Overland Park resident Carol Whelan is the kind of volunteer that teachers like Lana Miller dream about. When Whelan shows up in Miller’s kindergarten class each Thursday at Stanley Elementary, she knows she can count on her to help with just about anything, from reading groups to chaperoning field trips.
Because of her dedication, Whelan was honored with Blue Valley’s 2012 Friends of Education School District Volunteer Award. Indian Valley Elementary School volunteer Stacy Obringer-Varhall also was honored for her work with her school’s PTA, including serving as president for four years, and other efforts for the district.
Whelan began volunteering at Stanley Elementary when her oldest grandson was in kindergarten. That was 11 years ago. And even though he’s now a sophomore in high school, she’s never left elementary school.
“My joke is that my grandkids have been promoted, but I’ve been retained,” Whelan said.
And that’s good news for teachers like Miller who’ve come to depend on her. While Miller presides over her class of 22 students, Whelan can often be found working with students in small groups.
On one particular Thursday, she carefully guides her reading group through a lesson on question marks.
“Where would you like to go?” Whelan asks the group as she shows them a flashcard with a picture of a question mark on it.
“I want to go to McDonalds,” answers kindergartner Ashton Hawerlander matter of factly.
It’s this kind of easy-going relationship that seems to have endeared her to both the kids and the teaching staff.
“The kids love working with her,” Miller said. “And she loves to see the kids grow and learn. She does it for the children. She really takes joy in it.”
“She’s a terrific helper,” said Karen Pittman, Stanley Elementary first-grade teacher. “She does everything I ask her to do.”
Whelan rarely shies away from a task. Besides working with reading groups, she spends her time at school making bulletin boards, preparing materials for class projects and making sure student folders are filled and ready to go home at the end of the day.
“It just frees the teachers up for spending more time with their children,” Whelan said.
Working with children has been a huge part of Whelan’s life. She spent more than 20 years as a middle school nurse in the Shawnee Mission School District. She also spent considerable time volunteering in her own children’s elementary school while they were growing up.
But at age 77, when most people would be enjoying their retirement years outside of a school setting, Whelan feels the need to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of young people.
“I’ve always believed in volunteering,” Whelan said. “It is part of my life. And this just seems to fit. It is a good niche. So, why not?”
It seems her passion for volunteerism has rubbed off on others.
“She’s a model of what I want to be when I retire,” Miller said.
Whelan doesn’t have any immediate plans to retire from her volunteer work. She enjoys it too much and the kids seem to enjoy her just as much.
“She’s nice,” said kindergartner Katie Mueller.
“I like her reading,” added kindergartner Jack Alexander.
Besides, Whelan would miss having fifth-graders who still remember her from when they were in kindergarten wave at her in the hallway.
“It is fun for me to see the kids grow in their learning,” Whelan said. “I take satisfaction in knowing that I had a little part in it.”