STRENGTHENING FAMILY TIES
August 07, 2012
The word "family" pops up frequently in Tina DeClue's conversations, whether she's talking about her own home life, her job as a school-based coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters, or her countless volunteer efforts at Shepard Boulevard Elementary in Columbia, MO. A desire to strengthen family ties lies at the heart of everything she does. "Always, my whole life, I've done something that involves helping children and families. From the time I was little, it's something I've always had a passion for, according to my mother," she says.
DeClue began volunteering at Shepard Boulevard when her now 4th grade son, Braydon, was in kindergarten. She soon saw that there was a need for more family services, and in her newly created role as vice president of family services for the school's PTSO, she set out to provide them. First up was the formation of a support group for families with a parent serving in the military. Later came a series of parenting classes taught by the school counselor. So many people signed up for those that DeClue decided the time was ripe for a Family Resource Fair. Cleverly scheduled the same night as parent-teacher conferences, more than 25 community guests assembled in the gym representing such diverse interests as pediatric dentistry, nutrition, a farmers market, and a mental health group. "Since 90 percent of our families attend evening parent-teacher conferences, a light bulb went off and I said if I can't bring them to the resources, I'm going to bring the resources to them!" she explains.
DeClue is also the instigator behind the popular walking school bus program now in place at Shepard Boulevard. It's a concept promoted by a statewide coalition encouraging children to walk to school each day with adult supervision. When DeClue got wind of it, she knew it would be a good fit for the school. And so on their own, she and her son began walking to school because DeClue knew in her heart that if other people could see them walking, they would join in. That was four years ago. Now up to 150 kids eagerly wait at either of two meeting points or clamor to be let out of carpools early just so they can walk to school with the group. "It really gets those children on the right track before they even get to school," she says. "They get everything—peer interaction, adult interaction, positive conversation, and just being able to get some energy out....It really makes a difference!"
Another way DeClue makes a difference in the lives of some Shepard Boulevard kids is through her involvement with the Buddy Pack program. The school partners with a local food bank to send needy students home with backpacks of food for the weekend. DeClue coordinates and sets up volunteers who pick up the food weekly, then pack it discreetly into regular backpacks for qualified kids. She's often on hand herself sneaking in personal donations of fresh fruit—an item the food bank never supplies—and stuffing in extra food in cases where she knows there are more siblings at home.
"To me, it's the little things you can do...everywhere! Every day, in your life, it's the little things," DeClue says on the subject of helping others, although she has obviously done some very big things. No doubt she will continue to dazzle Shepard Boulevard with ideas, but even more with her tenacity to see things through. "Anytime I can have a positive impact on children and families, I do believe in my heart that's what I'm meant to do. That's what I'm here for!"
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo: Catherine Rhodes