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NRTA's 15th Annual With Our Youth Awards

Recognizing the exceptional community service of retired educators nationwide

NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community creates real possibilities to strengthen America’s working and retired education community by protecting its financial security and fostering collaboration and volunteerism.

The NRTA With Our Youth! Program was established to provide opportunities for retired educators and youth to work together to address the needs of youth and the broader community. State and local retired educators association (REA) volunteers use the resources provided by NRTA to organize local self-sustaining service projects.

In 1997, NRTA made a three-year pledge at the President’s Summit for America’s Future to serve 1.5 million youth in 2,000 communities, with a total of 45 million service hours through the REAs. That goal was exceeded, and the program continues today. Each year, the organization provides national NRTA With Our Youth! volunteer awards to recognize the outstanding work of state and local REAs as well as individual volunteers. More information is available here.

The recipients of NRTA’s 15th Annual With Our Youth! awards were chosen by an independent selection panel for their outstanding service to youth in the state, local and individual categories.  

Dara Dann, vice president for NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community, said about the award winners: “Across the nation, these retirees are volunteering to make the world a better place. Their volunteerism in retirement is evidence that educators are lifelong public servants who never stop putting their skills and passion to work. NRTA is deeply grateful for their contributions, and we are honored to shine a light on the accomplishments of these retired educators with the 2014 NRTA With Our Youth! Awards.”

2014 Excellence Award recipients include:

State Category

South Carolina Education Association-Retired

Through the Showers of Scholars (S.O.S.) program, the South Carolina Education Association-Retired (SCEA-R) is providing a much-needed lifeline to students and teachers across the state. This support from caring retirees is all the more important given that states are typically providing less per-pupil funding for kindergarten through 12th grade than before the financial crisis, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

These retirees are no longer employees in schools, but SCEA-R members remain an active and powerful force that is making a positive impact for students and active educators. Through S.O.S., retired educators are funding scholarships, providing school supplies, mentoring teachers and tutoring students across South Carolina.

These committed volunteers are woven into the fabric of the schools — reading to students, administering tests, tutoring in all subjects, organizing Black History Month programs, lending their voices to Read Across America, and providing supplies and meals to children in need.

SCEA-R also established the J.P. Coates Scholarship program to provide $500 scholarships each semester to future educators enrolled in state colleges and universities. Currently, the program supports four students who are studying education and maintaining a B grade average. This support can really make a difference for students who want to teach but may struggle to close the gap on tuition costs.      

Because of the S.O.S. program, more than 34,000 students have been served. SCEA-R retired educators have logged nearly 3,300 volunteer hours of service. Indeed, that is a long and strong lifeline for teachers and students.

Local Category

Indiana — Hancock County Retired Teachers Association

Retired educators in Indiana have made it their mission to help those in need in their local communities while also helping children in families beyond their borders. Through the Hancock County Retired Teachers Association (HCRTA), retired educators are providing a basic human need to children in Indiana and Africa — shoes.

HCRTA learned about the need through a local homeless shelter, Hope House. Indeed, the need is great. According to the Our Africa website, more than 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live in absolute poverty. Statistics reveal that 22 percent of children in Indiana live in poverty.

In collaboration with the local shelter and another nonprofit, World Mission, retired educators in Hancock County took on a two-pronged shoe collection effort. First, shoes would be collected and donated to World Mission for distribution in Africa. Second, shoes would be collected and donated to WEARhouse, a local thrift store that offers goods to those in need at a low price. Half of the WEARhouse sales would be donated to Hope House.

Retirees kicked off the campaign by scouring their closets. Then they tapped families and friends for donations, while others visited yard sales to purchase shoes for a bargain price. Some retired teachers even bought new shoes to donate.

Far exceeding their expectations, the retired educators collected so many shoes that they had to relocate the shoe collection area.  Shoes were sorted, bundled with rubber bands and then put in shipping containers. World Mission had to pick up the shoe collection because the job was too big for the volunteers. Eventually, more than 1,000 pairs of shoes were donated.  

It was a winning proposition on several levels. Local families were able to purchase shoes at a low cost. WEARhouse gained income. Hope House received money that supported local families. Children and families in Africa received shoes, in some cases for the first time in their lives. Lastly, retirees, families and friends felt good about recycling shoes.

Pennsylvania — Berks County Association of School Retirees

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 16 million children in the United States — 22 percent of all children — live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. The Berks County Association of School Retirees (BCASR) Chapter is serious about combating the problem of rural and urban food insecurity for children. Pennsylvania follows the national average, with about 20 percent of children living in poverty.

