and Monique are so excited to be with the Haitian children and make a difference in their lives.”

Before her departure, Haak said most her relatives helped her in her fundraising efforts, and that she was looking forward to the experience.

“It’s just a new point of view of what’s happening around the world,” she said.

Bouchard’s family, including her three younger siblings, saw their loved one off with notes and bon voyage banner before dawn arrived on Tuesday, Feb. 18.

“I wrote her a note this morning telling her how proud of her I am,” Marguerite Bouchard, Monique’s mom, told the Langley Advance late that morning. “I was a bit emotional last night, and she was extremely excited.”

Marguerite said her daughter is really good with kids and, as the oldest of four children, is used to “getting things going.”

“Monique is kind of radiant, and she does want to make a difference there in any way that she can,” Marguerite said.

The refugee children speak Haitian Creole, however the language barrier shouldn’t pose too much of a problem for Vankevich, who has been taking French classes since his Grade 3 year.

Asked if she was nervous about potential difficulty communicating with the kids, Haak said, “No, not really. We’re going in a big group so we can all help each other out.”

Zuri is the son of Judi Vankevich, a.k.a. “The Manners Lady.”

She said her son was a bit nervous, since he’s never done this kind of thing before, but “sports is a universal language with kids and it’s something he’s good at.”

“I’m just excited that he’s excited to do this,” Judi said.

Zuri is no stranger to being a role model for younger kids.

He’s a hockey instructor at George Preston Recreation Centre and ran a skateboarding camp for the Township through Recreation Excellence.

“And the kids really like him, so I think he’ll be okay,” his mom said.  

Vankevich also played and umpired with Langley Baseball and played and is a referee for the North Langley Basketball Association’s Steve Nash Youth League.

He also played played soccer with the Langley United Soccer Association (LUSA).  

Vankevich’s many connections to community sports organizations will pay dividends for the Haitian children in the Bahamas.

He delivered to the kids donations of sports gear including soccer balls from LUSA, basketballs from the NLBA, and all-star jerseys and baseball caps from Langley Baseball and North Langley Diamond Sports.

“We actually will have to borrow money to pay for the shipping,” Judi said.

Marc Reyes, head referee with Steve Nash Basketball League, head umpire for North Langley Baseball, and a youth volunteer for St. Nicholas Church, said it’s great to see Canadian youth giving back to others, domestically and overseas.

“Zuri will have a chance to invest in the lives of these kids who lost everything in the earthquake in Haiti, but I also know that these kids will have a big impact on Zuri’s life,” Reyes said.

Vankevich has received support from a number of people in Langley, including two neighbours, Ardy Sydor and Norma Spears, who live down the street from him.

“They brought two huge boxes of everything you can think of,” he said.

The trip is a goal fulfilled for Vankevich, who had planned to travel to the Dominican Republic with friends a couple of years ago, but the plans didn’t go through.

Helping out the less fortunate runs in the Vankevich family.

Zuri’s sister Lexi went on a missions trip to Peru last year and Judi said it “changed her life.”

“She came back a different person,” Judi said. “They come back different; they come back changed.”

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