...Continue to Give Back
After educating young minds for years, it’s no surprise that many NEA—Retired Members continue to serve others. Through volunteering, mentoring and giving back to their Association, the altruism they displayed in the classroom continues today. Below, we profile five individuals who go above and beyond to help others.
“I am an educator, I am a community activist,” Pyfrom says. “I have been, and still am concerned about the people in my community. It’s just a matter of leaving one job to go into a situation where I can devote my time solely to this project. So I sat down and figured out what I needed to do, and how I needed to do it.”
Bridging the Digital Divide
Pyfrom knew that poor access to technology was affecting her students and their families. Without computers or Internet access at home, many children were unable to complete school work, and the adults in their households had limited employment opportunities, which compounded other problems in the community.
Pyfrom’s solution was to buy a bus, refurbish the inside, fill it with technology, and take the resources directly to residents in her area. Since 2011, Pyfrom’s custom-designed mobile computer lab—called Estella’s Brilliant Bus—has provided free Internet access to over 20,000.
“Having worked in communities that serve underserved families, and kids who attended Title-1 schools, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to realize … many of them have limited resources, as well as no transportation to get to the libraries and to the schools and other places where many of those services are,” says Pyfrom. “Being from that community, I knew what the problems were. This is how I chose to perpetuate their educations, through technology and these services. If the families and kids can’t always get to where the services are with ease, then the next best thing would be to find a way to take the services to the neighborhood.”
When it’s time to bring the technology to others, Pyfrom—who learned to drive trucks and buses as a teenager—gets behind the wheel. Although she is focused on education and children, she also provides other resources.
“We realize that the needs of the family don’t just start and stop with the kids,” says Pyfrom. “So we listen, and if we can provide additional services we do. The Brilliant Bus project is a movement to help underserved families focus on improving their lives, be it through education or access to other services in the neighborhood. We’re able to do that because we have technology and we have Wi-Fi. This is another way that we can empower those people to connect with others and reach across the world.”
Estella’s Brilliant Bus operates four to six days per week and serves Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, and Broward County on the eastern coast of Florida. The non-profit also offers homebound services to those whose who are unable to climb aboard the bus, and partners with Comcast to provide computers and Internet access to needy families at discounted rates.
Pyfrom has received numerous accolades for her efforts. Last year, she was named one of 10 “CNN Heroes,” and also received a “Women of Worth” award from the cosmetic giant L’Oreal. Pyfrom’s work has been profiled in local, state, and national publications, and she has been featured on “NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.”
But she isn’t hung up on the recognition. Instead, she wants to expand her efforts. “I’m in the process of organizing groups to help navigate and implement the process in other states,” she says. “We will have our core group in West Palm Beach, but we’ll also have them do outreach and communicate with people in other areas that we have already identified. We plan to replicate the project in many other states and across the world.” The United Kingdom, India and several African countries have expressed interest in expanding Pyfrom’s mobile computer lab approach.
Nancy and Tom Kunkel
When they retired in 2005 after teaching in the Nebraska Public Schools for 33 years, the Kunkels had no idea how to spend their retirement.
“I was an elementary teacher and Tom was an elementary principal and school superintendent,” Nancy says. “When we retired, it was difficult to visualize the new journey we were about to embark on. After a few weeks of sleeping late and feeling somewhat lost, we both decided it was time for us to give back and move forward.”
They put their home on the market—it sold in one week—and moved into a log cabin overlooking a lake outside Yankton, S.D. To others, the northerly move may have sounded unusual, but the Kunkels are pleased.
When they retired in 2005 after teaching in the Nebraska Public Schools for 33 years, the Kunkels had no idea how to spend their retirement. “I was an elementary teacher and Tom was an elementary principal and school superintendent,” Nancy says. “When we retired, it was difficult to visualize the new journey we were about to embark on. After a few weeks of sleeping late and feeling somewhat lost, we both decided it was time for us to give back and move forward.” They put their home on the market—it sold in one week—and moved into a log cabin overlooking a lake outside Yankton, S.D. To others, the northerly move may have sounded unusual, but the Kunkels are pleased.
