Marilyn Whitehurst loves her kids. Her kids include her own child, the children she cared for as a pediatric nurse, and now the second graders enrolled in Community Lodgings’ Youth Education after school program and summer programs, where she volunteers once or twice a week.
“When I first met the kids, I fell in love with them,” Marilyn, the 2016 Community Lodgings Volunteer of the Year, recalled. She was especially concerned for the kids in the program whose parents did not speak English and could not help them with their homework, so the Youth Education volunteer role was a perfect fit. Now working full time as surgical sales consultant, Marilyn was especially pleased that the Community Lodgings staff would adjust her volunteer schedule to accommodate her work commitments.
Marilyn tutors the same 12-14 kids that she met last year when they were first graders and she was a new volunteer, and already has seen them grow academically and socially. She is amazed at how fast they can read a book now, and she encourages them to take their books home and read to their younger siblings. That, she believes, helps both children with reading and English language comprehension, and also helps their mother, who may be caring for other children.
Volunteering with the Community Lodgings’ kids is Marilyn’s Red Bull. She misses them when she is not with them, and they refresh her, even after she has worked an eight-hour shift. “It energizes me to know that we are making a difference with these children and these families, especially at such an early age,” she said. “It really makes me feel like we are offering something beneficial for them. You can have a crazy schedule and be totally exhausted, and when you get there they just give you that energy.”
She cherishes the one-on-one time she has with each of her students, and knows that praising them and saying, “I’m amazed at what you are doing and how great you are” gives them the self-assurance that translates to success in school.
“Having that relationship with them helps them realize the importance of school and doing the best they can,” she said. She also hopes to reinforce the value of education and strong family ties.
And then there are those hugs. Marilyn watches the kids to get off bus and run into the Fifer Family Learning Center, then rush up to her for a hug. Once, she recalled, she had to leave early and tried to discreetly slip out of a side door. She turned around and saw her second graders wave to her, then spontaneously rush out of the door, insisting on hugging her goodbye.
“They’re great kids,” Marilyn says of her young charges. “The kids are always so respectful and well-behaved. You get more than you give. It’s just a blessing.”