'Grandma' named the best

Published March 1, 2007

INVERNESS - After her initial reaction to the announcement that she was the 2006-07 Region II Outstanding School Volunteer, Jean "Grandma" Evans began shaking. As she accepted her award, the thrilled 61-year-old could manage only a choked "thank you."

Region II is a 19-county area that includes Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, Clay, Putnam, Bradford, Union, Baker, Columbia, Hamilton, Suwannee, Gilchrist, Alachua, Marion, Levy, Dixie, Lafayette, Taylor and Citrus.

Evans will be recognized at a special luncheon in St. Petersburg on April 20, where she will be joined by the four other region winners. She will be photographed with the commissioner of education and take home a plaque for receiving the top honor for volunteers in the state.

Susan Walton, the state Department of Education's director of Special Projects, Bureau of Family and Community Outreach, presented the award. She joined superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel and School Board Chairman Bill Murray in congratulating Evans on Wednesday.

Evans, who volunteers at Forest Ridge Elementary School, and Citrus County Outstanding Volunteer nominees from seven other schools gathered at Outback Steakhouse for lunch.

The Citrus County School District recognizes volunteers in three divisions: youth (ages 21 and younger), adult (ages 21-61) and senior (older than 61).

Evans was the winner in the senior category. The youth winner was Marc Grasso, a Central Florida Community College student who volunteers at Lecanto High. The adult award was earned by Thomas Ivy, who puts in time at Inverness Middle School.

Evans began volunteering as a "mommy helper" when her grandson, Andrew, was in kindergarten. She followed him as he went from grade to grade. He is now 9 and in third grade. She also volunteers with other teachers.

Evans has been tutoring a Spanish-speaking first-grader in English. He came up to her, she gushed, and "read me an entire story in English."

"She's there every day except Thursday morning," said volunteer coordinator and technology specialist Shelley Schantz. The reason Evans misses Thursday? She is volunteering elsewhere.

As if she doesn't have enough to do, Evans is raising her three grandchildren: Andrew; Charles, 13; and 22-month-old Joseph. The baby's mother is in the picture, but Evans is the primary caretaker.

On top of that, Evans had spine surgery in January.

"And was back three days later," Schantz said.

Evans had to work in a wheelchair, but she wasn't about to let a little thing like back surgery keep her away from her students, who affectionately refer to her as "Grandma" Evans.

"I love this. I love this," she said. "I have got the best teachers and the best support staff ever."

Evans said she wasn't sure why she was chosen as the Region II Outstanding School Volunteer. "I just do my work. I just go in every day and do what my teachers want me to do. I know volunteers are very important in the schools. Teachers wouldn't have a home life if there weren't volunteers."

Evans' guest at the lunch was her friend Debora Whitten.

Whitten said, "Jean's the first person I met when I came to Florida."

Grasso, 19, a 2006 Lecanto High School graduate, was presented to the gathering by business teacher Sue Hale. She said he has so far volunteered 800 hours, working with students and setting up a virtual stock exchange.

He has, she said, the "ability to recognize and assist those with different learning styles and abilities."

Ivy, 43, was presented by guidance counselor Tracie Stokes.

During his first year of volunteering, both in the classroom and as a mentor, he put in more than 150 hours. During the first four months of this school year, he already has 200.

"Thomas is working primarily with students in technology class," she said.

Here are the nominees who were chosen and attended the luncheon:

-Virginia Vineyard and Pat Leasure, Citrus Springs Elementary School.

-Nancy Rust, Angela Ruvo, Sally deMontfort and Kathleen McBriarty, Crystal River Primary School.

-Jean Evans, Forest Ridge Elementary School.

-Don Adkins and Thomas Ivy, Inverness Middle School.

-Marc Grasso, Lecanto High School.

-Pamela Walton and Brittany LaMattina, Lecanto Primary School.

-Patricia DeSario, Pleasant Grove Elementary School.

-Cassandra Maisel and Edna "Frances" Jenkins, Rock Crusher Elementary School.

Also honored Wednesday was Norma Brondyke, who mentors at Lecanto High, who won the Bertram "Bert" Miller Outstanding Mentor of the Year award.

The event was sponsored by Outback Steakhouse, Janet Lingle from Creative Expressions and the Florida Department of Education.