“Our grown children tried to tell us, ‘Mom and Dad, no one moves north when they retire,’” says Nancy. “However, it’s been a great move for us with lots of opportunities—many that we had never thought would be so rewarding.”
Partly to meet new friends, and partly to become more involved in their new community, the couple reached out to the city’s senior center to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Habitat for Humanity was one of the first “non-teaching adventures”—as Nancy calls them—the couple pursued in their new city.
“We have helped build five homes for Habitat for Humanity,” Nancy says. “I personally have felt very empowered doing manual labor jobs. I never thought I’d hang drywall, dig out trenches, stain windows and doors, and use a nail gun!”
Nancy and Tom are TEAM volunteers at the local Yankton hospital. They make beds, deliver patient meals and more. To meet new friends, Nancy and Tom work different shifts.
“We’ve been married 45 years, but it’s just kind of nice.” Nancy says. “We have made so many new friends and acquaintances with the hospital staff and other volunteers.”
Children are one of the couple’s main focus, and Nancy and Tom volunteer with the youth in their church. They have accompanied them on ski trips to Colorado, which connects the duo with teens in a fun and open environment. Tom has also worked for the local Boys and Girls Club and mentored a local nine-year-old boy for several years. “It’s really satisfying for us to do this kind of work,” Tom says.
Nancy has begun a “Pillowcases for Kids” project to provide hand-made, child-friendly pillowcases for the hospital’s pediatric unit.
“I started making the pillowcases for my grandkids, and then I thought that it would be a good project to do for the hospital in Yankton,” says Nancy. “I pick out and buy the fabric, sew the pillows, and then I secretly sign, “Made with love and prayers by Grandma Nancy” inside the pillow. Then, I deliver them to the kids while they’re there. The kids get to take them when they go home.”
Each winter, the Kunkels and other “snowbirds” head to the Gulf coast for several months of relaxation. But it’s not all fun in the sun there, either. Tom and Nancy still find time to volunteer and give back to others. They joined a Dakotas Snowbirds club (both are former presidents of the group) that organizes fundraisers, maintains a food pantry, and has trivia nights to benefit the local public library.
“There are snowbird clubs for most of the states along the coast,” says Tom. “You can get involved with those clubs and you get to meet people from your home state and you get to do volunteer work. That’s a great way to get involved.”
So, how do the Kunkels have the time and energy to spend so much time volunteering, even while on vacation? Tom says that it’s a great way for them to stay active and continue to tap into the reservoir of service that initially drew them into teaching.
“I find it interesting that a lot of the retired people we talk to say they can’t believe how busy they are. I guess my feeling is when you work you have excuses for not doing this or not doing that, and now you just go ahead and do it,” says Tom.
Jim Sproul’s commitment to the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), his community, and public education, have lasted for decades.
He taught for 30 years in Knox County, Ky., occupying leadership positions throughout the Association and his community. In 1976, he was elected KEA president, and built the Association’s state-wide clout by moving the headquarters to the state’s Franfort capital. Sproul also served six years as president of NEA—Retired, five years on the NEA Advisory Council, and on the KEA Executive Committee.
In 2012, Sproul was honored with the NEA Distinguished Service Award for continued service on behalf of fellow teachers and retirees, and for community service.
Endorsing Sproul for the award, KEA-Retired president Jon Henrickson said: “For all his national and state activism, Jim remains rooted in his local mountain community of Knox County, Ky., where he is still keeping books at the local tire shop and serving on multiple community boards.
“Jim’s service includes 25 years as a member of the Knox County Hospital Board, which he chaired for two decades, helping to obtain the funding for a new hospital. He was a member of the Knox County Library Board when the facility underwent a major technological upgrade. And he served on the Knox County Emergency Fund Board, designing a program that allows residents to exchange work experiences for much-needed utility services.”
Sproul was also the driving force behind KEA’s continuous membership program, which provides all active KEA members with KEA-Retired memberships once they retire. As a result, the organization’s membership has grown from 2,000 to 11,000 retired teachers who are continuing to fight for public education.
