Indiana: Eugene Wease
Each year, about 780,000 children in the United States are caught up in the child welfare maze because they are unable to live safely at home. Thanks to Eugene Wease’s outstanding leadership in forming a partnership between the Indiana Retired Teachers Association (IRTA) and the Indiana Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program, the lives of more than 14,000 abused and neglected children in Indiana improved in the last year.
Wease started his efforts in 2007 when he presented a program to the IRTA Board of Directors to partner with Indiana CASA, which assists abused and neglected children in the court system. His goal was to recruit IRTA members to volunteer for the CASA program. Wease, president of the IRTA at the time and a CASA volunteer, led by example and encouraged others to volunteer their time. Since the partnership was announced, more than 200 Indiana retired teachers have volunteered for the statewide CASA program.
Wease has participated in more than 30 hours of volunteer training, which included learning about courtroom procedures and effective advocacy techniques for children. Advocates make recommendations to the court about what they feel is best for a child in foster care; they can also play a role in finding a safe, permanent home for the child. After completing the training, Wease officially became an officer of the court, which gave him legal authority to handle abuse cases.
In the past year, Wease has volunteered 975 hours in youth activities, plus 375 hours in other areas. Wease’s volunteer efforts do not stop with CASA. He also serves as an advisory board member of the Campagna Academy, a residential treatment facility and charter school; a board member of the Northwest Indiana Area Council on Aging; and a 15-year volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Leslie Dunn, state director of Guardian ad Litem/CASA in Indiana, said, “Gene’s work and that of the IRTA has had a tremendous impact on the children of our state and our country. His enthusiasm, sincerity and commitment to children are a shining example to other retired teachers. Gene didn’t just promote being a CASA volunteer, either; both Gene and his wife took the training and became volunteers!”
New Mexico: Donna Yargosz
A Chinese proverb states, “I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand." Donna Yargosz, a retired Spanish teacher, helps children to better understand science through her work at the Asombro Institute in Las Cruces. The institute serves more than 14,000 K-12 students in southern New Mexico and west Texas. Yargosz is an avid volunteer and is involved in many aspects of the organization — board member, office help volunteer, translator — but her true passion is teaching. In that field, she has been a critical part of the Experience Science Program.
The Experience Science Program is for third-grade students at four local elementary schools. It consists of classroom work and a field trip to the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park. In the classroom, Yargosz assists the Asombro staff with lessons; on field trips, she runs education stations. As part of this program, students receive a workbook in both English and Spanish, which she translates to help students who need it.
In addition to the group work, Yargosz helps write lesson plans and ensure that the materials correlate to state education standards. She also provides one-on-one assistance to Spanish-speaking students to help them understand the lessons.
While Yargosz was serving as a science fair judge for middle school children, a student was asked numerous criteria questions for judging. When asked how he knew the correct answers, he responded: “Because you came to my third-grade class for the Experience Science Program at my school and taught us this!” This is an example of one of many students whose love of science has truly been enhanced by the passion and commitment of Donna Yargosz.
Virginia: William McKinley Cosby Jr.
Summer learning losses occur in all students when they neglect educational activities during the break, according to the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University. For children in low-income families, the losses are even greater. These students may not have the same structured meal schedule or access to nutritious meals during the summer.
Thanks to William McKinley Cosby Jr., many students of Petersburg, Va., don’t experience these learning losses and other disadvantages. Since 1988, the Petersburg Summer Enrichment Program has been enhancing children’s academic skills in language arts and math and enriching life skills.
When the program was founded more than 20 years ago, Cosby served as its first director and is in that role today. This program centers on the basics — reading, writing and arithmetic. It has helped more than 2,000 grade-school children. The morning is focused on learning; in the afternoons, the students are provided lunch and then picked up for supervised activities at parks near their homes. Every year, Cosby writes grant proposals to support the program and to purchase textbooks and necessary supplies.
The Petersburg program is a model for success. Children have expressed their enjoyment with the program and have shown progress when they returned to school in the fall. Perhaps one of its greatest indicators of success is that students return and become teachers’ aides in subsequent years. Under the direction of Cosby, the summer enrichment program is more than a place to learn. It is a place where children grow and flourish. When Henry Brooks Adams stated, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell, where his influence stops,” perhaps he was thinking about teachers like Cosby.