Thanking and Honoring Those Who Volunteer for WS/FCS
2021 National Volunteer Week is April 18-24.
By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
APRIL 16, 2021 – Since September, Janny Gauss has been heading over the Ardmore Baptist Church once a week to work as a volunteer at the church’s remote learning center.
It’s satisfying to work with the students, she said. “A chance to feel like I can help and support students who are eager to learn.”
A number of the students who come to the center are relatively new to the United States and their first language is Swahili. That means they may have a lot of catching up to do and need extra support.
Gauss is happy to provide that support, and, as a retired teacher who taught English as a Second Language, she has the skills that enable her to do that.
“I have experience with kids who are second-language learners.”
And, having spent time in Germany at a time when she was not yet comfortable with the language, she said, she knows what those challenges can feel like.
“I have some empathy based on personal experience.”
Gauss is the chair of the Global Service Committee at nearby Highland Presbyterian Church, and she is one of a number of Highland members who volunteer at the center.
Members of Ardmore Baptist also serve as volunteers at the center.
Becky Bryant, who is a member of Ardmore Baptist, serve as the site supervisor for the learning center. She appreciates all that the volunteers do.
“Our wonderful Ardmore Remote Learning Center volunteers have huge, generous hearts and have made the difference for so many students during this unique, challenging year!” Bryant said.
Jenny Scholl is District Volunteer Coordinator for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools.
“We have such great appreciation for the Remote Learning Center volunteers,” Scholl said.
“They came together, picked up where in-person learning left off and have shared the ability to motivate and guide these students through an unprecedented time.”
Jim Davidson is still on staff part-time at Ardmore as an Associate Minister of Music, and his responsibilities include working with children and young adults.
Like Gauss, he comes once a week. He is scheduled to be there from 8:15 to 10:45 a.m. on Thursday mornings but is happy to stick around longer if needed.
Why does he come?
“I have a passion for children and youth and helping them to learn and to grow up to be their best,” Davidson said.
He, too, has first-hand experience of some of the language challenges that face students coming to the remote learning center.
From 2003 to 2009, he and his wife, Rosemary, served as missionaries in Brazil. There, he taught music.
“At age 60, I had to learn Portuguese.”
Trying to direct musicians while speaking a combination of English and Portuguese could lead to laughter.
“What’s rewarding for me is to see these students and to be able to help them through those struggles.”
Once he returned to the United States, he found himself still using a mix of Portuguese and English when directing. Today his favorite word is “maravihoso,” the Portuguese version of “marvelous.”
While serving as the Minister to Children and Families at Ardmore Baptist, Lee Ritchie volunteers at the remote learning center. On the day of the interviews, she was wearing a T-shirt that said, “Kindness Is a Super Power.”
Ritchie started volunteering when the center was first established, in part, because the need for volunteers was great. She has continued to volunteer because the experiences are so satisfying.
“It’s a unique opportunity to care for our neighbors and to get a chance to interact with students in our community.”
She has learned a lot along the way.
Before she began volunteering at the center, she didn’t realize the depth of the challenges faced by some of the people new to the United States. Trying to navigate life during the pandemic has made all of that even more difficult.
Ritchie has also relearned a lot. Asked whether anything about the teaching process has surprised her, she responded immediately – fractions.
In recent years, fractions haven’t received much of her attention, Ritchie said. “Relearning fractions was just comical.”
Emily Collins is one of 13 Highland volunteers, and she serves as the coordinator for the program at her church. Collins comes twice a week – one day in the morning and one day in the afternoon.
“These kids are so hard-working and so committed to doing well,” Collins said. “They are easy to work with. They want to be successful.”
“I’m thrilled the remote learning center exists. It’s so rewarding to get a kid through an obstacle.”
Over time, she has become known as the volunteer that others can turn to when a question about physics comes up. Physics was never her strength, she said, but she took the classes and she can usually be helpful, although coming up with an answer may require her pulling knowledge “deep down from the recesses.”
Her favorite word is “penultimate” in large part because she likes the way it sounds.
Highland provides a church bus for students who need to be picked up, and the Rev. Debbie Layman, who is the Associate Pastor at the Highland, coordinates the bus program in addition to coming in as a volunteer to serve the students.
“I love it,” she said. “I feel like I can really be of help.”
Her sons Benjamin and Christopher are now students at Atkins Academic & Technology High School, and, these days, they are seldom inclined to turn to their mother for answers. So she enjoys being able to answer questions for students at the center.
She also appreciates being able to help students who face other challenges as well.
“That brings me joy,” Layman said.
Another bonus is seeing Highland members in another context.
“I think people have been looking for something concrete to do during the pandemic,” she said. “This gives us a hands-on way to be part of the solution.”
Mark Batten, the Executive Director of Community Engagement for the school system, appreciates what the volunteers are doing and how the remote learning centers support students.
“The district’s partnerships with learning centers over the last year has really shown the power of our communities coming together to offer a high order of care,” Batten said.
“The organizations and faith communities were willing to offer so much beyond their space – staffing and volunteers, updates to their WiFi capabilities, supplies and creative activities – to provide students support and encouragement during a time when so much was changing for them.”
“In visiting many of the centers it has become clear that the relationships formed will be something the students will remember for the rest of their lives.”
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