My Story - BJ Romans
“April showers bring May flowers.”
BJ Romans recalled this old rhyme as she drove in the Niagara countryside at the end of a particularly miserable April day nearly 5 years ago. “Summer is my most favourite season, but by Spring – it’s almost here,” she recently said when asked about the name of the fund she established with the Niagara Community Foundation in 2012. The name “The Mayflowers Fund" is both about bringing flowers into other people’s lives,” and is "also a way to keep the fund essentially anonymous.”
The Mayflowers Fund has broad guidelines for disbursement: for physical and mental health; wellness programs; education; palliative care and hospice support. Children and youth are a primary – but not exclusive – focus. Disadvantaged groups are specifically identified as possible beneficiaries.
“I tried to make the guidelines broad enough to give the Niagara Community Foundation a lot of latitude in satisfying my priorities of supporting my community.” BJ says.
BJ Romans has been an integral part of the Niagara Falls community for more than 40 years. She was originally a Physical Education teacher in the DSBN. Then, after a number of years in that role, she asked herself, “Are you going to be walking the balance beam, or playing on the basketball court at age 65?” The answer was ‘no’ . . . or at least, ‘highly unlikely’.
Family Studies, which includes very diverse subject areas, -became an appealing teaching alternative as she had already incorporated many of these interests like cooking, sewing and interior design into her recreative pastimes. She decided to make the shift.
Then, shortly after, a good friend started to comment about how much guidance BJ was already providing to her students through coaching and her classroom. Perhaps another certification- this time in guidance. It was true that counselling had been a huge part of BJ’s role in the lives of her students.
She recalls a time when she was abruptly called from her classroom to respond to the needs of a student who had just made a suicide attempt. “This was the kind of experience that made my educational priorities change into a mindset that said "let’s get kids into a place where they are able to learn." I met disadvantaged kids every day, and sometimes they just needed a smile . . . but sometimes they needed much, much more to help them get ready for life and for learning ." This incident was the impetus to another career change; this time into guidance.
“So my last 10 years in Education were in Student Services (Guidance) -education mixed with a much more social responsibility component. I won’t say that I was not socially responsible to start with, but it gave me a special knowledge of some of the more disadvantaged parts of our community, and a setting in which to assist. ”
BJ refers to her life as "one of opportunity". "Yes, maybe I could just write a cheque- but not for as much as I would like" she says with a laugh. " But I can also get my hands dirty." " I am not willing to ask anyone to do anything that I am not willing to do myself." " Fulfillment and satisfaction come from doing."
"After retirement" from DSBN , BJ accepted one last educational opportunity at a small Canadian School - Neuchatel, in Switzerland. This school, focused on experiential learning, gives students many opportunities for voluntary service. This allowed her to lead groups of students to 2 Habitat for Humanity builds in a remote part of Hungary, and to participate in building a school in the Maasai Mara area of Kenya.
Through her commitment to Rotary International, she has done a medical service trip to Guatemala, and participated in the National Polio Immunization Day, along with building a water containment dam to enhance food production in India.
"The gratitude of those for whom we worked was just so totally incredible". In Hungary we witnessed the pride of homeownership as we were invited into finished homes. In India too, we were welcomed into 'homes' where the women offered us hot Buffalo milk - a true luxury, and had gathered their children to sing for us. -the most heartwarming expressions of gratitude.
BJ – who has accomplished so much – says, “Believe it or not, I was the ‘black sheep’ of my family.” Her brother was an accomplished medical doctor; her sister has a PhD in molecular biology. “I liked school well enough, but just not a lot between the hours of 9:00am and 3:00pm.” It was what happened before and after these hours that I enjoyed the most."
A life-changing moment came when her high school Physical Education teacher urged the teenage BJ to apply for the Ontario Athletic Leadership Camp. BJ was reluctant; her teacher was persistent. BJ’s application was ultimately successful. “For the first time in my life I felt I could succeed at something." From there BJ went on to university where she graduated second in her Phys. Ed. class, and then on to many remarkable accomplishments.
“My life has been learning that ‘I can’. From those earliest struggles in school, I have worked to achieve, gained some self confidence, and can now strive to assist others.
And this pragmatic attitude continues. In response to the question ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ BJ answers: “I don’t need to be remembered. I need to do what I can while I’m here, but when I’m gone, I’m gone. Anything I have done stays behind."
Words to live by, according to BJ: “Live. Love. Laugh. Learn. And leave a legacy!”
Story as told to Judith Barker in 2016.