MANATEE COUNTY — At the pitter-patter of feet, Donna McCrane’s eyes dart toward the hallway and begin to sparkle with excitement.
She smiles as the first student passes by — and then the next. Her smile widens as the line continues. She knows each and every child.
McCrane’s enthusiasm for children at Gene Witt Elementary School, where her son attends, is perhaps unmatched. In fact, in the last year, she’s spent more than 1,500 hours — a full-time work schedule — helping in the front office, reading with children and taking on other tasks to assist teachers and staff.
And for her efforts, the Manatee County School District named McCrane as the district’s adult volunteer of the year May 25.
McCrane said she’s honored but is even more excited to see Witt get the spotlight it deserves.
“I don’t do what I do for people to say, ‘Thank you,’” she said. “I do what I do because I love to do it.”
Teachers and faculty at Witt all say McCrane has a special knack with children and is loyal, efficient, caring, gracious, funny and giving.
“She’s always there, and she’ll do anything,” said third-grade teacher Joanne Sollazzo, who has a student who regularly reads with McCrane. “She actually becomes involved. She doesn’t just come in and do what she has to and leave. She checks in and asks questions.”
“She gives of herself — she gives inside and out,” kindergarten teacher Gail Garger said.
Principal Myra Russell agreed, adding she treats McCrane like any one of her office staff.
“We’re very lucky to have her,” Russell said. “We’re extremely lucky to have her. She cares about everybody. She is truly a rarity.”
McCrane and her family moved to the East County from the Tampa area in January 2006. The next school year, McCrane signed up to volunteer on Witt’s PTO as the treasurer and braced herself as her oldest child, Kaitlyn, prepared to leave for college.
A perceptive mom at the school recognized McCrane could use something to keep her mind occupied and passed the thought to Russell, who asked if McCrane could help out in the office for the first few days of class.
“That day was the beginning of an awesome thing,” McCrane said. “My daughter was leaving for college, and all I could do was cry. It was the perfect answer. It just became my calling.”
Now, on any given school day between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., McCrane is at the front desk, checking students in and out, answering the phone and handling other tasks. You may see her leading a school tour — which she does proudly as a parent — or listening to a child read.
As much as she does, McCrane still wishes there were more she could do to help. The school, she said, has given her joy beyond measure and cultivated many personal friendships, as well.
“These children have profoundly touched me like no other can,” McCrane said. “There’re a lot of very special people here.”
And even though McCrane’s son, Tyler, will be moving on to middle school next year, McCrane said she plans to stay on and continue volunteering at Witt. She’s already volunteered to serve as the PTO treasurer and as the representative without a child on the schools SAC committee.
“It feels like one big family,” she said. “It’s like the kids belong to all of us. These are still my babies, too.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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