Youth, literacy advocate conveys Lois Hole's spirit

(Edmonton) Being mentioned in the same breath as Alberta’s late lieutenant-governor, Lois Hole, is bound to give anyone pause. But if anyone can handle the scrutiny or pressure, it’s University of Alberta alumna Kirsten Poon.

Poon, a recent graduate of the U of A’s biological sciences program, managed to balance her undergraduate studies in the physical sciences while chairing the City of Edmonton’s Youth Council, promoting literacy locally and abroad, and serving as an advocate for the homeless. It’s no wonder she’s one of two recipients of the Honourable Lois E. Hole Student Spirit Award, named after the former U of A chancellor who dedicated her life to education and community.

“I’m so honoured to even be recognized in an award that’s named after Lois Hole. She was a remarkable lady, someone I emulate to aspire to be in the future—a strong community leader with such a kind heart,” said Poon, who will receive the honour Sept. 20 at the Alumni Recognition Awards. “You do community service without expecting anything in return, but when it happens with the name Lois Hole, it really gives you a warm feeling.”

The award celebrates student spirit and their contributions to better the university community and beyond, something Poon did exceptionally well while at the U of A.

She spent two years working with Edmonton’s Youth Council before taking the helm as chair, where she made it her mission to engage and empower the city’s youth. Homelessness and literacy are two of Poon’s passions. She was instrumental in organizing the Heart 2 Art contest and fundraising gala that challenged youth to depict what it means to be homeless—efforts that helped raise $110,000 for Boyle Street Community Services. She also helped give homeless Edmontonians their own voice and a creative outlet through the Street Speaks Mural campaign and exhibit.

“Some people really got into it and as they started painting, you got to know them and their stories and their lives. It humanizes homelessness,” Poon said. “You realize they are just like you and I, and deserve to have their voice heard.”

Under Poon’s leadership, the Youth Council also initiated a literacy pilot project that used online learning to help struggling students in grades 4 to 6 improve their reading skills. That project followed her efforts to help found Literacy Without Borders, a not-for-profit that sends post-secondary students to Belize to train locals to establish their own literacy programs.

Despite a busy schedule, Poon still managed to find time for her studies, and she calls her experience at the U of A “a wonderfully rewarding four years.”

“The U of A feels like a big community, but it’s also small in that you feel at home and you feel very comfortable. The professors are very helpful when you reach out to them, you get to meet so many people and there are so many opportunities to get involved.”

Poon would like to continue to combine her passion for advocacy with preventive health.

“Preventive health is a huge step towards alleviating the burdens on our health-care system, so I’d like to be part of the effort, promoting health education and educating our underprivileged and youth populations, especially.”

Related links

Find out more about Alumni Weekend.

Read about other U of A Alumni Recognition Award recipients.