Below you can read my keynote speech from the Williamsport Kiwanis gathering:
Thank you so much for having me here today. The Kiwanis Club is an incredible entity of each and every community in America. The work you do helps to build, re build, restore and maintain community. Your club helps foster youth, build volunteerism and selflessness and develop leadership in people. It is all too often that people are unwilling to donate their time, but fine with simply writing a check and moving on. What I deeply respect about the Kiwanis Club, is the time it takes to be a member of this organization. There are community projects to be completed, Builders Clubs and Key Clubs to manage, and upcoming events to plan. Throughout my time in Lycoming County, I have watched the Kiwanis Club spring in to action when disaster strikes or when families in a community truly need some help.
So how do I all know all of this “stuff” about the Kiwanis Club? After all, aren’t I supposed to be standing here as Teacher of the Year telling you about my adventures? No one really wants to hear that… So, instead, I want to tell you about my relationship with Kiwanis that many of you probably do not know. Before I took on this “Teacher of the Year” gig and before I was very clearly eight months pregnant, I was the Key Club advisor for Loyalsock Township High School and a Kiwanian myself. Let’s be completely clear. Most of us did not join, advise clubs or do remarkable things with Kiwanis because we just simply wanted to. Someone talked us in to it. See, I first moved here in 2006. I did not know anyone, I had no friends, and all I truly had was my job, my drive and this club that was plopped in my lap. To be a little more blatant, I was told I was going to advise the club and therefore I would be a Kiwanian. I had no ide what that meant. I was 22. I did not ask questions. I had a JOB and if they wanted me to advise some club, I would go right ahead and do that! I had no sense of community. After all, I grew up in one of America’s largest cities with 8 million other people. I lived in a dog eat dog world. I had no idea what true community looked like. I did not understand why people stayed close to home or what drew people back to their communities. I got far away from where I grew up and by the time I wound up in Williamsport, I had done a whirlwind tour of 48 states, and a variety of other countries trying to figure out some real purpose in my young self. I was a bit of a wild 22 year old looking for a sense of belonging … somewhere. The Key Club kids I was supposed to advise probably sniffed that out right away. They wrapped around me fairly quickly. Before I knew it, I was organizing events with them, and raising money for causes they were passionate about. I was driving our school van to Key Club conventions and selling hot dogs in the Giant parking lot. They had me volunteering 90 hours in a week for the Little League World Series to raise money for local charities and stuffing baskets so people could have a real Thanksgiving dinner. Within just a few months of moving to Williamsport, I began to understand community. The Kiwanis Club that existed in Loyalsock at the time also wrapped around me. The adults gave me advice, some of which I dearly needed, and more importantly they reached out to give me help. The Kiwanis Club helped me grow as an advisor, as a teacher and as a human being. Within a year, I had a true sense of community and a drive to give back. I am extremely grateful for that and wonder to myself at times, if I was only able to understand what community truly is because of my experiences with the Key Club and as a Kiwanian.
I probably never mentioned it to the Kiwanians that helped guide me along at the time, but I feel Kiwanians are like teachers. As a teacher, I am never quite sure what has worked and what has not. I am never quite sure where my efforts are useless or where they are fruitful, but I know this. As a teacher, sometimes my efforts are extremely far reaching, and I feel the same about Kiwanians. The work you do reaches more people than you probably know. In fact, it is endless. In 2011, we had a huge flood here in Lycoming County. I was out of school for 5 days. At first, the kids and I appreciated a day off, but as conditions worsened, my phone started to ring. Within 48 hours, I was out with my Key Club members and fellow Kiwanians digging out basements and living rooms filled with gunk and mud in Montoursville. I distinctly remember being covered in mud with boots that did not fit me in damp, smelly conditions and thinking, “This is community.”
I am sure every person in this room joined Kiwanis for a different reason, but the truth is, all of you have community at heart in some capacity. You have all touched the lives of people in this community and the work you do will continue to be incredibly impactful. So, why am I not still the Key Club advisor if I feel this way about community? Well, that is an important question. I firmly believe it is important to get other people involved. If you keep something to yourself for 20 years, then you have never trained someone else to understand and grow in the same way you did. I did not need a longevity award for being Key Club advisor, what I needed was to find another dedicated young person and bring them to become as motivated and involved as I was. I wanted to spread the sense of community and grow someone else like someone helped to grow me.
As I have traveled around the state this year, I have tried to instill the idea of fostering community, growing young people and looking outside the proverbial box for ways to succeed. If each and every one of you in this room finds a person to become your “apprentice” in Kiwanis, to understand the sense of community or to even sweep a new person in town under your wing, you may be growing this community and having an impact further than you can conceptualize right at this very moment. Because of the sense of community that drew me in, I have been here for 12 years, when I only intended on being here for 5. I got married, grew a family, invest in the public institution which employs me, my profession and the well-being of education in Lycoming County and the Commonwealth. Kiwanis taught me about community.
If I can pass anything on to you today, please find someone young and new in your community, bring them to an event, and show them the impact that selflessness and volunteerism has. Show them the importance of giving back and help grow them like someone helped to grow me. That will keep this club growing in the future and it will keep people in this town. Simple gestures like that will keep a sense of community in Williamsport and highlight the amazing work you do on a regular basis. As Teacher of the Year, I get to stand in front of people and do a lot of talking, and what I have sent this same message along to almost every group I have spoken to and with. Whether you provide an apprenticeship on the job, or you provide one in volunteerism, you are still growing someone to become more involved.