Memory Makers: Making Memories and a Difference

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By Sharon Michalik, Director of Communications, Bay District Schools

Retirees often dream of more “downtime” and less activity in their golden years, but that’s not the vision of some new residents of the Margaritaville neighborhood in Panama City Beach.

Margaritaville, a retirement community built by the St. Joe Company, has a group called “Memory Makers” who are determined to make as many unforgettable memories as possible. And part of that plan includes a very active commitment to the students and staff at neighboring West Bay Elementary School.
Memory Maker 3More than 75 Margaritaville residents have been involved in West Bay Elementary School since the school year began and both residents and school officials hope to continue to expand the partnerships.

“Many volunteers are retired educators,” explained West Bay Principal Deniece Moss. “But whether they are former teachers or not, they all know the value of relationships and they understand that all students benefit from the addition of trusted adults in their lives,” she added.

Memory Makers volunteer Monica Thomas recently spoke about the partnership and its importance.

Thomas, a retired teacher herself, explained that volunteers were critical to her success in the classroom. “I could not have done without volunteers in my classroom, and the kids love when you come, and you can just give an extra hand. So I know how I benefited from it, and I want to give back,” she explained.

Moss said the Memory Makers are trusted adults the children can look up to.

“They know how to listen to kids, they know maybe what a teacher might need and might need to hear, and they’re just so encouraging to all on our campus,” she said. And the Memory Makers can play one really vital role for students at West Bay. “So many of our students don’t live near their grandparents,” Moss explained. “So the Memory Makers are becoming surrogate grandparents in some instances and it’s just wonderful to see those relationships forming and to know that the volunteers are benefitting just as much as the children are from that time together.”

Thus far, she said, the group has:
• 81 Memory Makers volunteer members.
• 10 or more members who are serving specifically as Elevate Bay Mentors.
• 20 members who have adopted classroom teachers/grade levels and write letters of encouragement and drop off small gifts of appreciation each month.
• Others who volunteer in the book fair, Title I parent events, Family Sweet Heart Dance, etc…
• A group that hosted a “Little Eagles” Christmas Party for the students of our teachers and staff.
• A combined total of more than 150 hours of volunteer time.

As a principal, Moss said the Memory Makers are irreplaceable. “It’s amazing having a cadre of volunteers who we can count on, and who our children can count on, and the fact that so many of them have previous experience working with children is a wonderful bonus,” she explained.

Moss said she hopes Memory Makers becomes a legacy in the school as the community grows. “And I hope their example encourages other retirees to get involved,” she said. “Whether someone has one hour a week to give or ten hours a week, there are so many needs at our schools and so many creative ways for us to get volunteers involved in the activities that interest them.”

Becky Farmer, another retired educator who is a Memory Makers volunteer, explained some of those volunteer roles.

“The teachers are the rock, and everything (extra) is often from their pockets. We can help them with that,” Farmer said. “Maybe you don’t feel comfortable everywhere else. You can sure help with the financing of the materials and things in the classroom.” Memory Makers also volunteer to have lunch with students and they have volunteered in the Media Center and in the front office as well as many different classrooms.

The Memory Makers are always looking for more volunteers.

“Get involved, because when you’re retired, you have gifts you can give back to the community, especially the school system. I think it’s very rewarding,” Memory Makers Volunteer Ellen Benton said. “Plus, it’s perfect for us retirees to stay involved and active in some organization that keeps you going. So Memory Makers is the perfect one, especially for our neighborhood.”

Jane Schmidt, West Bay Media Specialist, said the Memory Makers have played an integral role on campus thus far, and she looks forward to their visits and their enthusiasm. “They are a wonderful group of volunteers,” she said. “Their positivity just spreads throughout our campus, and the students really look forward to their visits.”

Anyone interested in volunteering at any of our schools can just call the closest school to find out their needs.