April 24, 2014

Dedicated volunteers ‘mean the world’ to Rock Hill teachers, students

Thousands of volunteers make important contributions every day in Rock Hill schools.

Almost every single day at Mount Holly Elementary School in Rock Hill, Dianne Elkins sorts ice cream orders from hundreds of students into bags.

She spends the rest of her day making copies, tending to the teachers’ workroom or doing whatever other task a teacher or administrator gives her, like any good employee would.

Except Elkins isn’t a school employee. She’s a volunteer who dedicates most of her life to helping the students at Mount Holly, much to the delight of students, teachers and staff members. Most students just assume she’s a district employee.

“They see me out of school and they go, ‘Hey, you work at my school,’ ” Elkins said.

Across town, at Ebinport Elementary School, most of the students feel the same way about Wanda Sanders – “Nana,” as she’s known throughout the building.

A few years ago, Sanders started volunteering at Ebinport while her husband went to dialysis. After he died, she found comfort in the faces of the children at Ebinport.

“They’re the best,” she said.

Elkins and Sanders are two standout examples of volunteers at Rock Hill schools, where the work of all volunteers is being honored this week – National Public School Volunteer Week.

Dedicated volunteers are essential to a school, said Angela Neal, an administrative assistant at Mount Holly.

“She’s so dependable and never once has said ‘no’ when asked to help out,” Neal said of Elkins.

In 2008, when Mount Holly first opened, Elkins started volunteering because her grandchildren attended the school. Six years later, they’ve all moved on to middle school and high school, but she’s got another grandchild starting at Mount Holly in the fall.

That means the school has her for at least another six years, said Neal. To that, Elkins just shook her head and smiled.

“She’s nice and she’s always doing stuff,” said second-grader J’yra Carothers.

Sanders is in Mary Lou Pundt’s third-grade classroom at Ebinport so often, she has her own area and table where she sits to work with students. During a lesson on the number line, Pundt told her students to work on a few practice problems in their notebooks.

“And who do we ask for help if we don’t understand?” Pundt asked her students, who replied in unison, “Nana.”

The children’s attachment to Sanders goes so deep, Pundt said, they worry if she misses a day.

“Nana cares about us and she’s nice and kind,” said third-grader Greta White.

Volunteering isn’t hard and doesn’t require any special skills, Sanders said, just a desire to help children.

“It’s a great reward,” she said. “Children don’t get all the support they need.”

Across Rock Hill schools, more than 8,000 people are approved to volunteer in schools, from college students to senior citizens, said Serena Williams, coordinator of community services.

But there’s always a need for help, agreed Pundt, Neal, Elkins and Sanders.

School volunteers must complete an application and pass a criminal background check.

Volunteers fill all kinds of positions, from chaperoning on field trips to tutoring and serving as lunch buddies and more. Williams said the district is fortunate because there are volunteers, like Elkins and Sanders, in each school every day.

On Thursday morning, in the back of Pundt’s classroom, one little boy leaned into Sanders and asked if he was allowed to work with a buddy.

“I’ll be your buddy,” Sanders told him. “Let’s go.”

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