Skip to main content

2017 Heroes for Children award recipients to be recognized Friday

AUSTIN – Fifteen outstanding school volunteers who have collectively provided more than 127 years of service to the Texas public schools will be recognized Friday as Heroes for Children by the State Board of Education (SBOE).

The Heroes for Children honorees are selected annually by State Board members and recognized for their volunteerism in the public schools of their communities. During Friday’s ceremony, each hero will receive an individual plaque recognizing his or her service, a copy of the resolution scheduled for board approval and photographs commemorating the ceremony. Each hero’s name will also be engraved on a plaque that is permanently displayed at the Texas Education Agency. 

The board will recognize these school volunteers in a ceremony at 9 a.m. in Room 1-104 of the William B. Travis State Office Building, 1701 N. Congress Ave., in Austin. The State Board of Education meeting and award ceremony will be broadcast online 

Below is a brief description of the volunteer activities performed by the 2017 Heroes for Children awardees.

Olga Charles (Uvalde Consolidated ISD – SBOE District 1)

Whether it is serving as a life coach, helping in the classroom, organizing the annual Christmas parade or helping students do research in the library, Olga Charles is at school every day helping the students of Uvalde CISD. Even when working at her job as the newspaper in education coordinator for the Uvalde Leader-News, Charles is still helping teachers and students as she shows them how to use the newspaper in their lessons. The Uvalde superintendent calls her “a ball of energy” who can always be counted on to volunteer.

Maria Vega (La Joya ISD – SBOE District 2)

Maria Vega is known as “Momma Vega” at Leo J. Leo Elementary School in the La Joya ISD where the staff joke that she spends more time on campus than they do. She helps teachers prepare materials for their lessons and especially enjoys decorating the school for holidays. As someone who obtained a limited education herself, Vega has made it a point to make sure her family and the children at Leo J. Leo Elementary understand the importance of education and especially develop a love for reading.

Ian C. Hemmings (Northside ISD – SBOE District 3)

Ian C. Hemmings bikes to Northside ISD’s Carnahan Elementary School every morning to meet with a group of students before school begins. He helped the school pilot the award-winning Alamo-area Children Organized to Replant Natives or Project Acorn, which has now expanded to 24 schools. Hemmings is also a founding member of WATCH D.O.G.S., a dads’ group that promotes safety and character development. As an immigrant with a visual impairment, he has become a role model for children who are receiving special education services or who are new to the United States.

Carol Ann Youens (Galena Park ISD – SBOE District 4)

Carol Ann Youens is the second member of her family to earn the Heroes for Children award, as her late husband Alfred received the award last year. Eighteen years ago, this devoted couple decided to “pay it forward” and began volunteering in Galena Park ISD. For the past 14 years, Youens has focused her work on assisting first- and second-grade students with basic reading skills. She’s also known to show up in the North Shore Elementary in a wacky outfit for Dr. Seuss Week or wear red for Red Ribbon Week. Another volunteer recently called Youens “the mother of the volunteers.”

Chelsea Elliott (Wayside Schools – SBOE District 5)

In 2013, Chelsea Elliott founded the Half Helen Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to improve children’s vision and hearing through innovative screenings, research and advocacy. Named after Helen Keller who said, “I am half-blind, I am half-deaf, I am half-Helen,” Elliott’s foundation in the 2016-2017 school year alone provided photoscreening to more than 15,000 students in Austin and San Antonio Title I schools free of charge. She hopes to reach 30,000 students this year.

Cyndi Matteson (Cypress-Fairbanks ISD – SBOE District 6)

Cyndi Matteson has won the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD global volunteer award two of the past three years because she is such an active volunteer. She mentors six students each week, provides special staff lunches and treats, helps with orientation, reads to students, assists with vision and hearing screening and chaperones for extracurricular events, just to name a few of her activities. She is now a member of the district’s VIPS executive board and helps to coordinate volunteer activity at more than 80 schools.

