By Fred Larsen – Special to SUNonline/Orillia
Zoe Roe, 14, has a history of environmental activism. Now a grade 8 student, she said, “In grade six I wrote about pollution affecting our oceans and I was fortunate enough to be able to share that speech with hundreds of other concerned citizens. I have written three speeches on the need to change our daily habits to help our plant and to live a more sustainable life.”
She identifies herself as an environmental speech writer and activist and said, “I have loved using my voice to help try to make our earth a healthier place.”
Zoe heard from her mother and grandfather about the Sustainable Orillia Youth Council in 2019 and she joined the group. She also encouraged her younger sister, Mya, 12, to join.
“Just like me she’s interested in helping our planet,” Zoe said.The two sisters have enjoyed attending youth council meetings and learning about healthy habits we can boost in our community.
Like the old saying the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, if Zoe and Mya are the apples, then mom, Rosanna Shillolo, is the tree. Rosanna is a recent addition to the Sustainable Orillia board of directors. Her life experiences and interests reveal her to be a person for whom the outdoors is a special place she wants to enjoy whenever she can. A graduate of the University of Guelph, Rosanna is the owner/operator of Sunrise Yoga Studio and the Stand Up Paddle Board Company. She’s also a personal trainer and nutrition coach.
Rosanna’s passion for sustainable outdoor activities and her health and wellness background make her a logical fit for the Sustainable Orillia board. Like her daughters, Rosanna expresses “a desire to leave behind a healthier planet for future generations to enjoy,” especially as a mother of three.
She was raised to respect and appreciate the great outdoors, “where I spent a great deal of my childhood,” she said. While growing up, family activities “usually involved hikes, picnics and outdoor adventures exploring different trails, parks and beaches.”
She also said it was imparted to her and her siblings to abide by the 3R’s – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, and to be an ecologically responsible consumer.
“It was deeply engrained in my shopping habits from a young age to avoid excess packaging and to consider the impact products will have on the environment,” she said. “It’s gratifying to see that these habits have trickled down through my own parenting to positively shape the values and behaviours of my own children.”
Who did the imparting of these values to Rosanna? That would be Rosanna’s parents Mike and Halina Shillolo. Mike is a founding member of Sustainable Orillia, having been part of a small group in late 2018 who discussed the need for greater emphasis on sustainability in our community and in our country. He has served as a director since early 2019 and currently is the acting treasurer.
Mike credits some of his earliest experiences for being so concerned about the environment. Born into a second generation Italian family, his upbringing was enriched with vegetable and fruit gardens, wine-making and a stable family life, sometimes in 3-generational homes in downtown Toronto. In addition, he spent two of his formative years living, working and attending school in France and England, where he experienced alternatives to the North American lifestyle of urban sprawl, car dependence, consumerism, and more is better as life’s guiding principle. It was at that time he says he realized life could be more rewarding freed from the accepted, but clearly questionable, North American norms.
In England his marriage to Halina joined him with her Polish/English family of post-WWII refugees. Their values more resembled those he grew up with than those that have defined and determined the Canadian version of the American Dream.
During the last 20 years of a 40-plus-year teaching career, Mike recalls he walked to work almost every day, even if the school to which he was assigned as a daily substitute was up to 4 km from his door. He always prepared coffee at work and drank from the same ceramic mug(s), never sipping from a Tim Horton’s throwaway – for the obvious environmental reasons. As well, along with student volunteers, he tidied and swept the classroom at day’s end, imparting a twofold message (he hoped) – we are all responsible for our surroundings and it is important in life to leave things as we find them, or better.
“Custodians loved me,” Mike said. “Other teachers? Not so much.”
He felt misgivings from day one of his career.
“The school system seemed to prioritize acceptance of the status quo and fitting in, rather than critical analysis and outside-the-box thinking (with) education serving as a pillar of society’s vested interests,” he said. “With climate change, for the first time since the 60’s, it is the students who are impatient and have shown their willingness to draw a line in the sand: ‘No more business as usual or we leave the classroom in protest.’ I’m proud of them.”
Upon semi-retirement, he got involved with policy creation at the federal level, only to realize despite excellent ideas and public consensus on many key issues, our first-past-the-post electoral system makes a mockery of the will of the people. His frustration led him to a grassroots approach, culminating in the establishment of Sustainable Orillia.
“The Youth Council’s work alone has justified the cause we had in mind from the outset,” Mike said.
These three generations of the Shillolo family demonstrate how parental perspectives and examples can rub off on the next generation. “My grandfather and mother have both played a big role in the reasons I am so interested in making a difference in the world,” said Zoe.
(Photo Supplied) Main: Rosanna Shillolo, Zoe Roe and Mike Shillolo