NRTA: AARP's Educator Community is committed to learning, voluntary service and civic participation. More than a decade ago, the organization formed the With Our Youth! Program to provide volunteer opportunities for community service projects with youth. For the first three years of the program, NRTA made a pledge to serve 1.5 million youth in 2,000 communities with a total of 45 million service hours through its affiliated state retired educators associations (REAs). The goal was exceeded.
The award recipients of NRTA's 12th Annual With Our Youth! Awards were chosen for outstanding service to youth in the state, local and individual categories by an independent selection panel. Award recipients include:
Alabama Education Retirees Association
Food not only nourishes the body, but also the brain. A recent Cornell University study shows that when children don't have enough to eat, their academic progress, particularly in reading and math, as well as their social skills, suffer.
As the second hungriest state in the nation and with the current recession and loss of jobs, many families across the state of Alabama were in need of food and relied on assistance from food banks. For the second year in a row, the Alabama Education Retirees Association (AERA) helped feed families in need through a statewide program titled "Yes, We Can Feed Alabama!
As part of this effort, local units collected food items and determined which agencies or groups they would support. Food donations were distributed to groups such as church food pantries, food banks and the Alabama Department of Human Resources, as well as individual families in need. Other units collected money and offered financial assistance to local groups providing food in their communities. Over the course of 10 months, this statewide food program collected 15,990 canned goods and almost $5,000, which was donated to more than 70 local food banks.
Thanks to the Alabama Education Retirees Association and their "Yes, We Can Feed Alabama!" program, children across the state are being nourished in body and mind, and are better equipped for success in the classroom and in life.
Alabama – Bullock County Retirees/Support Personnel Association
Henry Ford once said, "Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." Through collaboration, the members of the Bullock County Retirees/Support Personnel Association were able to create new opportunities for success in two struggling schools.
Volunteers selected an "Adopt-A-School" program as their community service project after county schools failed to reach their Average Yearly Progress goals for the previous year. Members divided themselves into two teams, one made up of elementary school teachers, the other high school teachers. Each team spent hours meeting with faculty, staff and students to assess factors impacting performance from attendance, behavior and study skills to help at home. They then developed a plan, set up a schedule for action.
At the middle school, retirees worked with 58 seventh grade and special education students. They served as tutors and counselors and provided mentoring. At the high school, retirees worked with more than 50 students. Services included tutoring students in math and reading and acting as hall monitors, role models and motivators. The retirees even extended the project to a third elementary school and worked with struggling readers. Their tutoring helped the elementary students exceed the state's reading goal.
The words of one parent leader said it all: "We could definitely see a change in their study habits and their willingness to attend school daily…their grades improved, they became more interested in reading, and they did more homework." These volunteers set the standard in systematically identifying the needs of these two schools, matching volunteers' skills to fill the gaps and working together with students, teachers and administrators to put the schools back on the right track.
Indiana – Dearborn County Retired Teachers Association
"Pie is a symbol of something bigger than Mom and her way with desserts." ~ Pasquale Le Draqulec, author and food critic. That is true for the efforts of the Dearborn County Retired Teachers Association, who used pie baking in the fight against cancer.
In 2007, the Dearborn Country Retired Teachers Association began participating in a youth volunteering and fundraising effort, Relay for Life, to make apple pies to fund and support cancer research. While the energy and inspiration of this project came from the local youth, there was a need for more adult involvement as pie sales continued to increase.
Members from the Dearborn County Retired Teachers Association became involved and began assisting the youth in all aspects of the project, including peeling, cleaning, mixing, filling, weighing and packaging the pies. Their motto became "Funding a Cure, One Pie at a Time." One volunteer commented, "What I am so proud of is we've had cancer survivors helping make the pies. It means so much."
In 2008, customers started asking for apple turnovers and turnover making was added to the list of responsibilities. Because of their efforts, this year 104 youth and adults made 1,090 pies and 2,300 turnovers with a profit of $11,072.00.
In Dearborn County, pie is a symbol of something bigger. It brings together multiple generations for a single purpose and helps fight cancer one slice at a time.
Montana – Local Big Sky Unit
The volunteers of the Local Big Sky Unit have been keeping exceptionally busy this year in virtually every corner of their community. With more than 3,005 volunteer hours providing direct and indirect services to elementary through high school students, chances are that most youth have crossed paths with unit volunteers over the course of the past year.
Members have an ongoing relationship on many levels with local youth and volunteer in numerous places throughout the community, including classrooms from preschool through college, the public library, Museum of the Rockies, ham radio and the Breakfast Optimist Club. At the school health fair, volunteers are instrumental in helping students learn about the benefits of good health, cleanliness, brushing teeth, vision and eating nutritious food. Middle grade students are monitored two hours per week at the Clothes Closet, where students sort clothes, prepare displays and learn to keep records of individuals who donate. Volunteers provide a safe place for nearly 100 high school students to gather and eat when they serve lunch on Maniac Mondays, a special program that provides nutritious lunches to students throughout the school year.
Some of the indirect services of the members of the Local Big Sky Unit include a total of $800 in scholarships for two students; donations to the Deaf and Blind School, the Bozeman Public Library, Friends of Music, Destination Imagination and the Wounded Warriers program. Members also donated hundreds of children's books for families picking up food at the food bank.