Frederick Jefferson (Alvin and Pearland ISDs – SBOE District 7)

Frederick Jefferson created the Man II Man support group that provides a venue where fathers of special needs children can discuss the ups and downs of parenting special children. He always promotes the idea that parents and schools need to form a partnership to provide the best outcome for these children. Because he works in the growing districts of Alvin and Pearland, he brought together a diverse group to compile a resource guide that lists services available in the area, such as pediatricians and therapists. This information provides a valuable resource to newcomers.

Stacie Jahn (Conroe ISD – SBOE District 8)

An active leader in the Conroe ISD Parent Teacher Organization (PTO), Stacie Jahn has worked to improve both the education and environment at local schools. She spearheaded efforts to raise funds to purchase two large canopies to provide shade on playgrounds. Jahn also successfully lobbied to include funding for a new gym in the 2016 district’s bond package. Additionally, she led efforts to fund teacher training and purchase new equipment such as a die cut machine and filtered water cooler.

Amanda Rogers (Elkhart ISD – SBOE District 9)

Amanda Rogers has volunteered at Elkhart Elementary School for 21 years. Although a brain tumor left her disabled when she was still a toddler, Rogers has become a role model for children. She instinctively picks out students who most need assistance and support. She reads with struggling readers, helps organize homework, monitors hallways and restrooms and always asks staff how she can help. She believes that seeing her cope with her disability helps students learn to be accepting of students who are different in some way.

Mike Senchack (Round Rock ISD – SBOE District 10)

During his 23 years of voluntary service in Round Rock ISD, Mike Senchack has worked with teachers and directors from five high schools and 10 middle schools. He has provided audio-visual recording, editing and post production services for dance, choir, orchestra, theater, Future Farmers of America and other school organizations as well as booster clubs. On average, Senchack videotapes 35 performances a year.

Thomas J. French (Burleson ISD – SBOE District 11)

Thomas J. French has been called “a quintessential servant leader.” He coached youth sports teams – football, basketball, baseball and soccer – for 20 years. Now his activities include volunteering for more than 500 hours to mentor robotics teams in Burleson ISD, working in concession stands and refereeing games. French supports the district’s Parent Teacher Organizations and financially supports the Burleson Opportunity Fund, a scholarship fund that helps any district student who wants to attend college to do so.

Teresa Cook (Harmony Public Schools– SBOE District 12)

Teresa Cook is an outspoken advocate for the Harmony Public Schools and Harmony School of Innovation in Garland in particular. She repeatedly talked with legislators about the need for facilities funding for charter schools. Cook spends many hours meeting with local officials to tell them about Harmony. She serves as parliamentarian of the school’s PTO and she chaperones students on field trips. 

Mary Pencis (Fort Worth ISD – SBOE District 13)

Through a partnership between Fort Worth ISD, the Fort Worth Opera and The Red Oak Foundation, Mary Pencis heads up a group of more than 50 volunteers who visit 12 Title I schools to bring timeless classic tales told through children’s opera to young children. The students read the opera, attend a performance and are given a bilingual book of the story to take home. The partnership teaches children opera-related vocabulary, the history of opera, and promotes reading as well as problem solving. Pencis and her volunteers have read books to approximately 10,800 kindergartners.

Charles Lyons (Copperas Cove ISD – SBOE District 14)

Charles Lyons, a retired solder, puts his leadership skills to use for the Copperas Cove ISD. He is the advisor to the Copperas Cove Excel Club, which completed more than 700 hours of service on 31 community projects. As co-coordinator of Project Graduation, an alcohol and drug-free overnight celebration, Lyons rescued a faltering fundraising effort and eventually raised $9,000 to fund the event. As the merchandise and concessions manager at district athletic events, he has helped raise more than $20,000 for the Copperas Cove athletic program.

Evelyn Lyles (Amarillo ISD – SBOE District 15)

Retired teacher Evelyn Lyles is often one of the first people in Amarillo to greet families in the US Refugee Resettlement Program. She volunteers on a number of Amarillo ISD campuses where she helps the refugees make medical appointments, relays messages, facilitates English as a Second Language and citizenship classes and encourages parental involvement. She’s been called a Godsend to these families who are starting their lives over in the Texas Panhandle.

The State Board has recognized outstanding school volunteers with the Heroes for Children award since 1994. They have collectively provided thousands and thousands of hours of service to their Texas public schools.