Southwest Baltimore County volunteers among nominees for first Volunteer of the Year award

Volunteers from 73 Baltimore County public schools were honored at a special breakfast event in Cockeysville on Thursday morning as the first-ever BCPS Volunteer of the Year was announced.

"This is our first time bringing all of the volunteers together with a breakfast," said Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance during the event at Martin's Valley Mansion. "We're excited to recognize their commitment to the community and we're trying to grow the program."

Eighty volunteers, who collectively spent 25,000 hours doing a variety of activities at schools, from chaperoning dances to assisting in the library, were in attendance, Dance said.

Deja Lewter, a volunteer at Dundalk High, was named Volunteer of the Year. Lewter is a part-time college student and graduate of the Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts, who has contributed more than 800 hours during the past school year, volunteering as a vocal coach and assisting with the music program. 

"Being a volunteer is such an excellent experience," Lewter said during her acceptance speech. 

Lewter co-directed and choreographed the school's first musical in more than 20 years, helped the school receive an excellent rating at the High Notes Music Festival, helped the school to meet its countywide assessment goals and organized 40 years of music into a user-friendly library, according to BCPS information.

 Those nominated from schools in southwest Baltimore County included; Lisa LaPrade, of Catonsville High; Patrick Keller, of Johnnycake Elementary; Deborah Geisler, of Relay Elementary; Jennifer Taylor, of Westchester Elementary; and Phyllis King, of Woodbridge Elementary.

Relay resident Geisler, who attended the breakfast, said she enjoys volunteering at the school from which she graduated in 1982. Her youngest daughter will be a fifth-grader there next year.

"I think it's important for parents to get to know the school and learn about those who are taking care of their children," Geisler said.

Geisler has volunteered to assist the physical education teacher with the annual Field Day at the school for the past three years. She has also helped with field trips, parties and book fairs

"It means a lot to be recognized by the school," said Geisler, who is also a substitute teacher at the school.

LaPrade has volunteered many hours at the school, where her son Matthew, 16, is a rising senior.

"I like to be involved," LaPrade said Thursday morning. "I want to be one of those parents that is hands on. I like to know who my son's friends are. I like to know the administrators and the parents."

LaPrade serves as chairwoman of the After Prom Committee and as a team mom for the boys soccer and baseball teams.

"I think the disconnect these days is, we don't have enough parents getting involved, especially on the high school level," LaPrade said.

"I was really surprised when I got the call," she said on her reaction to her nomination and invitation to the breakfast.

"I do it because I want to be involved," she said.

Dance said volunteers are important in daily operations of county public schools.

"Principals have been encouraging more volunteers to come in and help out at the schools," Dance said. "We're trying to get more people to join the program, and what they do at the schools is dependent on their interests and the schools needs."

Volunteers were nominated by volunteer coordinators and school principals, and chosen based on their commitment to the schools, said BCPS spokeswoman Diana Spencer.

In the past, volunteers who gave 1,000 hours of their time were recognized. This year, volunteers were recognized for their quality of commitment, Spencer said.

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