Jean Lee

Top 40 Over 40 Presented by BDO: Jean Lee

Kelowna Chamber of Commerce hosts Top 40 Over 40 program

The Kelowna Chamber of Commerce is once again launching its ‘Top 40 Over 40 presented by BDO’ to celebrate individuals in the community over the age of 40.

These are people who showcase as mentors, champions and role models and who encourage and foster the future leaders of the community.

The Kelowna Chamber is highlighting new honourees between February and July 2021. Each year the program alternates between Over 40 and Under 40 Honourees. This is the sixth year of the program as 2021 marks an “Over 40” year.

Jean Lee is the 40th Honouree in the 2021 Top 40 Over Forty Program presented by BDO LLP for this year’s program. In April of this year, Project Literacy Central Okanagan recognized Jean as their longest-serving volunteer with a reception at the Bertram Street facility. One of the teaching rooms has been named for Jean, who volunteered with chamber member Project Literacy for 27 years until the pandemic drove her home. She helped children and new Canadians with their reading skills, a central need as the Okanagan welcomes more and more new immigrants for all that time.

Dan Rogers, Executive Director of the Chamber, expressed his thanks for Jean and all that she has done to welcome and incorporate these new residents into our area. “As a council member of the Central Okanagan Local Immigration Partnership,” said Rogers, “I see firsthand the importance of opening our local society to newcomers. Getting started with literacy, both linguistic and financial, in which Project Literacy is a central player, is key to our newest residents starting out right. The central tenet of our ‘Top 40 over 40’ Program is the recognition of mentors; Jean embodies mentorship in every way.”

Jean taught in Michigan and California before starting with Project Literacy in 1992 in Kelowna. She says her goal in life is “to teach her children how to grow old.” At the age of 94, she continues doing this. Her grandson Nathan is a teacher in Kelowna in SD23. When asked why she chose Project Literacy to work with as a volunteer, Jean said “The learners at Project Literacy are motivated and genuinely want to improve their lives. And, many are immigrants who want to become Canadian citizens.”

Jean wanted to change the world, by helping one person at a time. She enjoyed the fun, caring atmosphere at Project Literacy, where there is always strong support from wonderful staff. She calls literacy a path for opportunity.

Project Literacy in Kelowna celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. Jean says that volunteering at Project Literacy “was a great opportunity to keep using my teaching skills.”

Over the years, Lee’s clients included air traffic controllers, a priest, and a boat manufacturing executive who was fired after it was discovered he could not read. At the height of her volunteering with Project Literacy, she would help as many as seven clients a day to improve their reading, writing, math, and computer skills.

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early in 2020, Project Literacy closed for a few months but reopened with mainly online services. In-person tutoring has resumed under public health protocols. The group has about 150 volunteers helping about 400 clients annually. Paul Zuurbier is the Executive Director.

The Top 40 Program is fortunate to be able to honour such an outstanding mentor in our community.

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