It’s already beginning to feel like fall fair time in Wellesley, where three candidates are now in place for the annual ambassador competition.
This year’s hopefuls are Katelyn Bartlett, Katie Musselman and Anas Alsakani. All three candidates are entering their final year at Waterloo Oxford District Secondary School.
Joanne Stewart, who is running the ambassador program this year, said it is becoming more difficult for fairs to encourage young people to participate in the program.
“Our young people are very busy, so [we] try and find that happy medium to give them something that’s going to enrich their lives, and also give them life skills for the future. This program gives them the opportunity to be able to be interviewed and prepare for job interviews,” Stewart said.
“By doing their bios, they’re learning how to write a résumé. They have to sell us, the community and the judges, that they will be a good representation for our community, so it also builds awareness of who they are,” she said.
Stewart says she’s really impressed with this year’s candidates.
“When they are doing their ‘about me’ boards, they see how special and what they have accomplished in their short lives. I think that’s very important, and helps their self-esteem and awareness of themselves,” she explained.
Current ambassador Ali Khan said the connections he has made with people from across Ontario were both the best and most surprising part of the program.
“I think that’s one of the most important things that I got to make those nice connections. Other than that, I’ve learned a few leadership skills by going to conventions and [working] with other ambassadors,” he said.
Bartlett has lived in Wellesley since she was three years old and has always been involved in the community, including by working for local businesses.
“I love the community and I love how positive it is.… I’ve learned a lot about the people here and I’ve learned many names – everyone is so nice. It’s just such a positive and smiley little town that I just want to have more of an impact on and I want my face to be part of the community,” said Bartlett, who is sponsored by Schmidtsville Restaurant and Miriam Kuepfer.
It is that sense of community and her desire to be a part of it that led to her decision to run for ambassador.
“Throughout COVID, I know there’s been a lot of problems with mental illnesses. A lot of my friends have experienced it, and I lost a friend once. It’s just so nice to come back to the community and bring the whole community together once again,” she said.
After high school, Bartlett is hoping to enter nursing to become a travelling nurse and later a nurse practitioner.
As the granddaughter of Wendy Richardson who ran the ambassador program for many years, Mussleman has always wanted to run for the role.
“I always remember either being in the car with them and hearing the conversations and just being like ‘I want to be them’ [to be] able to have a bigger part in my community,” she said.
Richardson is not involved in the program this year.
Mussleman, who is being sponsored by Baden Automotive, has been involved with agriculture organizations such as 4H and currently volunteers at farm safety days. The pandemic helped her understand the impact of community, she said.
“I realized how important community is. My grandma is a big name in Wellesley, so I just want those relationships that she has and that I really envy. I think building those relationships is just something that’s so important – the community truly is a strong thing when you’re part of it,” she said.
Mussleman is looking to go into a firefighting and EMT job.
After moving to Wellesley from KW in 2020, Alsakani put his name in the running to help better understand the township and get a better sense of community.
“I never truly got to understand Wellesley because when I moved here it was the pandemic and everyone was worried about that. So, I just came here to meet new people,” said Alsakani, who is sponsored by the Wellesley and District Lions Club.
“When I was in Kitchener-Waterloo, I never really talked to anyone. I had friends there, obviously. But I never really talked to my neighbours and never got a sense of community. And when I moved here, the first thing I was told was this is a close-knit community – basically, everyone knows everyone. So I thought this could be fun. I can make some new friends, meet new people, hear someone’s story, stuff like that,” he said.
Alsakani is originally from Palestine and came to Canada as a refugee with his family as a young child in 2009.
If selected, Alsakani would be the second-ever male ambassador for the fair, after Ali Khan was named the first last year, however that did not influence his decisions to run.
“I thought it would be cool, [but] I don’t think that really influenced my choice at all when I became a candidate just because I wanted to meet new people,” he said.
Alsakani is hoping to study engineering at the University of Waterloo or join his father’s kitchen backsplash and countertop business.
Khan’s main advice for the candidates is to be involved as much as possible.
“Meet new people in your community and people from other communities. Get to learn more about your community and work with people inside your town. [Don’t] only focus on your own self, but focus on the people around you and new people from across Ontario,” he said.
Beyond gaining a knowledge of who they are and what makes them unique, Stewart is hoping the candidates, whether they win or not, grow in their self-confidence.
“We’ve seen that [growth of self-confidence] with the majority of the contestants over the years. In that short three- or four-month time period – between the time they let us know... to the time that they are in the competition, the night of the opening of the fair – how much they have grown in that time period is pretty amazing,” said Stewart.