Volunteer rewards

From a farm to Miss Teen NL to Enactus volunteer, Emily Bland gives back

FaceForward: The People and Stories of Memorial

July 2, 2015


Emily Bland won the HSBC Woman Leader
of Tomorrow award at Enactus regionals.
(Photo credit: Zahra Zaman)

A commerce student at Memorial University is helping better the people and communities around her through volunteer work.

Emily Bland, age 20 and a third-year bachelor of commerce (co-operative) student at the Faculty of Business Administration, has been an active community volunteer for many years but now does so primarily through Enactus Memorial. Enactus is an international non-profit, post-secondary student organization that uses business processes and models to develop outreach projects that improve the quality of life and standard of living of people in need.

Now in her third year with the group and beginning her first term as its president, Ms. Bland is quickly leaving her mark. She’s the founder of an environmentally-friendly project focused on farms called AGreenCulture; has been a participant lead on the Prince’s Operation Entrepreneur; has travelled to Haiti for Project Stitch; and has been on the national presentation team for the past two years.

This past spring, Ms. Bland was recognized for her efforts when she won the HSBC Woman Leader of Tomorrow competition at Enactus regionals.

“I caught what everyone refers to as the ‘Enactus bug,’” she says. “Once you find that one thing that really hooks you in … you’re hooked because you find something that you relate to, you feel good about what you’re doing and you know that at the end of the day, the work that you’re doing is making a difference.”

“For me, it was Jackie and the Bright Futures program.”

Becoming bully proof

“Jackie” refers to Jackie Squires, a participant in an Enactus-run program that helps people with disabilities find meaningful work. Ms. Squires wrote a book called The Life of Little Hoot, which is partly based on her experience growing up with autism and being picked on for being different. Ms. Bland, who grew up on a chicken farm outside of Grand Falls-Windsor, had also been a victim of bullying in high school so the duo joined forces to share their experiences in an anti-bullying campaign called Bully Proof.

“When I got to high school, I kind of got a bit of a hard time because I didn’t want to conform and I didn’t want to fit in with everyone else. Getting involved with pageantry as well put more of a big target on my back.”

Ms. Bland entered her first pageant in Grade 10 with a friend as a joke. Primarily focused on sports and academics until then, she had never thought beyond the stereotypes of pageantry to consider what impact it could have on her life.

“As soon as I stepped on the stage, it was one of those moments that just sticks with you for a while,” she says. “For those few moments that you’re on stage, you just feel special. You feel like everyone’s there to support you. For me, it was just such an uplifting experience.”

Ms. Bland won several pageants, culminating in the Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador competition in 2012. Although pageants were for her a positive experience – one that helped her gain confidence and public speaking experience and helped her to raise money for her favourite charity, the Children’s Wish Foundation – it often made her the brunt of cruel jokes during high school.

“People started to judge you as just being that crown or that pretty face,” she says. “People started to say that I didn’t fit the profile of it, that I was just a wannabe girl, that I would never amount to anything and that I was just hiding behind a few sparkles.”

Ms. Bland and Ms. Squires embarked on a tour of the province’s schools to share their experiences with students from kindergarten to Grade 12. The Bully Proof campaign gained media attention and soon their presentation was videotaped and made available as a tool for teachers by the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation at the provincial Dept. of Education.

Ms. Bland hasn’t let the bullying that arose as a result of pageantry stand in her way, however.

She personally fundraised over $14,000 for the Children’s Wish Foundation during her time as Miss Teen Newfoundland and Labrador and she led a partnership between the two organizations that resulted in an additional $58,000 over two years.

Believing in the importance of mentorship and being a role model for youth in her community, she created the Little Miss Grand Falls-Windsor pageant, which has helped 42 young girls gain personal growth and public speaking experience over the past four years.

Ms. Bland also recognized the importance of competition experience for empowering and inspiring Enactus volunteers and reached out to her personal network to fundraise over $14,000 for Enactus Memorial, allowing more students to attend competitions and new projects to be developed.

A family foundation

Ms. Bland says that it’s a combination of growing up on a farm and the support of her family that inspires her to work so hard.

“The thing that has driven me to do as much as I do has been my grandfather. He came over here from England with $32 in his pocket and he turned that into three businesses,” she says. “The amount of work and drive that you would have to have in order to do something like that is incredible. Growing up, I always wanted to make him proud. I wanted to follow in his footsteps and I wanted to do something incredible.”

Ms. Bland is already doing just that. As the founder and manager of AGreenCulture, she was involved in the creation of the province’s first carbon offset program, Enactus Footprint, which is helping to ensure the sustainability of the provincial agriculture industry. With strong roots in farming, she also continues to advocate for growing and buying local food.

She can’t do all this alone, however, and she says her family’s support is essential in the work that she does.

“They’re the rock under you. It’s a great feeling to know if I try and do something big [and] I mess something up, they’re still going to be the people at the end of the day who love me and care for me, regardless of the accomplishments.”

Farm life allowed her to experience the daily minutia of running the business, such as cleaning cages and packing eggs, as well as witness managerial aspects like accounting and marketing. This first-hand look at the hard work and rewards involved entrepreneurial life led her to the commerce program, and she hopes to run a business of her own someday.

She is confident that her time at Memorial is preparing her to do just that.

“Your business degree kind of gives you the knowledge and the information that you need [but it also lets you] figure out how you can go above and beyond that,” she says. “Whether it’s getting involved in Enactus or getting involved in different projects that teachers are running, your business degree is going to be what you make of it. If you want to do incredible things, all the doors are open for you. You just have to pick which one you want to go through.”

Susan White