AUSTIN – Fifteen outstanding school volunteers
who have collectively provided more than 127 years of service to the Texas
public schools will be recognized Friday as Heroes for Children by the State
Board of Education (SBOE).
The Heroes for Children honorees are selected annually
by State Board members and recognized for their volunteerism in the public
schools of their communities. During Friday’s ceremony, each hero will receive
an individual plaque recognizing his or her service, a copy of the resolution
scheduled for board approval and photographs commemorating the ceremony. Each
hero’s name will also be engraved on a plaque that is permanently displayed at
the Texas Education Agency.
The board will recognize these school
volunteers in a ceremony at 9 a.m. in Room 1-104 of the William B. Travis State
Office Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave., in Austin. The State Board of Education meeting
and award ceremony will be broadcast online.
Below is a brief description of the volunteer
activities performed by the 2017 Heroes for Children awardees.
Charles (Uvalde Consolidated ISD – SBOE District 1)
Whether it is serving as a life coach, helping
in the classroom, organizing the annual Christmas parade or helping students do
research in the library, Olga Charles is at school every day helping the
students of Uvalde CISD. Even when working at her job as the newspaper in education
coordinator for the Uvalde Leader-News, Charles is still helping teachers and
students as she shows them how to use the newspaper in their lessons. The
Uvalde superintendent calls her “a ball of energy” who can always be counted on
Vega (La Joya ISD – SBOE District 2)
Maria Vega is known as “Momma Vega” at Leo J.
Leo Elementary School in the La Joya ISD where the staff joke that she spends more
time on campus than they do. She helps teachers prepare materials for their
lessons and especially enjoys decorating the school for holidays. As someone
who obtained a limited education herself, Vega has made it a point to make sure
her family and the children at Leo J. Leo Elementary understand the importance
of education and especially develop a love for reading.
Hemmings (Northside ISD – SBOE District 3)
Ian C. Hemmings bikes to Northside ISD’s
Carnahan Elementary School every morning to meet with a group of students
before school begins. He helped the school pilot the award-winning Alamo-area
Children Organized to Replant Natives or Project Acorn, which has now expanded
to 24 schools. Hemmings is also a founding member of WATCH D.O.G.S., a dads’
group that promotes safety and character development. As an immigrant with a
visual impairment, he has become a role model for children who are receiving
special education services or who are new to the United States.
Ann Youens (Galena Park ISD – SBOE District 4)
Carol Ann Youens is the second member of her
family to earn the Heroes for Children award, as her late husband Alfred
received the award last year. Eighteen years ago, this devoted couple decided
to “pay it forward” and began volunteering in Galena Park ISD. For the past 14
years, Youens has focused her work on assisting first- and second-grade
students with basic reading skills. She’s also known to show up in the North
Shore Elementary in a wacky outfit for Dr. Seuss Week or wear red for Red
Ribbon Week. Another volunteer recently called Youens “the mother of the
Elliott (Wayside Schools – SBOE District 5)
In 2013, Chelsea Elliott founded the Half
Helen Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to improve children’s
vision and hearing through innovative screenings, research and advocacy. Named
after Helen Keller who said, “I am half-blind, I am half-deaf, I am
half-Helen,” Elliott’s foundation in the 2016-2017 school year alone provided
photoscreening to more than 15,000 students in Austin and San Antonio Title I
schools free of charge. She hopes to reach 30,000 students this year.
Matteson (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD – SBOE District 6)
Cyndi Matteson has won the Cypress-Fairbanks
ISD global volunteer award two of the past three years because she is such an
active volunteer. She mentors six students each week, provides special staff
lunches and treats, helps with orientation, reads to students, assists with
vision and hearing screening and chaperones for extracurricular events, just to
name a few of her activities. She is now a member of the district’s VIPS
executive board and helps to coordinate volunteer activity at more than 80
Jefferson (Alvin and Pearland ISDs – SBOE District 7)
Frederick Jefferson created the Man II Man
support group that provides a venue where fathers of special needs children can
discuss the ups and downs of parenting special children. He always promotes the
idea that parents and schools need to form a partnership to provide the best
outcome for these children. Because he works in the growing districts of Alvin
and Pearland, he brought together a diverse group to compile a resource guide
that lists services available in the area, such as pediatricians and therapists.