Members of the Local Big Sky Unit embody the meaning of community. Their knowledge, skills, intentions and actions help to enhance the lives of children and their families. Living by example, these volunteers are also teaching youth to become better students and better citizens.
California – Dr. Dina Stallings
"I am gifted! I am unique! I can do anything I really want to do, if I want to pay the price of hard work and build discipline!" Those are the words you hear from young students working with Dr. Dina Stallings, the ultimate inspirer of youth.
Fifteen years ago, Stallings founded the "Friends of Forensics" to reach students from kindergarten through college to help them find their voices and with their voices to make their own unique and gifted mark in society. Today she continues to be the untiring advisor and volunteer to keep the program going.
As director of the program, she helped put in place "The Listening Ears Project," The Intermediate School Speech Meet and The High School Speech Tournament. The "Listening Ears Project" brings volunteers into elementary school classrooms to hear students present a wide variety of speech projects, including skits, original essays and historical speeches. Volunteers present certificates for students' accomplishments and the teacher is presented with a certificate for encouraging youth and preparing them for their presentations.
The Intermediate School Speech Meet has students reading their original essays on topics ranging from "Save the Earth" to "My Hero." Monetary awards are given to the winners. High school students compete in areas of Persuasive Speeches, Informative and Interpretive Speeches, and Impromptu Speeches. Students participating in these activities come from six school districts. To fund the program in all these districts, Stallings holds a Friends of Forensics Art Auction.
Stallings has changed the lives of many in her community. She has used public speaking to foster a community of gifted, unique and empowered young leaders.
New Mexico – Doyle Foreman
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." ~ William E. Hickson. That's exactly what Doyle Foreman did to get a bill passed through the New Mexico legislature that would benefit current and future students in the Springer school district.
The Springer school district is the only one in New Mexico to have a school-owned scholarship fund. The district used the dividends of the fund to give two $500 scholarships each year. According to New Mexico law, however, public schools could only invest in local CDs.
After teaching for 20 years in the Springer school system, Foreman was elected to the school board. As a board member, Foreman believed that the money in the scholarship fund could get greater returns in a different type of investment rather than in the local CD. He convinced others on the board to support him and worked tirelessly to have a bill passed that would maximize the use of investments.
After three years, the legislature passed a law allowing funds to be invested in stocks and bonds. His intervention led to a total of $204,500 that has been awarded to graduating seniors with eight scholarships provided to students in 2011. Thanks to the forward thinking and vision of Doyle Foreman, the power of "investment in education" has a whole new meaning.
Oregon – Doug Trice
All children want to have fun and be included. Doug Trice understood that need when he developed a year-round athletic program for special needs youth. Because of his program, kids are able to find their athletic niche and reach new heights while enjoying themselves and being part of a team.
Trice shaped an athletic program that started locally in Oregon and moved to several states in the South and West. The program allows children with intellectual disabilities to participate in sports, including bowling, golf, swimming, gymnastics, track, soccer, tennis, basketball and winter sports such as downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding.
Even while holding a full-time job, Doug volunteers more than 25 hours per month managing 15 volunteers and 50 athletes. Some of the his tasks include overseeing certification of personnel, conducting leader orientations and training sessions, recruiting volunteers and coaching. In addition, he personally donated $5,000 and has raised $8,000 for the program through various fundraisers.
Doug Trice sees the potential in all children. With the skills, passion and intuitive nature of a hands-on coach, he has shaped a program where special athletes can train, compete and, most important, be included.
INTERNATIONAL OUTREACH AWARD
Kansas – Col. Gary LaGrange
"Find a need and fill it." ~ Ruth Stafford Peale. Col. Gary LaGrange did just that after he finished serving in the military and created a program to equip children and teachers with necessary school supplies abroad. He saw that the opportunity to create change can be local and have global ramifications.
While serving in war-torn Afghanistan, where there were very few schools, LaGrange was impacted by the words of a young village girl — "If you would help us learn, you would give us hope." LaGrange remembered those words when he retired and decided to make a difference in the lives of children in an area ravaged by war. In 2008, with the support of Kansas then-governor Kathleen Sebelius, LaGrange launched the Help Us Learn…Give Us Hope program. This program collects school supplies at 17 Kansas National Guard armories and ships them to soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Djibouti, who then distribute them to local children and teachers.
LaGrange has partnered with various businesses, service organizations, schools and retirement homes to assist with the collections, packing and shipments as well as funding. He also ensures that the children of Kansas give back as they are directly engaged in the project by collecting used and new supplies. Since the project started, 489,000 children have received 700,000 pounds of school supplies and 800,000 books have been delivered to 15,000 schools. More than 10,000 teachers have received supplies and 50 English language libraries have been started at universities. All the work is done by volunteers and LaGrange himself averages about 210 volunteer hours per month organizing pick-ups and collections and speaking to groups to raise money.
Words have power. It was the power of a few words spoken by a young girl that made LaGrange react and change the course of these children's lives forever. Since retiring, Col. LaGrange has made the transition from soldier to education advocate.