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NRTA's 16th Annual With Our Youth Awards

Group Link Hands Together, Teamwork, The NRTA With Our Youth! Awards

Kristian Sekulic/iStock

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.

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 outstanding work of state and local REAs, as well as individual volunteers. More information is available here.

The recipients of NRTA's 16th Annual With Our Youth! awards were chosen for outstanding service to youth by an independent selection panel.

2015 Excellence award recipients:

Local Category

Blair County Chapter, Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR)

Situated in central Pennsylvania, the Blair County Chapter volunteers of PASR are tackling a number of key issues confronting their local community—lack of school supplies, emergency housing, food insecurity and higher education funding. All of this work is vitally important to the state, given its economic challenges. Some 20 percent of children live in poverty while Pennsylvania’s overall poverty rate is 14 percent, according to Spotlight on Poverty.

The Blair County Chapter is empowering children and helping the local community through four key programs. First, retired teachers supported the Stuff the Bus program. Volunteers worked to collect and distribute school supplies to 750 schoolchildren in the county lacking the resources to purchase the materials needed to succeed in the classroom. Next, at the Teen Center in Altoona, retired educators helped to provide emergency shelter for more than 2,000 teens who are runaways, homeless or in need of an intervention. And through the Mountain Lion Backpack program, retired teachers helped meet the nutritional needs of more than 600 at-risk children each week with backpacks filled with healthy food to last the weekend. Retired educators also served as student mentors with Project Soar, a program that provides hope and financial support for local high school youth who otherwise might be unable to attend college.

These programs, with the support of volunteer retired teachers, are making a meaningful impact on the lives of many Pennsylvanians.

Carbon County Chapter, Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees (PASR)

Located in the coal region of eastern Pennsylvania, Carbon County Chapter volunteers of PASR are tapping their years of experience to make a difference in their community. The Carbon County Chapter has 280 retired educators who are involved with service programs targeted at alleviating hunger, and to support youth and families across the county.

By donating volunteer time, money and supplies, chapter volunteers are actively engaged with Keystone Military Families, Special Olympics, the Zion Summer Lunch Program, the Dream Come True Telethon and Toys for Tots.

Notably, the chapter recently instituted Carbon Readers, a program designed to promote family literacy at local daycare centers. Retired educators provide boxes of new and used books along with tips for reading at home. This successful program is expanding to provide hands-on reading workshops with guest readers and storytellers.

This literacy program taps the deep literacy experience of retired classroom teachers, librarians and reading specialists for the benefit of local children, parents and child care providers. Indeed, retirement hasn’t stopped retired teachers from bringing reading to families in the Keystone State.

Lancaster County Chapter, Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees

The Lancaster County Chapter has created a fun and innovative literacy program.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, some 15 percent of Lancaster residents lack basic literacy skills. Educators know that putting books in the hands of children is an effective tool for combating reading issues.

Retired teachers in the county are working to get books into the hands of children at the youngest age possible through the Little Red School House Project. The program places a special focus on helping families in transitional housing who are victims of abuse or violence.

The program kicked off with retirees constructing a mobile “school house” that was filled with books donated by retired educators. This program feeds the need to read and provides a bright spot for local families in trying situations.

The first stop of the mobile schoolhouse was at Clare House, and planned locations include Milagro House and the YWCA. Retired educators hope to expand the reach of the program by constructing a second mobile Little Red School House. Just think how many more schoolhouses these retirees can build.

Southwest Unit, Montana Retired Educators Association

The Southwest Unit of the Montana Retired Educators Association provides a deep and diverse array of service projects designed to keep their community strong and united. Many of the initiatives have been in place for years, and serve youth and others in need.

One important example is the work of unit member Bill O’Connor. He instituted a classical book project, and he has donated more than 1,000 hardbound classics to first-graders. Another example is the Walking School Bus, which encourages students to exercise by walking or riding bikes to school. These retirees also support the needs of students in rural schools by judging events and providing assistance for the science fair, track meets and spelling bee.

Retired Montana teachers also contribute time and money to the county’s 4-H program. Retired educators lend their expertise by serving on numerous local boards such as the United Way, Kiwanis Club, YMCA and CASA programs. Retired teachers also play an important volunteer role at the Community Concert Association and the Southwest Montana Arts Council in support of the Missoula Children’s Theatre. The Big Sky State certainly can depend on big contributions from its retired educators.

Individual Category

Idaho – Sharon Helen Sheahan

Retirement hasn’t stopped Sharon Helen Sheahan. Her work at the local Salvation Army is making a difference and building relationships with so many local children at risk.

She is licensed to drive the bus that transports children each afternoon from their school to the Salvation Army. Each day, she brings children to the Salvation Army’s safe and relaxing environment for snacks and dinner, instruction and playtime. She also taps her education background to create lesson plans on basic life skills and topics the children may not be exposed to at home such as hygiene, attire and social skills.

During her volunteer efforts at the Salvation Army, she has built trusting relationships with children facing severe behavior and academic challenges. Her mentorship has put these youth on the right course, and some now are attending college or becoming Salvation Army officers. She dedicates some 30 hours each week to support more than 100 children, and she often contributes funds to support the local Salvation Army’s programs and children.

Ohio – Michael Rogers

The only thing bigger than Michael Rogers’ heart is his initiative.

Eagle and Dove Academy, an afterschool reading intervention program for inner city children, suffered dramatic budget cuts two years ago. Programs and services were at risk, including the snack budget that feeds 150 children annually.

He took it upon himself to find a way to keep feeding these children. He led the way to preserve this childhood nutritional program by securing food donations from organizations in Springfield, Clark County and surrounding areas. He drives in his personal vehicle to the various donors to pick up food, he prepares the snacks and delivers the food to students in their classrooms.

And if that wasn’t enough, he hosted an end of the year cookout for the children. He also helps Eagle and Dove Academy with building maintenance, cleaning and upkeep. His leadership and support has freed up funds that Eagle and Dove Academy can use for other programs that benefit these disadvantaged children. He is a shining example of educators who will do whatever it takes to strengthen the lives of children and their communities.

Utah – Alice Cipollini

Like so many states, education funding in Utah has seen drastic cuts. That makes the volunteer work of retired teachers all the more important to help meet the educational needs of children.

Alice Cipollini is doing her part through work with the Children’s Enhancement Academy, an afterschool academic program that also provides a safe environment for children at risk. There, she taps her education experience and training to tutor students in reading, math and science.

This year, she went a step further and embarked on a new program to teach the children how to play flutes and recorders. Music education often can be particularly powerful. One study reveals that students with music education programs scored 22 percent higher on standardized tests regardless of socioeconomic disparities. The concentration that music training requires is considered similar to the focus needed to perform well on a standardized test.

First, she purchased instruments for the children out of her own pocket. She then shared her love of music by instructing 13 children how to play flutes and recorders. The students’ first performance for their families was so successful that the musical ensemble now performs at local nursing homes. 

Through her tutoring and musical program, she has brightened the lives of withdrawn and disadvantaged children while giving them confidence and hope. She even has helped some students discover their hidden musical talent. Her volunteer spirit has enabled Utah children to reach their academic potential and appreciate the arts. 

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