“We passed a motion where our members would automatically roll over and become retired members and have their dues paid. We worked with the Kentucky Delegate Assembly to raise the active dues so that anybody, whether they’ve been a member of KEA for two years or 30 years, would become a KEA-Retired member once they retired.”
While he’s dedicated much of his time to strengthening the voices of retired teachers, Sproul has also played an important role in helping to support, retain, and mentor new educators. Although Kentucky has mentoring programs in place for first-year teachers, Sproul has worked with new educators to make sure that they’re receiving the necessary assistance to succeed in the classroom.
“First year teachers in Kentucky have a college-based supervisor or partner to give them guidance. But, those in the profession after that have nobody. So we’ve organized our retirees to mentor those second- through fourth-year educators. We just started this program in November, and it’s something that we thought would be really helpful because so many teachers leave the profession during that timeframe.”
For 25 years, Barbara Snyder worked as an elementary school teacher in Tullahoma, Tenn., teaching first through third grade students, and serving as a resource teacher for special education. As she puts it: “I loved helping kids who needed help.”
Following retirement in 1995, Snyder traveled—to Europe, Italy, England, and Alaska—but found that the allure of travel wasn’t strong enough to permanently pull her away from her community.
“It was and is enjoyable,” she says, “but so is life in small town Tullahoma.”
But Snyder isn’t a regular resident. In Tullahoma, she’s also a committed volunteer and was recently named 2013 “Citizen of the Year” by the Tullahoma News.
For 25 years, Barbara Snyder worked as an elementary school teacher in Tullahoma, Tenn., teaching first through third grade students, and serving as a resource teacher for special education. As she puts it: “I loved helping kids who needed help.” Following retirement in 1995, Snyder traveled—to Europe, Italy, England, and Alaska—but found that the allure of travel wasn’t strong enough to permanently pull her away from her community. “It was and is enjoyable,” she says, “but so is life in small town Tullahoma.” But Snyder isn’t a regular resident. In Tullahoma, she’s also a committed volunteer and was recently named 2013 “Citizen of the Year” by the Tullahoma News.
“I was really surprised and very humbled to be recognized,” Snyder says. “I didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t even know they chose a citizen of the year until they called and told me.”
Since her retirement, Snyder is involved in a variety of local organizations, which gives her an opportunity to make a positive and meaningful impact on the town and the town’s residents.
Snyder works with the Coffee County chapter of country singer Dolly Parton’s “Imagination Library.” The effort provides free books to children from birth to age five at no cost to families. One of the chapter’s founding members, Snyder has served on the chapter’s Board of Directors since 1996.
“I’ve always been interested in reading with kids and helping them read,” Snyder says. “I got started with the program when it first became available in our county. We are constantly raising money to provide funds for the books for the kids, and also signing up children to be involved. There’s no cost to the parents and families, and it only costs us $13 a year to provide a child with a book a month.”
Snyder also reads to local preschool classes once a month, has donated over 17 gallons of blood to the American Red Cross, serves as co-chair of her church’s social action committee, and works as a judge or registrar at polling places during elections.
An active member of the Coffee County Retired Teachers Association, Snyder is the group’s legislative chair and a past treasurer. She has also been a lobbyist and executive director of the Tennessee Retired Teachers Association.
Snyder says she is motivated to serve others because of her unwavering commitment to her neighbors, her community, and those in need of assistance. “My parents were very involved in the community in which I grew up, so I guess that it was second nature to me to do the same,” she says.
Get Involved! Want to get active in your community? Here’s how!
• Research your town or city’s local non-profit organizations to determine their need for volunteers.
• Contact your local senior center to learn about volunteer opportunities for retirees.
• Contact your state or local NEA—Retired affiliate. Many have scholarships, mentoring programs for new teachers, and in-school reading times for preschool and elementary students.
•Consider starting an initiative. The skills, wisdom, experiences and benevolent spirit that helped you touch the lives of children are needed now more than ever.