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NRTA's 14th Annual With Our Youth Awards

Recognizing the exceptional community service of retired educators nationwide

Pennsylvania – Lehigh Chapter/PASR

To emphatically express the impact the Lehigh Chapter of Retired Educator’s 26,000 hours of volunteer service had on the county, past president Joan Failla presented a mock check for $3,722,619 to the Lehigh County Commissioners! The check representing the amount of money the retired educators’ volunteer service saved their local communities through the time they gave to charitable, educational and religious organizations. Failla stated that retired public school employees are some of the most active, involved people in the hometown communities. Throughout their years of active service, they dedicated themselves to helping others, and now the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR) mission continues to be to encourage volunteer service to others in need. Members continue an active involvement extending their professionalism, dedication to children and commitment to education.

Lehigh Chapter PASR offers annual educational grants to teachers for use in planning field trips, buying uniforms, introducing needy children to nature and other valuable instructional and or nurturing opportunities. They also serve as guest readers, classroom aides, library volunteers and Sunday school teachers.

They are partners with the Blue Scarf Project, a program that helps children understand and alert adults about child abuse. Members knit scarves that are donated to the Child Advocacy Center in Allentown with a tag attached that lists a telephone number telling children how to contact a member of the advocacy center to report child abuse or any danger to themselves or others.

They participate in Reach Out and Read, where books are donated to volunteers who read at the Lehigh Valley Health Network to patients and their siblings. Every child receives a book after a visit to the hospital. The association has donated hundreds of books to the hospital, and 125 books were donated in 2012 in honor of PASR’s 75th birthday celebration. Cleveland Elementary also received 125 books, and to protect the many children there with insufficient clothing for cold weather, the chapter also collected socks, gloves, scarves and hats. Volunteers worked with Second Harvest, where backpacks are prepared for needy children providing food for the week and weekends. Pallets of quality food are delivered to children’s organizations such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and YMCA/YWCA for children in need.  Volunteers gave 26,000 hours of service and caring.  

Individual Category

California – Vernon Von Sydow

Vern Von Sydow has touched the lives of literally thousands of at-risk high school students. His math tutoring has helped turn dropouts into college students, and teachers credit working one on one with him as one of the key interventions to move students ahead. Years ago, he reached out to his Naval Academy class alumni network and asked for donations to start the Palomar Scholarship Foundation, which awards more than 20 scholarships per year to deserving young people. That seed money along with fundraising and donations has supported young people going to college for over 20 years.  

He is a role model to all teachers for his selflessness in retiring to save the jobs of younger teachers and in his work ethic. Despite being retired, he still comes to school every day to tutor at-risk kids in math. In particular he works with teen mothers to help them achieve their graduation goals. He comes in early and stays late yet always has time to devote to a student who needs him whether it be to teach them how to tie a tie for a job interview or just to listen to them when they are feeling down. He never fails to remind that mistakes are just another step in the direction of perfection.

The scholarship fund is a fully functioning 501(c)(3) charity registered with the state of California, and he serves as the foundation’s president. He is also on the Sweetwater Union School District’s Superintendent’s Advisory Committee helping to shape new education policy. During his teaching years, he established an internship program where at-risk teens work in jobs on the local naval base learning career skills and building relationships with naval mentors. The Navy Internship Training Program has served thousands of young men and women and has been recognized with a Golden Bell award from the governor of California.

Next: More Individual Category Winners »

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