Outstanding School Volunteers of the Year

Three individuals were honored as St. Johns County’s 2013-2014 Outstanding Volunteers of the Year at the seventh annual Outstanding School Volunteer reception held recently at First Coast Technical College. Cheryl Freeman, volunteer coordinator for the St. Johns County School District served as emcee and Superintendent Dr. Joseph Joyner announced the school volunteer coordinators.

Outstanding Senior Volunteer, Elizabeth Smallridge, shows that readers are leaders in the St. Johns County School District. For the last 17 years, she has shared her love of books with students at Ocean Palms Elementary School where she has coordinated the Readers Aloud program since 1996. Smallridge takes on administrative tasks such as guaranteeing that all volunteers have proper clearance, as well as training senior volunteers. Smallridge communicates with teachers so that she can choose books that the students will love and that relate to what they are learning in school. For example, when the students were studying life science, Smallridge read a book about Ivan, a gorilla in captivity. The students were so touched by Ivan’s story that they collected money to make a donation to the World Wildlife Federation and adopt a lowland gorilla in Smallridge’s name.

Outstanding Youth Volunteer, Mimi Haley, a senior at Ponte Vedra High School (PVHS) who was nominated by both Ocean Palms Elementary School (OPES) and PVHS, was also selected as the Outstanding Youth Volunteer of the Year for Region II by the Florida Department of Education earlier this year. This honor makes Haley one of the top five youth volunteers in the state. At OPES, Haley serves as a role model for younger students by reading with them and helping them with technology. She also assists OPES teachers by working in their classrooms, organizing materials and demonstrating new technology.

At PVHS, she is an active member of the English Honors Society, Science Honors Society and Senior Women as well as being the vice president of the National Hispanic Honors Society. Currently Haley is collaborating with the Mayor’s Hispanic American Advisory Board in Jacksonville to help compile and evaluate resource guide information which offers services to those of all ages. In addition, she has demonstrated remarkable leadership by organizing events and promoting awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. She has coordinated events and letter writing campaigns in support of Senate Bill 52 which bans texting while driving that became law on October 1 of last year.

Outstanding Adult Volunteer, Corey Walker, is pursuing the call to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate. He has served as both mentor and coach to over 45 boys in the last year, many of whom did not have strong male role models in their lives, through The Webster School’s Camp Champion which provides mentoring and tutoring to its students after school. Walker volunteers in a number of additional school district and community capacities. In addition to coaching two recreation department basketball teams in Hastings as well as AAU travel basketball team, he and his wife are active members on The Webster School Advisory Council and in their church.

These Outstanding Volunteers of the Year will be recognized at the May 13 School Board meeting.

Awards were also presented to runners-up in each category. In the Youth Category, Michael “Hank” Mengel of Creekside High School and St. Augustine High School student Savanah Harget, a volunteer at Sebastian Middle School, were recognized for their efforts. Susanna Vance of Creekside High School and Lindsey Waggoner of Fruit Cove Middle School were honored in the Adult Category. The Senior Category honored Salvatore Iaropoli of Pacetti Bay Middle School, Roy Harvey of Creekside High School, Dorothy Barrett of The Webster School and Rene Patricia Naughton of St. Augustine High School.

The event included the announcement of the district-wide Parent Involvement Award winners. These awards are presented to an elementary school and a secondary school each year for innovative school practices that increase family involvement. This year’s district winner at the secondary level was Creekside High School for its “Creekside Community Collaboration Project.” The elementary winner was Hickory Creek Elementary for its “Hickory’s Heart” project.

In addition to the announcement of these outstanding volunteers and the Parent Involvement Award winners, the school volunteer coordinators were also recognized. The 122 individuals honored at this event were just a few of the 16,773 volunteers who contributed 300,375 hours of service to district schools during the past year. This week marks National Volunteer Week, observed April 6 – 12.

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