By Alecia Brooks
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Volunteers at Van Allen Elementary school donate a valuable gift: their help.
The school is undoubtedly run by teachers and other official staff members, but volunteers– those Parent Teacher Organization members, retired teachers and university students who give freely of their time and talents– also help with operation, said former Principal Carmen Dixon.
And while Dixon said that all Van Allen helpers are great and she wishes more could be nominated, only one could be chosen for a special recognition known as Noon Optimist Friend of Youth Outstanding Educator Award, which is given to volunteers who have made a positive impact in schools.
This year’s designee was North Liberty City Council member Terry Donahue, who always wanted to volunteer after retiring from his position as the associate warden at Oakdale Prison.
“I’ve always had a desire to work with kids,” Donahue said. “My stance has always been that if we need to engage kids in school, we need to catch them at the elementary level.”
In addition to helping students with Internet searches, locating library books and organizing material on the shelves, Donahue also helped students complete reports and work within core subjects.
“I was totally ecstatic and didn’t expect the award, but the recognition was great,” he said.
Donahue became familiar with Van Allen because his wife was a paraeducator. He began his volunteer work by asking office staff they needed help in 2009. He has been there to lend a helping hand since.
Donahue said he enjoyed volunteering, and it seemed like the children were eager to work with him as well.
“It almost became a competition to work with me,” he said. “Students would ask, ‘When will you get a chance to work with me?’”
An excerpt from the recommendation letter that was written by Dixon reads, “[Donahue] is kind and generous with his time and talent . . . and flexible and dedicated to the students and staff of Van Allen.”
“The students were always excited when he came – to show what they’ve been doing or what they’ve learned,” Dixon said in an interview with the Leader. “He was really encouraging and motivating.”
Donahue was also described as a gentle spirit who worked-one-on-one with students and specifically helped with the Positive Behavior Intervention Support initiative.
The initiative allows students to receive tickets when they conduct themselves with expected behaviors, like properly walking through hallways. Accumulated tickets are counted every Friday and students are recognized during monthly family events.
Donahue specifically helped by entering names, collecting buckets and counting tickets– a huge task that allowed teachers to complete other responsibilities.
“He’s a jolly man who just loves kids, and he’s made such a huge difference,” Dixon said.
Fitting words for one who lives the tenants of the Optimist Creed: “To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own,” and “To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.”
Donahue said he plans to volunteer during the 2011-12 school year.
“The more you can put in with a kids school, the better,” he said. “It just reaps rewards.”