This information provides a valuable resource to newcomers.
Jahn (Conroe ISD – SBOE District 8)
An active leader in the Conroe ISD Parent
Teacher Organization (PTO), Stacie Jahn has worked to improve both the
education and environment at local schools. She spearheaded efforts to raise
funds to purchase two large canopies to provide shade on playgrounds. Jahn also
successfully lobbied to include funding for a new gym in the 2016 district’s
bond package. Additionally, she led efforts to fund teacher training and purchase
new equipment such as a die cut machine and filtered water cooler.
Rogers (Elkhart ISD – SBOE District 9)
Amanda Rogers has volunteered at Elkhart
Elementary School for 21 years. Although a brain tumor left her disabled when
she was still a toddler, Rogers has become a role model for children. She
instinctively picks out students who most need assistance and support. She
reads with struggling readers, helps organize homework, monitors hallways and
restrooms and always asks staff how she can help. She believes that seeing her
cope with her disability helps students learn to be accepting of students who
are different in some way.
Senchack (Round Rock ISD – SBOE District 10)
During his 23 years of voluntary service in
Round Rock ISD, Mike Senchack has worked with teachers and directors from five
high schools and 10 middle schools. He has provided audio-visual recording,
editing and post production services for dance, choir, orchestra, theater,
Future Farmers of America and other school organizations as well as booster
clubs. On average, Senchack videotapes 35 performances a year.
J. French (Burleson ISD – SBOE District 11)
Thomas J. French has been called “a
quintessential servant leader.” He coached youth sports teams – football,
basketball, baseball and soccer – for 20 years. Now his activities include
volunteering for more than 500 hours to mentor robotics teams in Burleson ISD,
working in concession stands and refereeing games. French supports the
district’s Parent Teacher Organizations and financially supports the Burleson
Opportunity Fund, a scholarship fund that helps any district student who wants
to attend college to do so.
Cook (Harmony Public Schools– SBOE District 12)
Teresa Cook is an outspoken advocate for the
Harmony Public Schools and Harmony School of Innovation in Garland in
particular. She repeatedly talked with legislators about the need for
facilities funding for charter schools. Cook spends many hours meeting with
local officials to tell them about Harmony. She serves as parliamentarian of
the school’s PTO and she chaperones students on field trips.
Pencis (Fort Worth ISD – SBOE District 13)
Through a partnership between Fort Worth ISD,
the Fort Worth Opera and The Red Oak Foundation, Mary Pencis heads up a group
of more than 50 volunteers who visit 12 Title I schools to bring timeless
classic tales told through children’s opera to young children. The students
read the opera, attend a performance and are given a bilingual book of the
story to take home. The partnership teaches children opera-related vocabulary,
the history of opera, and promotes reading as well as problem solving. Pencis
and her volunteers have read books to approximately 10,800 kindergartners.
Lyons (Copperas Cove ISD – SBOE District 14)
Charles Lyons, a retired solder, puts his
leadership skills to use for the Copperas Cove ISD. He is the advisor to the
Copperas Cove Excel Club, which completed more than 700 hours of service on 31
community projects. As co-coordinator of Project Graduation, an alcohol and
drug-free overnight celebration, Lyons rescued a faltering fundraising effort
and eventually raised $9,000 to fund the event. As the merchandise and concessions
manager at district athletic events, he has helped raise more than $20,000 for
the Copperas Cove athletic program.
Lyles (Amarillo ISD – SBOE District 15)
Retired teacher Evelyn Lyles is often one of
the first people in Amarillo to greet families in the US Refugee Resettlement
Program. She volunteers on a number of Amarillo ISD campuses where she helps
the refugees make medical appointments, relays messages, facilitates English as
a Second Language and citizenship classes and encourages parental involvement. She’s
been called a Godsend to these families who are starting their lives over in
the Texas Panhandle.
The State Board has recognized outstanding
school volunteers with the Heroes for Children award since 1994. They have
collectively provided thousands and thousands of hours of service to their
Texas public schools.