Volunteer Appreciation at Its Finest

Shantania Loving-Leggins, Glee Fossier and James Strickland. Photo by Debi Beauregard/Custom Minds Photography.

COVER STORY | By Liz Johnson –

 Ask folks around Katy ISD what May means to them, and you may get a variety of answers: finals, graduation, prom, summer vacation. But to one group in Katy ISD, May is all about appreciating the volunteers from around the school district.

The Partners in Education (PIE) Department and the Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) Executive Board is working hard to create a May 12th event celebrating the gifts, time and dedication that volunteers from all across the district have given to the school district. These folks throw a big party for the volunteers from all over Katy ISD in a fun filled, high energy, engaging program known all across the district as the VIPS Celebration.

An Annual Event Rich with Tradition

Like many things in Katy ISD, the VIPS Celebration is rich with tradition and excellence. “The much anticipated event began as a yearly tribute to volunteers, specifically to recognize campus volunteers of the year,” said Janet Theis, director of community partnerships at Katy ISD. “We think its purpose now extends much farther. It is our opportunity to spotlight and celebrate the contribution of all volunteers at every Katy ISD campus and thank those who lead them.

Decorations and welcome messages line the entrance to the VIPS Celebration.

“Our volunteers’ value is immeasurable. Certainly, they bring valuable resources to Katy ISD classrooms – both time and funds. But, even more, volunteers are a huge part of what makes Katy a community. To us in Partners in Education, they are the spirit and energy that drives everything we do to engage our community in Katy ISD classrooms. Students need multiple mentors, encouragers and role models in their lives. Our volunteers complement the support given students by their home campuses. They contribute greatly to creating an environment in which all students can thrive.”

The VIPS Celebration is a huge event that takes months to plan and has been taking place for about 25 years. And as the district has grown, so has attendance to the VIPS Celebration. What once had about 500 campus volunteers in attendance has grown to over 1,200. Wonderful food, volunteer recognitions, student performances, campus-themed table centerpieces and décor all combine to create an air of fun, appreciation and community that is truly a celebration for all.

Not only do attendees look forward to the fun and fellowship, guests are treated to amazing guest speakers who thank, motivate and encourage attendees. Past speakers include former First Lady Barbara Bush, Former Astros Owner Drayton McClain, Apollo Astronaut Captain Gene Cernan, comedian Judson Laipply and motivational speaker Aric Bostick. In addition, fun volunteer videos and the highly anticipated drum-line performances from the area high schools provide a treat for these greatly appreciated Katy ISD volunteers.

A Year in the Planning

Art Teacher Sophia Buddenhagen and her students from Raines High School and the Opportunity Awareness Center created this art to celebrate 1 million volunteer hours performed at Katy ISD by volunteers from around the district in the 2015-2016 school year.

Every year, folks from the around the district attend wondering how the celebration could possibly be bigger and better than the previous year, and the PIE department and VIPS board never fail to exceed expectations.

“We begin with a vision,” Theis explained. “What do we want our message to be, and how do we best deliver it? What will make our volunteers – every single guest – feel welcome, inspired and appreciated? And of course, how can we top last year’s event? We plan many events during the school year, but our volunteer celebration is the premier event of the year, so we give its planning lots of time and effort. It’s an honor to host the event every year. We never lose sight of the privilege we have in telling our volunteers’ stories.”

PIE Senior Specialist Martha Brown explained the yearlong planning process. “The VIPS executive board circles up immediately following the previous year’s event. We share extensive likes and wishes that ultimately help plan the next year’s event. So, we are in a constant state of planning the VIPS Celebration. We literally talk about it all of the time!”

Volunteers Are at the Heart of Katy ISD

VIPS Board Members Jeanie Griffith, Katie Roberts, Michelle Zamora, Jennifer Valencia, Laura Lowe, Glee Fossier and Shantania Loving-Leggins.

The amazing volunteers who are celebrated at the event include wonderfully talented and giving folks who have blessed Katy ISD with their time and talents. One such volunteer is Shantania Loving-Leggins, who currently serves as Officio of the VIPS Executive Board, a team of campus and district volunteer leaders who help support, encourage and grow volunteering in the district.

