The accidental volunteer
By Nina Badwal
– January 2022 –
You can call Nina Kukoc the “accidental volunteer.” One day while taking a stroll in her neighbourhood, Kukoc encountered the St. James Town Community Corner’s Share and Reuse Hub, The Corner @240 (located at 240 Wellesley Street East). After learning more about the venue, she brought in an item to get it repaired. While there, Kukoc was seen admiring the greenery and a conversation with an employee led to talking about her love of plants.
“Volunteering at 240 came as some kind of accident because it happened in the middle of the raging pandemic when everything was locked down,” Kukoc said. “The lady who works there said, ‘Would you consider volunteering for us…to take care of the plants?’ In my mind I thought, why would I want to do that in the pandemic? But it took me about 20 seconds to say yes.”
A social worker by trade, Kukoc has been volunteering for The Corner @240 twice a week for 10 months. She said although taking care of so many plants is a lot of work – changing the soil, scrubbing the pots, trimming the branches, propagating them – she enjoys doing it and actually started liking plants as a child.
“My mother noticed I had some knack regarding the plants. I liked having them around me inside the house and outside. There’s something that resonates well between me and plants, and whenever I take care of them they respond so visibly as they responded at 240.” Reflecting back, Kukoc said she should have studied Botany.
She also lamented losing her beloved greenery in a fire at her 650 Parliament Street apartment on August 21, 2018. About 1,500 St. James Town residents were forced out of their homes and were only allowed to return in 2020.
Kukoc said she moved 12 times from place to place during that ordeal. “We were exiled by the fire for two years and even in the shelter I had a plant with me; always some flowers near my cot. I had to start another batch because everything just perished. I started it while living in a hotel. I was placing small plants underneath the lamp. They were very small, about 5 inches high – now they’re nearing the ceiling.”
Kukoc believes plants promote physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Although she already knew quite a bit about them, her knowledge of greenery was extended while volunteering at 240. She also learned something about teamwork.
“It came as a surprise to me that I somehow slid into the team so effortlessly. I like the place and I like the people because everybody contributes something.”
Thank you Nina Kukoc for sharing your valuable time with us – we appreciate it!