by Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Caring, compassion and strong ties to community groups were evident recently when members of the Hanford Elementary Teachers Association (HETA) gathered with classified employees, administrators, students, parents, and a representative of the Salvation Army at Monroe Elementary School after hours to organize items for a districtwide canned food drive to help families in need during the holiday season. Together, representatives from all of these groups sorted and stacked food items, getting them ready for delivery.
“We don’t just care about kids when they are in our classrooms,” says April Silva, HETA president. “We care about them all the time. We care about their education. We care about what happens once they leave school. And we care about their families.”
Members of HETA decided the best way to demonstrate that caring was through a massive community outreach effort in Hanford, a rural community near Fresno. Silva says she got the idea after attending the CTA Presidents Conference in 2010 and hearing about the benefits of community involvement. HETA applied for a grant to CTA’s Community Outreach Department, which presented the chapter with $2,500 to get the ball rolling. The first thing HETA did was create a committee devoted to community projects — and members were eager to join, says Alicyn Cawley, a first-grade teacher who heads the committee. “Teachers jumped on board, and some of them had never been involved with HETA before. The reason is that community outreach makes us feel good. Sometimes unions have a negative image, and this puts a new twist on what we do. People can see that our union is not about personal gain; it’s about being here for our community and our kids.”
“It’s been a very positive experience,” says Paul Terry, superintendent of the Hanford Elementary School District. “I was pleased when HETA asked district administration and classified employees for a partnership to do something positive for the community. This collective effort will make a difference to many families we serve.”
Major Orpha Moody of the Salvation Army calls the effort “truly amazing.” Last year, the food drive effort netted 8,000 pounds of canned goods for the Salvation Army to disperse to struggling families. Moody enjoys the “friendly competition” between school sites to see who can collect the most canned goods, and says school employees have been calling her in hopes of finding out how much has been collected at other school sites so they can outdo them.
In a year and a half, HETA’s community outreach committee has sponsored and been involved in several projects to benefit the community, including a fundraiser for the SPCA, a “community baby shower,” a blood drive, a book drive, community cleanups, and the Relay for Life cancer walk. They are planning to read to elderly Hanford residents in the near future.
The willingness of HETA members to support the community has resulted in the community being willing to support them. This year’s bargaining just finished, and the HETA team was successful in keeping their medical benefits intact and taking no days off the calendar.
“A lot of us HETA members feel how lucky we are, and are grateful to give back to a community that has given so much to us,” says Silva. “And we enjoy being productive role models for students in our community, too.”
The spirit has filtered down to youngsters, who brought canned goods from home.
“It makes me feel good to give to people who don’t have food,” says Melina Gonzales, age 8. “It’s a good thing to do.”
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