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Volunteers are invested in the community

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Scissors. Check.

Hole punch. Check.

Paper cutter. Check.

Other miscellaneous supplies. Check.

A trio of volunteers at Marion-Walker Elementary School had just about everything they needed late last month for a days’ worth of work at the school.

Jan McDowell, 65, of Mingoville; Kitty Miller, 69, of Marion Township; and Donna Snyder, 76, of Hublersburg, are part of the Bellefonte SMILES program that gives a tax break to eligible individuals who volunteer within the school district.

SMILES — Senior Motivators in Learning and Education Services — allows residents of the Bellefonte Area School District, age 60 or older, to receive up to a $500 tax break for least 100 hours of volunteer service a year.

The program was first proposed in February 2011 by former interim Superintendent John DiNunzio.

At a school board meeting in February, the board approved an amendment to the program that would also allow up to a $250 tax break for eligible volunteers who spend at least 50 hours of volunteer work in a school year.

“We have many people who volunteer for 50 hours, but don’t quite make it to 100 (hours), and they still contribute in a very important way,” said Superintendent Cheryl Potteiger.

Miller, a former Volunteer of the Year recipient who’s helped at the primary school from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. twice a week for seven years, qualifies for the program.

She said that each August since the program was established, she receives a check in the mail from the district for her services.

“It’s like a rebate,” Miller said.

Interested residents must be age 60 or older and taxpayers within the district, must complete an application, and undergo a background check and health screening test, Potteiger said.

But the program caps at 25 volunteers.

Responsibilities include working directly with students; working in support areas or offices; building support that includes assisting in the health room, library, cafeteria, gymnasium, music room and science labs; and assisting in special assignments like cleaning, groundskeeping or painting.

“It’s for the joy of being here,” Snyder said. “There’s a certain satisfaction.”

Snyder lives behind Marion-Walker. She walks to the school on her volunteer days, signs in, gets a pass, is given an assignment and debriefs with McDowell and Miller.

Their work usually consists of helping teachers with “busy work,” Snyder said.

“We do a lot of organizing paperwork, laminating, cutting things, hole punching papers and binding papers that need to be together,” she said. “It’s always something new, but they let us know what they need help with and we do it.”

For McDowell, it’s also a way to keep active at the school where she taught second grade for 36 years before retiring seven years ago.

She volunteers at the school once a week and said it’s “very rewarding.”

“I loved what I did and wanted to continue to be a part of it,” McDowell said.

The three volunteers’ children are also former Marion-Walker grads.

“It’s special to be so invested in a school in the community and a school your kids went to,” Miller said, whose two daughters had McDowell for a teacher.

The district is appreciative of the volunteer work.

“It’s a goodwill-type of thing,” Potteiger said. “And as budgets get tighter and tighter, we’re always looking for volunteers to help.”

For more information, contact the school district at 355-4814.

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