At the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, every day offers a chance to inspire our visitors and make sure our guests have a memorable experience — it’s just what we do. So when we get recognized for our efforts, it’s more than an accolade, it lets us know that we’re doing our jobs and we’re doing them well.
This year, the Vancouver Aquarium had a whopping 20 staff nominated for Vancouver Tourism Awards, and one team member’s touching efforts earned her both a Vancouver Tourism Award and a BC Tourism Industry Award for outstanding customer service. But more than that, her efforts gave a young boy hope in the fight for his life.
Anne-Julie Parent joined the Vancouver Aquarium as an interpreter in May, and it wasn’t long before she started making an impression on our guests. Barely a month after joining the Aquarium our visitors began taking note of her knack for going above and beyond. One hot summer’s day, she was working the beluga show when she noticed Ryan, a five-year-old boy from Ottawa, who was frightened by the whales when they created a big wave. Scanning the crowd, Anne-Julie saw Ryan in tears and came to his side with a towel to wipe him dry and began explaining how she saw the belugas – not as big scary animals, but as majestic creatures. “I just showed him how beautiful and precious they are.”
Growing up in Quebec, Anne-Julie told Ryan, she got to see whales in the St. Lawrence River. “You might have a dog at home, but I had whales in my backyard,’” she told him. It helped him view the whales in a different light.
After that, not only did Ryan calm down, he beamed at Anne-Julie and the pair continued talking for several minutes more. But when it was time to leave Ryan again grew sad. He told Anne-Julie it was because he wouldn’t be able to visit the Aquarium again since he was going back to Ottawa to fight an “enemy” for several months. Ryan had been diagnosed with cancer and would soon start treatment. Anne-Julie was unfazed. “I just sat next to him and we just talked about it,” she recalls. “I tried to give him some strength and hope. Trying to find the right words to reassure a small child is not easy.”
And yet, she managed to find them. Again, Anne-Julie connected with Ryan by sharing some of her own childhood stories. She told him that in trying times, it’s often the small things that make the biggest difference. Then, she made a promise. If Ryan couldn’t visit the Aquarium while he was in treatment, she’d make sure the Aquarium would visit him. She would take photos of the marine animals at the Aquarium on her own time before and after work, and send them to Ryan while he was in the hospital.
So far, she’s sent the little boy more than 44 pictures of different species at the Aquarium, with notes and messages of encouragement. And after a difficult August and September, she’s happy to note Ryan is now gaining strength. “He’s fighting hard. The pictures are a bit of motivation for him.”
While Anne-Julie has been recognized for delivering exceptional customer service, for her, it all stems from being true to herself, and being part of an exceptional team. “If I’m able to inspire people and be myself every day, it’s because I have an incredible team around me.”
We couldn’t agree more. Congratulations to Anne-Julie and all the Aquarium staff who go above and beyond, every day.