The Heart of a Volunteer

  • Written by: Theresa Jennings
  • Photos by: Aaron Ford

When the first morning bell rings at a St. Vrain school, you see our students, teachers, and staff buzzing with excitement as a new day of learning begins. After the second bell, you begin to see the next wave of individuals arrive to support our schools. This diverse group consists of individuals ranging from high school students to retirees. Their actions impact the entire school and they move with grace from the office to classrooms. They sit alongside kindergarteners learning to read, speak to students about careers, maintain school gardens, and serve as industry mentors. When they visit their local grocery store, they smile as student passers-by recognize their faces and whisper their names, “that’s Mrs. Heath!”

These individuals are volunteers who make our schools a little more like home, they remind students of their own parents and grandparents, and they build relationships and connections, helping them with everything from academics to providing an extra shoulder during a time of need. Our volunteers come from all walks of life, including retired community leaders, industry experts, small business owners, and parents. Each volunteer brings their own set of skills and knowledge that they can share within our schools.

For some interested in volunteering, getting started is the hard part. Betty Heath, a longtime volunteer in St. Vrain Valley Schools, said the best way to start is to jump in. “You don’t know what you are missing and the rewards of volunteering are just phenomenal,” said Mrs. Heath, who is known to students throughout the Carbon Valley. “It helps you realize what actually happens in school and what goes on in the minds of kids today.”

Dave Fowler – or Grandpa Dave as he is widely known – is a famous volunteer at Burlington Elementary. “I just love being around kids and learning from and with them. The world is so different inside these four walls compared to when I was a student. They are learning math topics in third or fourth grade that I did not start until seventh grade.”

“If the children take advantage, and the parents help them take advantage, they can do anything they want because the education they are getting here is very solid,” explained Dave. “We are preparing them to do whatever they want to do.”

The role of the volunteer does not go unnoticed. George Heath, a Carbon Valley community member and husband to Betty Heath, describes the opportunity as fun and rewarding. “I would recommend it to anyone. Sometimes you don’t know when you are making a contribution, but you can look around and enjoy seeing students achieve their goals,” said Mr. Heath. “If someone volunteers as part of their lifestyle the rewards are far greater than just signing up to do a project. I have found the community appreciates it, too.”

“The kids are learning so much, so early and every little thing you notice encourages them, because they realize you are an old guy who is still willing to learn.”

Dave Fowler, Volunteer, Burlington Elementary

Photo: Legacy Elementary volunteer, Betty Heath, posing with students ahead of their presentation to the Board of Education.

Robbie Fowler, son of Grandpa Dave and proud parent of three St. Vrain students, says that individuals should get involved in local schools to improve the community. “You want to show the kids that even if individuals are not connected to students at a school, they can still have a positive impact,” he explained. “Just having that positive impact on a young person’s life brings back memories of volunteers from my childhood.”

Volunteers are also the connectors. “Volunteering connects the everyday citizens with the institutions,” explains Dave. A volunteer provides an outside perspective, and a different way to reach the student. “I believe that kids learn differently and volunteers can bring out the best in students. I like helping kids find the tools to get to the next step,” Dave says. When asked about their favorite part of giving back, every volunteer marveled at the students and their desire to learn and grow.

Mrs. Heath loves the lifelong relationships she builds with students through reading and writing. She continues to keep track of many students, all of whom remember her fondly.

“I want to help students fulfill their goals. I helped a group of students at Legacy Elementary create a newspaper and they were awesome,” described Mrs. Heath, who had a long career in journalism and still writes a column for the Times-Call. “They opened their heads up and when their work was published, they were ecstatic. They had a goal and desire and I was able to help them a little bit.”

Dave highlighted the value of life-long learning, “The kids are learning so much, so early and every little thing you notice encourages them, because they realize you are an old guy who is still willing to learn,” said Dave.

Robbie echoes his father. “The kids look up to those parents who come in and spend their time with them. I don’t know all of the students yet, but you get a smile from them that warms you up inside. It is nice to have that parent figure, that is not a teacher, come in and spend some time with students in the classroom and out at recess.”

It is hard to quantify the impact our volunteers have on students and the feelings of purpose our volunteers gain by working in our classrooms. But, as these four volunteers all agree, you get more than what you give. They all hope that the students are getting as much from them as they get in return for volunteering.

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ST. VRAINNOVATION was produced in-house by the St. Vrain Department of Communications.
ST. VRAINNOVATION and other district initiatives are generously supported by these and many other community sponsors.

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