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School Volunteer: ‘You Can Give Back With Time’

Maria Gaudette “Her dedication to the children, it’s a dedication that you can see,” said Shae Comstock, strolling through a holiday shop with her first-grader Dec. 18 at Odyssey Elementary School in District 49.

As children approached a register in the school library, volunteer Maria Gaudette ensured each found what they wanted while sticking within their budget. She helped some practice Spanish words. Every child was addressed as “friend.”

“She is amazing—I wish there were more people like her,” said Comstock about Gaudette, one of several volunteers assisting the school fundraiser. It offered a convenient place to shop for toys and books ahead of the holidays.

Ryan Sherman of Watch DOGS, or Dads of Great Students, began volunteering a couple of years ago, as his son started preschool. He assists wherever he’s needed, and provides a pair of watchful eyes.

“Maria is always here,” said Sherman. “Her children aren’t even in the school anymore and she’s still here. Even if she’s got stuff she needs to do, she’s still here.

“That type of consistency helps a lot because you’re able to grow with the kids,” he said. “They get to know you. The younger kids feel more comfortable with you because the older kids already know you.”

When Odyssey Elementary School opened nine years ago, Gaudette’s children headed to first and third grades. Meanwhile, she was employed as a lunch monitor and crossing guard. But she soon resigned to better focus on her young family.

These days, her oldest children are enrolled in high school, her youngest in middle school. But for the past five years, she has continued to walk to her neighborhood elementary school to give time.

“You don’t always have to give back with money; you can give back with time,” says Gaudette, who’s often in the cafeteria or on crosswalks, or advancing projects. To arrive early for days with special activities, she catches a ride with the school’s building manager. He keeps her from attempting cold, dark walks, alone.

Maria Gaudette With the upcoming Christmas Break, a group of teachers wanted to recognize Gaudette for her extraordinary efforts. They presented her with $400 in gift cards for shopping at Kohl’s and Target, and meals at Texas Roadhouse.

Thrilled, thankful, speechless and teary-eyed, Gaudette was conflicted. She started thinking of ways to give the gesture back to the school’s faculty and volunteers.

“It’s just such a great school,” said Gaudette. “Everyone is so friendly and eager to help. And the teachers take their time to show you how you can help.”

She recently compiled dozens of binders for administrative training. When she saw the assistant principal spending a lot of time in the copy room, she took over.

“I knew her time would be best used somewhere else,” said Gaudette, determined to finish the project with perfection. For two weeks, she frequently worked through lunch, organizing hundreds of pages, said Rebecca Thompson, assistant principal.

“She saves us hours of work—she allows me to be in classrooms with our teachers and students,” said Thompson, while describing her dependability. “If she says she’ll be at a root beer float celebration following an evening musical, she’ll be there.”

In fact, during those days, Gaudette often gives more than 12 hours of her time.

“Maria does everything with a smile—she’s so positive,” said Thompson.

Gaudette says there are a lot of parents giving a lot of time, explaining PTA president Shelly Leck’s volunteer work as “beautiful.”

“We all give a lot of time,” said Gaudette. “Sometimes I can give more, sometimes they can.

“The reward is freeing up the teachers, and seeing the kids finish projects, knowing you had a part in helping everyone be successful.”

Maria Gaudette

Maria Gaudette

Maria Gaudette
Dustin Senger