By working hand in hand with local schools and the Berks County Food Bank, retired educators are committed to ensuring children don’t go hungry on weekends. While many children who live in low-income homes have access to nourishing meals at school, they are at risk after the school bell rings on Friday afternoon. With 1,200 members in eight subchapters, the retired educators work throughout the year to fill backpacks with healthy meals and school supplies that are carried home on the weekend.

For example, retired educators meet each week in the Conrad Weiser West Elementary School to fill 70 backpacks to feed students and their families. Other subchapters do the same for additional kids and families in the county.  

This is an example of a thoughtful and successful collaboration to address youth and community needs. The schools identify the children at risk, the food bank provides the food and retired educators assemble the backpacks. The result: Berks County children can leave school without worrying about getting enough food over the weekend.  

Pennsylvania — Northampton County Chapter

Situated in the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania’s Northampton County is some 60 miles north of Philadelphia and just 80 miles west of New York City. There, retired educators are tackling a number of key issues confronting their local community — hunger, literacy and education.     

To address food insecurity, the Northampton County chapter of retired educators are taking multiple actions. These volunteers are providing bimonthly food donations that reach 30,000 children. For families facing childhood hospitalization, retired educators are providing home-cooked meals to make their lives a little easier and to give a respite from hospital cafeteria meals. They’ve also created a cooperative hunger coalition and are working directly with families to plant gardens and provide nutrition education.

As retired educators, these volunteers know the importance of literacy. Experts estimate that nearly 40 percent of U.S. 4th graders do not achieve basic levels of reading proficiency. To improve literacy in their community, chapter members have partnered with the Cops ’n’ Kids Children’s Literacy Program. Retired educators have worked hard to collect and donate thousands of books so that at-risk youth have books in their homes.

Retired educators also funded an innovative music curriculum designed to help at-risk teens to focus, recognize math patterns and learn important life skills. Thanks to their financial support, 70 middle and high school students are exposed to this program that helps with academics and teaches valuable lessons, stress management and relaxation techniques. These skills can be particularly helpful for youth who are at risk.  

The population of Northampton County is about 298,735, and it continues to grow. Retired educators are committed to meeting the multitude of needs of local youth and their neighbors.

Individual Category

Kansas — Jack Melhorn

Jack Melhorn retired after teaching sociology for 44 years. In retirement, he has stayed extremely active with a variety of volunteer community activities — with his wife, Mary, at his side.

Thanks to a friend, Jack became intrigued with the work of a group in his Kansas community called Children in Need of Care. In 1995, he became more involved with the group by serving on the board. Then in 1998, he went even further in his commitment to the group’s mission by pursuing certification to work as a volunteer for the Juvenile Offenders Citizen Review Board. Appointed by an administrative judge, this board is comprised of community volunteers who review legal cases involving children in the child welfare or juvenile justice system.

Jack’s duties as a volunteer are to:

  • Review cases, receive information from all parties about the cases and access information in the court’s case file.
  • Determine progress toward acquiring a permanent home for the children.
  • Suggest alternative goals for the cases, if progress is insufficient.
  • Make recommendations to the presiding judge regarding further actions on the cases.

The role is complex and time-consuming. Jack spends hours reviewing case files, meeting with juveniles, attending hearings and crafting creative solutions that he hopes enable troubled youth to redirect their lives.

In total, Jack has committed more than 1,800 hours of service to the program. More often than not, Jack isn’t informed of the outcomes for the juveniles. Nonetheless, he remains committed to working with as many youth as possible to help them start fresh and maximize their potential. That’s true commitment.     

Ohio — Bellvadell Sindlinger

Most of us hope for the gift of longevity. Can you image living to the age of 103?  How about being an active volunteer in your community at that age?

Meet Bellvadell Sindlinger. Every Tuesday morning, this retired teacher walks with her cane to Robert F. Schultz Elementary School in Delaware, Ohio. There, she provides one-on-one math tutoring to energetic third-graders.

She retired in 1969, but she still turns to the tried-and-true techniques from her days as a classroom teacher. She uses flash cards and patience to engage students’ intellect and improve their math skills.

Students say she is just amazing. With Belvadell’s assistance, students are improving and keeping up with their goals.

Teachers say they appreciate the extra help in their classroom and report that the children “absolutely love” this retired teacher. Children even have been known to sneak into the classroom where Belvadell is teaching just so they can work with her.

Belvadell has set the bar high. She continues to give back to children and education and to put her talents to use in the classroom.

