|Press Releases/Feature Articles
Week of October 22, 2009
Chautauqua Star Living, Community Star: Vicki Westling
By Stephen Stoklosa
Star Staff Reporter
The Chautauqua Star and Bulletin Board is proud to present "The Community Star of the Week." Each week we'll let you know about a resident who's made a positive impact in the community, whether it be through business, community outreach, civic work or volunteer efforts. It's our way of saying "thank you" to the people who make Chautauqua County a great place to live and do business.
What do teachers do when they retire from educating? Move to Florida and relax on a beach might have been one of the first things to pop into your mind. For Vicki Westling, it is quite the opposite. After years of teaching in Florida, Westling moved to New York with her husband — to continue teaching.
For Westling, teaching is something that she absolutely loves and cannot pull herself away from. When retirement came, she asked herself what she could possibly do with her time? She decided to try her hand at writing by beginning her novel, Thunder of Silence, seven years ago. While successful, she felt that still something was missing.
"My husband said to me, 'Why aren't you writing children's books? That's what you should be writing,'" says Westling. "All my life, I've done a lot of reading and writing. I loved the classroom; I loved the kids." It seemed natural to her to make that connection.
At the same time, Westling found herself immersed back in the world of education. She's had two years of teaching at JCC and currently substitutes at Dunkirk and Fredonia schools. Still, Westling thought it wasn't enough. "I knew that I had to do something else," she says. "There had to be some way to give back."
That's when Westling became a volunteer at Brooks Memorial hospital. She knew that her time would be best spent helping any and all that she could. "Not only do I hope the things I do help someone, but I hope that they help make me a better person as well," adds Westling. And yet, after that, Vicki still finds time to help out will election polling in Dunkirk.
Aside from volunteering, it is guiding children that motivates Westling. Eventually she came up with the idea for her children's series Sam and Friends. The series, inspired by her own dog Sam, follows a group of dogs who have adventures and deal with many problems that children might face on their own. " I wanted it to be more than just reading and entertainment," says Westling. "The kids should learn something."
Each book in the series has a character lesson. For the first in the series, entitled "Cats Keep Out," Sam and the gang meets a cat that would like to join their club. In the story, children gain a lesson of acceptance where not everyone may look alike, but are no different and should be treated fairly. Following books in the series tackle similar topics ranging from sharing to stop, drop and roll. Lessons go beyond the average with stories including one with dognapping and stranger danger, where kids learn never to go off alone. This particular lesson goes as far as teaching children to kick out a tail light if kidnapped because police officers will stop a car with a broken light.
Vicki Westling will be holding a book reading and signing for "Cats Keep Out" on Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Dunkirk Free Library from 1 to 3 p.m. Here kids and parents can enjoy the first story in the series and get to meet the author. Kids who attend will be able to sign up for the Barkers Club, receiving a certificate and a special card with the Code of the Barkers inscribed — The Barkers are always honest, fair, trustworthy and respectful of others. A second book reading and signing will be the Book Nook in Dunkirk on Nov. 7 from 1 to 3 p.m. Keep an eye out for the next in the Sam and Friends series to hit the shelves in a few weeks.
Do you know someone who should be featured as a Community Star? Let us know by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (716) 366-9200 in Dunkirk or (716) 338-0030.
Vicki Westling, educator and volunteer, will be offering a children's series called "Sam and Friends," which will teach important lessons to young minds. (Photo by Stephen Stoklosa)
Community Star: Vicki Westling