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Volunteer heads back to school for the last time

Mary Volk of Carlos (right) has been volunteering in schools for the past 33 years. She plans to “retire” from school volunteering in May, after completing the year in her granddaughter’s preschool classroom at Osakis Public School. She is pictured with her granddaughter, Julia Lennes, and Osakis preschool teacher Jan Campbell. (Lowell Anderson/Echo Press)

Mary Volk of Carlos went back to school for the final time this fall.

After 33 years, she’s hoping to “graduate” from her role as school volunteer next May.

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“It’s my third and last time going to preschool!” she said with a laugh, adding that she’s put in her time at several other grade levels as well.

Volk’s vocation is cosmetology, but her passion for the past three decades has been working with kids of all ages in classroom settings.

“I volunteered for a teacher at Voyager Elementary School [in Alexandria] and she told me she thought I missed my calling – I should have been a teacher. I guess if I had to do it over again, I would probably do that,” Volk said.

But Volk has been perfectly content to help children, and teachers, by volunteering.

“Teachers are a gift from God!” she said with respect. “They have so much going on. They really rely on volunteers.”

During her time in the classroom, she helps with reading, art classes, group projects and one-to-one work with individual students.

“I help with all school activities and just work to help kids stay on track, but reading is one of the things I help the most with,” she said. “I love to read; I just believe it is so important.”

Through the years, Volk has been employed as a hair stylist, a consumer counselor at Prairie Community Services in Alexandria, and as a teacher’s aide at the Alexandria YMCA.

But her volunteer service is much more extensive.

She has volunteered at Calvary Lutheran Preschool, St. Mary’s Elementary School, St. Mary’s Bible School and religious education programs, and the Viking Support Program working with drop-in care.

She has been a volunteer with the Caller Survivor Network of Minnesota, a Jefferson High School support group, a community mentor group, and has served as a guest speaker at elementary schools about birth defects and the importance of accepting others.

She is trained in CPR, first aid, shaken baby syndrome and sudden infant death syndrome.

“I just like kids!” she said of why she has been involved in all of these areas. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. It’s been fun.”

She also likes the flexibility volunteering offers, and the social aspect.

“I like being around people. I can talk all day long!” she said.

School volunteering became even more important to her when her grandchildren became students.

She was a volunteer in her grandson Austin’s classroom at Calvary Lutheran Preschool, then volunteered in his kindergarten, 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms at St. Mary’s School.

She volunteered in grandson Blake’s St. Mary’s kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classrooms.

This year, she is volunteering in granddaughter Julia’s preschool room at Osakis Public School. Austin is now a 5th grader and Blake is a 3rd grader.

“I guess they liked it,” she said. “They’d keep asking, ‘Are you coming to school tomorrow, Grandma?’ ”

When asked what she plans to do next year when she’s finally done with school, Volk replied: “Oh, I’m sure I’ll be busy. There’s always something that needs to be done somewhere!”

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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