Jefferson Award Winner: Cheryl O’Connell

Eau Claire (WQOW)-  When the last bell rings, signaling the end of the day at Eau Claire’s Longfellow Elementary, the work begins for Cheryl O’Connell. But she wouldn’t call it that. "I’m doing it because I want to be here. These are my kids and I’m going to be here," the long-time volunteer explained. For over a decade now the halls of Longfellow have been home. Monday through Thursday she’s molding the minds of 1st graders at the after-school 21st Century Community Learning Center. It’s a grant funded program bridging the gap between poverty and academic performance.But how many of us would continue to show up to work if our paycheck no longer showed up? Cheryl was originally compensated as a CLC staff member until the day came when the district could no longer pay her.  "We were prepared to lose her," recalled Holly Larson, the partnership coordinator at Longfellow Elementary. "I mean, that’s a lot to ask of someone. And she came in and she said, ‘You will not take this away from me’. It still gets me choked up."Cheryl explained it simply, she didn’t show up for the paycheck. "You don’t become a teacher to become rich. You become a teacher because you love kids and you want to be here, and you want to be with them, and help them and you just do. And it’s so much joy."Cheryl also finds time to volunteer as a poll worker and regularly helps out at Eau Claire’s Beacon House, now known as Family Promise. Congratulations, Cheryl! If you know a volunteer making a difference click here to nominate them.  

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