Verena Brysch finds herself in an entirely different sector of real estate development.
The recent Hope Secondary School graduate is wrapping up a gap year with the Canadian Conservation Corps. While her adventures have taken her back home to Hope to build insect hotels for important pollinators, the experiences certainly didn’t start there – nor were they intended to at the beginning of her gap year.
The original plan for Brysch’s year off school was to travel to India to help at an orphanage her aunt runs. COVID halted these plans, prompting her to look more locally.
“I was like, oh, this sound interesting, I like being outside, and I applied and I got it,” she recalled.
Brysch’s interest in the outdoors has always been part of her life; her family emigrated to Canada from Germany in part because of the outdoor opportunities Canada had to offer.
“Growing up, I spent a lot of my time outside, going hiking or skiing or kayaking,” she said. “I think in that way I learned to appreciate the outdoors so much. Seeing as in many ways it’s declining and not doing so well, it makes me feel like I want to help because I know how valuable it can be.”
Last September, the program started with a month of training on Vancouver Island, where Brysch took a two-week kayaking journey with a group of seven other young adults throughout the north coast of the island and in the Broughton Archipelago through the Outward Bound Canada program. On this expedition, Brysch trained to get certified in wilderness first aid.
Brysch got her first experience eating fresh sea urchin, learned about tides and how to read charts as she made friends along the way.
All of the kayakers were placed in different spots on their own for 24 hours. Brysch recalled doing calisthenics just to stay warm; even though it seemed like the sun would give her some warmth, she had no such luck.
“When I was watching the sun, I was thinking there’s a lot of things in life that you only really value when you don’t have them,” Brysch said, reflecting on her time in solitude. “When you’re out there for several days and you can only bring what you really need, you realize how little you actually need to get by and how many things we have in our world that are just extra or to fill time.”
During another segment of her trip, she remembered when they were chased by a group of sea lions, seeing a few of them jump into the water as the kayaks drifted by.
“A bunch of sea lions, like 20 or 30 something, came up out of the water and started making these arfing sounds,” Brysch said. “They were really big. The guide was like ‘Okay, guys, we should clear the area.’ I didn’t think it was so scary (at the time) but then afterwards we all regrouped and everyone was like ‘that was so scary, I thought bad things were going to happen.’ After that, we always stayed very far away from all the sea lions.”
Folowing her training with Outward Bound Canada, Brysch volunteered full time for three months with The Raptors, a non-profit organization advocating for birds of prey based in Duncan. There, she got to take care of the birds by feeding them, flying them and cleaning the enclosures. Normally, there’s a sustainable food and pollinator garden on site that volunteers care for, but while Brysch was there, she helped take care of trees and cover plants in hay.
“It was really cool working there and the birds are really interesting. I definitely learned a lot,” Brysch said.
Brysch is wrapping up work on four large insect hotels to be placed throughout Hope. with the help of local high school students, there will be educational signage at the hotels explaining how they work. On April 10, Brysch will be giving away insect hotels and explaining how to install and maintain them at the Hope Community Garden between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“The insect hotels are mostly targeting mason bees or leaf-cutter bees, which are solitary bees that live in the area,” she said. “They’re really good pollinators. We can easily help them by providing them habitat in this way.”
After completing the program, Brysch plans to spend some time on the island, working for the summer before returning to school at the University of Guelph in September to study biochemistry.
“Growing up, I really wanted to be a veterinarian,” Brysch said. “I’m not sure if I still want to do that. The other thing I’m considering is working in wilderness medicine so then I can be outside and still be challenged, mentally. I really want a job outside; that’s what I learned doing this program. I definitely don’t want to work inside.”
For those interested in working with the Conservation Corps, Brysch stresses the need to be present and engaged.
“I think when you’re there, you really have to give it your all and not be distracted or thinking about something else that’s going on in your life,” she added. “Just be present in the program, because then I think you can get the most out of it.”