Pennsylvania — Judith A. Waldron

One of the most exciting parts of the day for many students comes right after the morning bell rings and the morning news starts. Students start their day hearing the latest news from their fellow students. Not only is this approach engaging and informational for viewers, it enables youth to get hands-on experience researching and reporting news.

One retired educator, Judith Waldron, has been instrumental to the success of the journalism program at the Delaware Valley Elementary (DVE) School in Milford, Penn. DVE-TV is the school’s live daily morning broadcast, and it involves every student throughout the course of the school year. The school also provides DVE-News, an after-school newspaper club that produces the monthly school newsletter.

Judith is a trusted and dependable adviser for both the broadcast and newspaper. She lends her time, kindness and talent to give overall guidance and support. Judith is always there to help students successfully interview high profile individuals — authors, musicians, sports figures and even presidents. Judith also travels with the students, chaperoning them wherever the stories take them — across the state, to Boston, Washington, D.C., even Canada. As the widow of a decorated war hero, Judith also helps teach students about the sacrifices of America’s military and veterans.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Judith understands that journalism is essential for a democracy to function. She is providing a deep value by volunteering to help our youth learn the ins and outs of journalism and its importance to their school, community and nation. Thanks to her work, students also are building important skills — researching, writing, interviewing and thinking critically — that will carry them far in life.

The Independent Selection Panel created the NRTA With Our Youth! Dedication Award to highlight the top contenders who merited distinction for their exceptional work. These awards serve as “honorable mentions.”

2014 Dedication Award recipients include:

Local Category

Pennsylvania — Bradford/Sullivan Chapter

For so many children past and present, the book Farmer Boy by the beloved author Laura Ingalls Wilder offers a glimpse into the way that youth and families once worked on farms. The Bradford County Heritage Association has brought the book to life with a new event, Farm Days 1866. Volunteers with the Bradford/Sullivan Chapter of the Pennsylvania Retired Educators Association have been instrumental in getting this new, innovative educational initiative up and running.

Farm Days 1866 is a two-day program available to all public, private and home-schooled fourth-grade students in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties. Student participants first read Farmer Boy, then go back in time at the Bradford County Heritage Village to experience America’s rural heritage.

Some 75 adult volunteers — mostly retired educators — escort the students through various stations to provide hands-on learning about post-Civil War rural life. The students experience blacksmithing, quilting, spinning wool, making food, handling farm animals and learning in a one-room schoolhouse. Students also gain communication skills by making presentations about what they’ve learned and by conducting interviews with the news media about their experience. It is truly a unique way to take children back in time to really understand history.

This new interactive history lesson has the added benefit of spurring multigenerational interactions with retirees, teachers, chaperones and students. It also has helped build awareness of the museum, thereby increasing membership, financial contributions and artifact donations.

Retired educators understand the value of history and are proud to be part of an initiative to educate youth about the heritage of farm life in Bradford County. They are helping youth to understand where the kids come from and what they’re about.  

Individual Category

Wisconsin — Nancy H. Kemmeter

The only thing better than a good book is a good used book sale. Adult bibliophiles can gather even more books at a good price to overindulge their passion for reading — and at the same time young children are exposed to the excitement of books. There is one Wisconsin used book sale run by retired teachers that is especially important, because the proceeds help fund critical community projects.

The Stevens Point Area Retired Teachers’ Association (SPARTA) located in central Wisconsin has held a successful book sale for the past 23 years. Retired teacher Nancy Kemmeter, a member of the SPARTA Book Committee, has taken the book sale to a whole new level.

In 2012, Nancy took on the role of committee co-chair. In this role, she coordinates retired educators to secure book donations and to run the three-day sale that occurs twice per year.  

First, Nancy went to work to recruit more committee members. With more volunteers, she was able to take an important step to identify higher value books and adjust the pricing. The more popular books were placed in a new area called the “Collector’s Corner” and priced as high as $10, while other books were priced at just a dollar.

Nancy also reorganized and streamlined the book donation process. Instead of sending volunteers to pick up the books, she organized a donor drop-off at the site of the sale to save time. She also organized volunteers to sort the children’s books by grade level so that it would be easier for customers to find just the right book for their children.

As a result of Nancy’s creative thinking, sales increased by a whopping 56 percent between 2013 and 2014. Now, more books are recycled throughout the community, and SPARTA has even more funds to donate to more than 30 community organizations — from the family crisis center to the children’s museum.

Working with her team of fellow retired teachers, Nancy is promoting reading across the community and raising money for other important community projects funded by SPARTA. Not only did Nancy step up to take a leadership role at SPARTA, she brought strategic thinking and action to further strengthen the organization’s community contribution. Now that’s a good story.

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