DonorNation announces San Diego’s School Volunteer of the Year Award winners!

After many months of nominating, voting and narrowing down the final list, DonorNation is proud to announce the winners of our first annual School Volunteer of the Year Award! 

Each day, volunteers throughout San Diego County create positive change in schools through their tireless efforts and countless hours of work. Often, these volunteers selflessly lend a helping hand without asking for any recognition, payment or praise in return. DonorNation decided it was time to shine a much-deserved spotlight on this devoted group of volunteers by launching its first annual School Volunteer of the Year Award.

We started the process by gathering nominations from school principals and directors, then opening up voting to the public, before finally narrowing the field to the top 20 vote-getters. From there, our Selection Committee, which is comprised of well-known community leaders throughout the county, selected the top three school volunteers and three honorable mentions to win our School Volunteer of the Year Awards.

The award winners and honorable mentions were recognized at a School Volunteer of the Year Award ceremony at the San Diego Marriott Del Mar on June 19. Hundreds gathered at the event to honor these outstanding volunteers. We were honored to have SDSU basketball head coach Steve Fisher as our keynote speaker, and Michael Rosenberg, managing director of the La Jolla Playhouse, and Heather Boney, co-owner of Sprouts Farmers Market emceeing the evening event.

Thanks to DonorNation and its stalwart partners, Sprouts Farmers Market and La Jolla Playhouse, each award winner was rewarded with valuable prizes for themselves and their schools.

The Grand Prize Winner’s school received a handmade 22 karat gold plated trophy designed by the Los Angeles sculpture artist, James Hill, $5,000 donation in the winner’s name from DonorNation, one year’s worth of free groceries ($100 per week for 52 weeks) from Sprouts Farmers Market, and from the La Jolla Playhouse a one-year subscription to the mainstage productions for the 2013/2014 season, and an in-school performance of the Playhouse’s touring show for children or tickets to a student matinee.

The First Runner-up’s school received, in the winner’s name, a $2,500 donation from DonorNation, six months’ worth of free groceries ($100 per week for 26 weeks) from Sprouts Farmers Market, and from the La Jolla Playhouse a one-year subscription to the mainstage productions for the 2013/2014 season, and an in-school performance of the Playhouse’s touring show for children or tickets to a student matinee.

The Second Runner-up’s school received, in the winner’s name, a $1,500 donation from DonorNation, three months’ worth of free groceries ($100 per week for 13 weeks) from Sprouts Farmers Market, and from the La Jolla Playhouse a one-year subscription to the mainstage productions for the 2013/2014 season and an in-school performance of the Playhouse’s touring show for children or tickets to a student matinee.

The Honorable Mentions received one-year subscriptions to the La Jolla Playhouse’s mainstage productions for the 2013/2014 season,

an in-school performance of the Playhouse’s touring show for children or tickets to a student matinee, $1,000 gift certificates from Sprouts Farmers Market, and a $1,000 donation to their schools from DonorNation.

DonorNation would like to thank Sprouts Farmers Market, La Jolla Playhouse and our Selection Committee members Michael Rosenberg, Heather Boney, Michelle Anderson, Brad Daluiso, Teresa Drew, Tina Mickelson and Mark Sisson for their partnership throughout the award program.

Finally, DonorNation would also like to thank all of the School Volunteer of the Year Award participants, including principals, school directors and, of course, the hundreds of dedicated school volunteers who help brighten the future of San Diego’s education every day.

DonorNation’s 2013 School Volunteers of the Year are:

Grand Prize Winner | James Fosnot, Oceanside High School

When the sudden death of a popular cheerleader rocked many students at Oceanside High School in 2010, James Fosnot contributed his expertise in school counseling, crisis counseling and psychology to support the many students in grief. And Fosnot didn’t stop there. He began a weekly Grief & Loss Support Group that continues to support students on a weekly basis still today.

Fosnot has welcomed many students to his ongoing support group to deal with losses in their family or circle of friends and has also facilitated support groups focusing on stress and anger management.

“Many students have acknowledged that this opportunity to process feelings has helped them successfully manage the responsibilities of school, work, sports, and relationships,” said Principal Kenneth Hurst. “Jim freely shares his many years of experience in school counseling, to the benefit of the OHS community.”

In addition to his volunteer efforts for students, Fosnot also helps parents understand graduation requirements, financial aid and college eligibility, serves as a chaperone for the Camp Pendleton Career Shadow Day field trips, and helps organize several valuable informational events on campus.

Fosnot said he is simply fulfilling what he considers his responsibility to invest in the students with whatever skills, knowledge and time he is able to provide to such a heartwarming and respectable group of young men and women.

Fosnot’s $5,000 prize will go toward a scholarship fund for 10 students who have participated in support groups and demonstrated and acknowledged the benefits. Additionally, Fosnot intends to donate his individual prize of free groceries to families in need at Oceanside High School.

First Runner-up | Dede Quint, George Dewey Elementary School

Ninety-one-year-old choral instructor Dede Quint is an outstanding product of all that San Diego Unified School District has to offer first as a student, then as a teacher and, now, for the past 28 years, as an irreplaceable volunteer at George Dewey Elementary School.

Quint brings the gift of music to the 2nd and 4th graders at the school every Monday and Friday morning, playing piano and leading the students in chorus. Not only has she touched the lives of students and families, she has even changed the lives of some students with autism or selective mutism by helping them completely turn a corner in their abilities through music.

