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2010 NRTA With Our Youth Award Winners

NRTA: AARP’s Educator Community is committed to learning, voluntary service and civic participation. Now in its 11th year, the NRTA With Our Youth! Program provides volunteer opportunities for community service projects with youth. For the first three years of the program, NRTA pledged to serve 1.5 million youths 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 program continues to grow and expand with projects in more than 40 states.

The award recipients of NRTA’s 11th 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:



Wisconsin Retired Educators Association

Henry Ford once said, “To do more for the world than the world does for you — that is success.” Retired Wisconsin educators define success through outreach to the community. In the past year, Wisconsin Retired Educators Association (WREA) members contributed a total of 510,926 volunteer hours statewide through service to youth and older adults, and in health-related initiatives.

The WREA Foundation developed the WREA Foundation Challenge award program to provide five $2,000 grants for innovative and inspiring programs in Wisconsin public schools. WREA members diligently promoted the project throughout the state, visiting schools, talking with teachers, mailing promotional materials and providing online information. More than 70 schools across the state applied for the five awards.

The winning schools demonstrated innovation in student achievement or contributed to a better environment for students, schools or the communities they serve. The winning projects are:

  • The Secret Path, a Natural Playscape Project, a program to develop a sense of wonder and an appreciation of nature. 
  • Project Jump Start, a special two-week program to prepare, motivate and excite students for a new year. 
  • Girls and Boys Night Out, an inner-city school project to help fourth-graders form healthy relationships and friendships and expose them to new activities. 
  • Gender Specific Multi-Age Classroom Project, a program to implement research of gender-specific classrooms and demonstrate successful results by integrating gender-specific teaching strategies into the district-adopted curriculum.
  • The CRICKET Project, a program designed to provide experiences to better comprehend the beauty, diversity and importance of our natural world.

Thanks to WREA, inspiring programs that enrich the lives of students are being implemented in Wisconsin public schools.


Virginia: Patrick County Retired Teachers Association

Retired teachers of Patrick County are still on the job, so to speak. Through their reading promotion and backpack programs, Patrick County Retired Teachers Association (PCRTA) members make sure that they stay involved in the lives of local students, contributing 983 hours and serving 5,286 children in this year alone.

Members served as reading tutors in classrooms and assisted students with Virginia reading assessments. Members also embraced Read Across America week by donning The Cat in the Hat costumes and reading to children. Along with  the local library, they provided free books to all county prekindergarten students and fourth-graders. Volunteers delivered books to each elementary school and read to students. Then, each child received a book of his or her choice. After-school programs were held in churches, and volunteers provided snacks and time for homework and reading activities.

The group’s major project was a partnership with an elementary school for a “Reading Buddies Reading Day and Book Exchange.” Third-grade students had the opportunity to read to groups of kindergarten students. Active and retired teachers set up a book exchange, where students donated gently used books. In turn, they earned credit enabling them to select books for their personal use. This project helped students learn the meaning of giving back while creating an interest in reading.

PCRTA members also participated in a backpack program for needy children, providing students with food supplies for weekends. Volunteers picked up backpacks from the school, bought food items to fill them and returned the backpacks to the children on Friday afternoons.

The efforts of these volunteers made a lasting impact on the lives of youth — whether at home, in school or in the community at large.

Washington: Chelan/Douglas School Retirees Association

Some people are born for heroism; some have heroism thrust upon them. And some, like the volunteers of Chelan/Douglas School Retirees Association, respond to a newsletter notice. “Wanted: Instant Heroes!” was the plea for help. It came from a group of creative school retirees who had learned of state program cuts affecting Rock Island Elementary, a school in a community with an 88 percent poverty level. This meant there would no longer be funding for many of the professionals providing one-on-one reinforcement for the students. A group from the Chelan/Douglas School Retirees Association committed to work with the school to address this challenge and fill the educational gap.
The Rock Island School Tutoring Project was set in motion. The clever notice was included in the association’s newsletter inviting members to participate. Twelve volunteers responded to the request and reported for a training session. Volunteers worked with first- and second-grade students for 2½ hours a day reinforcing reading and math skills.

Volunteers developed special relationships with students and provided a positive and fun experience for all involved. A current teacher at the elementary school remarked, “The volunteers are a bright spot in each of my student’s day.” Thanks to the association’s heroic volunteers, the students of Rock Island Elementary have a better chance of success in the face of life’s challenges.

Washington: Sno-Isle Unit No. 22 School Retirees Association

When a community need arises, the members of Sno-Isle Unit No. 22 School Retirees Association are there to fill it. They embody the spirit of Margaret Fuller’s quote, “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” To do well in school and to succeed in life, children must learn to read. Volunteers started a pen pal program in the Marysville School District in Washington to encourage English Language Learner (ELL) students to read and write.

As an introduction, the retired teachers made large posters with pictures and descriptive phrases of themselves. They delivered their posters to the school and picked up similar ones made by their student pen pals.

In the course of the year, students and their pen pals selected books and read them at the same time. The pen pals wrote each other letters about the books. To encourage a more fluid dialogue, the retired teachers asked the children specific questions about the stories. Students shared their favorite parts, thoughts on specific passages or pictures. They often included details about their own experiences or what they had done during the weekend.

The pen pal program had a great impact on the children and the retired teachers. Many students asked if they could continue writing to their pen pals over the summer. The program helped improve students’ reading and writing skills while forging friendships between the volunteers and Marysville’s future leaders.


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.




Michigan: Sue Ozar

Sue Ozar retired early from her job as a teacher. She wanted to leave privileged Grosse Pointe, Mich., and work in the developing world. She and her husband, Bud, went to American Samoa for three years, then moved to Meru, Kenya, to work in a Children’s Village for abandoned and orphaned youths. This region is severely affected by poverty, HIV and AIDS. For two years, she served as a teacher and counselor, helping kids one-on-one and providing a variety of support.

She left Kenya, but her work for the Children’s Village didn’t stop. Upon returning to the United States, Ozar formed Friends of Kenyan Orphans, for which she has raised $500,000. In January, she led a group of teachers, physicians and nurses to Meru to provide services to the students.

Ozar’s efforts extend even further. She arranged for a scholarship to Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia for a Children’s Village graduate. She also raised money to expand the St. Clare Centre for Girls, at the time a home for 250 orphaned girls in Meru. Since the fundraising efforts began, the facility has seen massive improvements, continues to grow and now services 600 children.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” according to a popular saying. Ozar fully embodies that spirit of community as she helps to enrich the lives of children in Kenya.

Additional Information

  • Submit a nomination for the 2011 With Our Youth! Awards.
  • Become an NRTA With Our Youth! volunteer. Contact the NRTA’s national office at 202-434-2380 or by e-mail.


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