“What I love most about volunteering in Katy is the welcoming spirit on our campuses, the opportunity to meet other people, the excitement from the kids when they see you and simply knowing that my service is making a difference,” said Loving-Leggins. “My favorite volunteer gig is Junior Achievement (JA) and the opportunity to have served on the executive VIPS board. JA gives me an opportunity to be hands-on with the kids, and I always use that as an opportunity to share real-life experience that the kids have loved over the years. The VIPS board has given me the opportunity to serve on a district level, which has been so much fun!”

Special guest speaker Aric Bostick
at the 2016 VIPS Celebration.

James Strickland, another amazing and dedicated volunteer, is on a mission to help bring more dads into the classrooms and onto campus through programs like Watch D.O.G.S. – Dads Of Great Students. “Being a Watch D.O.G. dad allows me to stay very much involved in my children’s lives while also serving as a male role model and mentor to many of the other children at the school, many of them without a positive male role model in their lives,” Strickland said. “Seeing up close how schools are run on a day-to-day basis gives me a unique perspective. My goal is to one day help every school in Katy incorporate some type of father involvement program and am actively working with Katy ISD to do so.”

VIPS board member and Katy ISD parent Glee Fossier loves her work on the VIPS executive board but was also recently surprised by her experience with her son’s Robotics team at Seven Lakes High School. “It is completely outside of my comfort zone, but they needed help. I’ve been able to witness the growth and increase in confidence of the kids who are on the team. To see that change over the course of the build season is amazing, and it’s been very rewarding to be a part of that.”

A Unique Volunteering Community

Katy ISD parent, volunteer and school district employee Cassandra Hedgpeth found a deep sense of community when she moved to Katy from San Antonio and begin volunteering. “I was elated to find an immediate ‘welcome home’ connection in a town of complete strangers. The community has a way of taking you in to help you find your place. After several more years here, I find that Katy helps take care of its people, making us one big family irrespective of what campus your child attends.”

Fossier said, “I love being able to give back to the schools that are giving my kids a great education. I also love meeting people from all over the world. I’ve made wonderful friendships through volunteering. The community benefits from this by everyone working to improve our area to be the best it can be for our families. Katy is unique in the way businesses, schools and community volunteers all work together to make Katy a great place to live.”

Loving-Leggins shared her experience. “Katy is a special place to volunteer, because of the small town feel. It is growing at a rapid pace, but it still feels like a small community. My family and I have been part of this awesome community for the past 11 years, and we understand that volunteering is just what you do.

“This is our community, and we volunteer! This is not just our family’s motto. This attitude is woven in the fabric of this community, which adds so much value to Katy. While many move to Katy because of the school district, we stay because of the community we are part of.”

You’re Invited!

Katy ISD, PIE Department and VIPS Executive Board extends a warm welcome and heartfelt invitation to attend the VIPS Celebration to all Katy ISD volunteers on May 12th from 8:30 to 10:30 am at the Merrell Center. You can find out more information about the event and RSVP at the district website at www.katyisd.org.

 

VIPS

Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) is the largest of Katy ISD’s Partners in Education programs, bringing folks onto every Katy ISD campus for the purpose of supporting both students and staff. During the 2015-2016 school year, over 22,000 volunteers donated more than 1 million hours, which is the equivalence of 10 extra staff members at every campus.

Although the vast majority of the VIPS family is comprised of parents, it also includes business and community members as

Katy ISD volunteers fill the Merrell Center each year at the VIPS Celebration.

well.  That means everyone is needed, wanted and welcomed!

Campus volunteer opportunities are varied, and time commitments can range from 30 minutes per year to 20 hours per week and everything in between. Anyone volunteering at a Katy ISD campus always checks in through the front office’s Raptor system, which also tracks VIPS hours for the school.


New to VIPS?


If you are new to the world of Katy ISD volunteering, you are in for a treat. Not only will you get to help your child’s campus, you will also meet some wonderful friends and have fun in the process. Katy ISD’s giant volunteer family is what makes the district so successful, providing additional support to staff and faculty so teachers can spend their time teaching!

To learn about volunteer opportunities at your campus, contact your campus VIPS Volunteer Coordinator.