“Music is a very powerful thing. Without her dedicated support we would not have a choral program,” said Principal Tanya McMillin. “She never asks for any recognition but does this faithfully for the love of music.”

Quint first had the opportunity to access music in her life through the school district and said she is only passing that gift along to children who need some music in their lives.

“I volunteer because I love to be with the kids. I can help them sound better and feel good about themselves. I have been with kids all my life and I am happy to do it,” she said. “I love Dewey and that they allow me to come share the gift of music with the children.”

Quint’s School Volunteer of the Year Award prize money will be used to support fine arts expenditures – including supplies and instruction – to bring out students’ creativity at the Title 1 school.

Second Runner-up | Pat Cunningham, Aseltine School

Since 1977, Pat Cunningham has nurtured and inspired generations of students at Aseltine Elementary through her incomparable patience, dedication and compassion for children with learning disabilities or serious life challenges who many others have dismissed or demeaned.

Cunningham brings her unique brand of love and discipline to the classroom every Wednesday, providing an adoring support figure for children from unsupportive or destructive circumstances.

She also volunteers at just about every school function imaginable, helping raise funds at school events, serving the students as an ambassador for the school and even baking cupcakes for each student’s birthday.

“Mrs. C. has given everything she has to improve our students’ educations and lives for over 37 years; she fills a unique yet essential role for Aseltine students and staff,” said School Director Hayden Thomas.

Cunningham said her work at the school is no sacrifice on her part because she truly enjoys spending time with her students. She said she was impressed by the patience and concern Aseltine staff caters for each student at the school, treating each student – including her own son many years ago – as an individual.

“Over the years I have become very attached to Aseltine, the staff and the students. The staff’s dedication to these children is amazing, and the students’ creativity, determination and courage are inspiring,” she said. “Many students we serve now have been treated so poorly it’s no wonder they have behavior issues … I’m there to give them my support and encouragement. I’ve found that it’s usually the toughest kids who want a hug and to know that they will be okay, and that’s what I’m there for.”

Cunningham’s School Volunteer of the Year Award prize money will help provide students with the alternative learning tools and individualized support they require to overcome severe learning disabilities and emotional disturbances. In addition to school supplies, Aseltine will purchase adaptive technologies that benefit these students as well as partially fund individualized tutorial assistance.

Honorable Mention | James Johnson, Southwestern Christian School

James Johnson is the kind of parent volunteer every school needs. From helping out with morning playground duty to landscaping and cleaning the campus, Southwestern Christian School’s principal, Deborah Dillinger, can always count on him.

When the school needed a basketball coach for the elementary school’s girls team, Johnson was there. When the team needed jerseys, Johnson not only purchased them, but he also spent several evenings ironing on numbers to perfect them before game time.

And when it looked like Southwestern Christian School was facing an inevitable closure, Johnson was there again, rallying the parents and forming the school’s first parent association to raise funds and student enrollment to keep the doors of the school open.

“His passion for serving others and heart of humility has made him an exceptional volunteer and worthy of the title Volunteer of the Year,” said Dillinger.

Johnson’s School Volunteer of the Year Award prize money will be used to help increase enrollment and keep Southwestern Christian School open.

Honorable Mention | Anne Sager, Francis Parker School

Anytime Francis Parker School Principal Carol Jensen is in need of a student volunteer, Sager is on hand to help.

This well-rounded teen not only plays harp in the orchestra, cheers on the cheerleading squad, contributes to the literary magazine and is a member of French and Spanish Honor Societies, she also committed her time to make San Diego a better place by combining her passions for cooking and giving back to the community by founding the nonprofit organization, Serving Spoons, a volunteer-run organization that serves the need of the hungry in San Diego.

Through her nonprofit, Sager and a few friends shop, cook and deliver healthy meals to people in need, serving 20 people each month at a cost of just $40 per family of four.

“Anne Sager is an incredible young woman. She is filled with compassion and sets about to do whatever she can to make the world a better place,” said Jensen. “I can tell you that students like Anne are so inspiring to all of those around her. We are lucky to have her at Francis Parker School.”

Sager’s School Volunteer of the Year Award prize money will support student programs that help feed homeless teens, low-income seniors, and wounded veterans through Serving Spoons.

Honorable Mention | Maria Zuniga, San Marcos Elementary

Maria Zuniga’s selfless dedication is entrenched in many of San Marcos Elementary School’s valuable, volunteer-led programs. Zuniga can be seen everywhere at the school – from inaugurating the school’s first Girls on the Run program to taking charge as the volunteer Food Pantry Coordinator to deliver food to the school’s struggling families. She also plays a vital volunteer role on the school’s English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC), working diligently to meet the needs of San Marcos’ second language learners.

As the Girls on the Run coach, Zuniga works with regional directors to recruit and train girls who work on much more than their physical endurance. They also work to create positive relationships among friends, learn what it takes to become a model citizen and build self-esteem and character through the program.

As the Food Pantry Coordinator, Zuniga helps put food on the table for many struggling families that attend the school. Zuniga, alongside three other parents, deliver food to more than 100 parents twice a month for families that would otherwise struggle to have food on the table over the weekend.

Zuniga says she volunteers because she simply finds a blissful satisfaction in knowing she is a part of important programs that help others, while also serving as a role model for her own children.

“Volunteering encourages my own children step-by-step to be university ready,” she said. “I also decided not only to help my children because I can also help, motivate and encourage many other children, and I will continue to do so with pride.”

Zuniga’s School Volunteer of the Year Award prize money will be used to purchase books for San Marcos’ Family Literacy Fridays.

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