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Adult Education Programs Presents First Ever Volunteer of the Year Award

June 11, 2015 09:44 AM

Article by ANNA HALL | The Brunswick News

Joni Johnson smilingJoni Johnson (shown left) walked into the library at the Coastal Pines Adult Education center in Brunswick, ready to discuss with her fellow volunteers their year-end achievements, plans for the upcoming graduation and what is on deck for next semester.

Instead, she was greeted by the other helping hands who donate their time to the adult education program.

Unbeknown to Johnson, they had gathered to honor her with celebratory hugs and a wide buffet of select dishes, many of which where specifically dedicated to Johnson and her vegan dietary preference.

Johnson was befuddled, unsure why no one had told her to bring a dish and wondering if she was late to the meeting.

Her confusion dissolved when the reason for the occasion was unveiled. Standing in front of a dozen or so other volunteers, Shawn Williams directed all attention to Johnson and made an announcement.

“We are all here today to recognize a volunteer who has dedicated hours to this program and who is always ready and willing to step up and step in,” said Williams, director of the Glynn County branch of the Coastal Pines Adult Education Program.

“Ms. Johnson, congratulations. You are the Volunteer of the Year.”

After reading Johnson a letter of gratitude, Williams presented her with a plaque of recognition and other gifts to complete the moving ceremony.

“Oh gosh,” Johnson said. “Had I known, I would have run a brush through my hair. This is so unexpected.

“I am, wow, at a loss for words, and those of you who know me know that doesn’t happen often.”

A retired Glynn County elementary school teacher, Johnson began volunteering with the adult education program about two years ago at the suggestion of friend Clayton Clark, volunteer coordinator of the adult education project.

When Clark brought Johnson onto the volunteer team, he knew she would be an instant fit and would be instrumental in helping adult learners move forward in their education and earn a GED.

As a clear supporter of her community, she displays a motivation and ongoing energy in a variety of roles, Williams said.

“Joni rides her bicycle to the center almost every day,” Clark said. “I am proud to say that I can serve on the same program where she lends her efforts.”

Since coming on board with the other 12 volunteers in the program, Johnson has made a noticeable impact on the students. Spending more than 30 hours a week serving the program, Johnson has taken on roles such as leading a writing workshop and developing a library of donated books, to working one-on-one with students, helping ESL students and leading group orientations, she said.

“You tell her where she can be of use and she is there in a blink of the eye,” Williams said. “In the classroom, in administrative roles, on the board, she is willing to be a solid foundation of this program.

“To her, this is a job. She just doesn’t get paid, but she seems fine with that.”

Indeed, Johnson said, she is.

“I retired and I missed teaching,” Johnson said. “I have forged meaningful relationships and have seen our hard work play out successfully. I don’t know of any better way to spend my time and would encourage anyone and everyone in the community to get involved.”

While this is the first time a Volunteer of the Year award has been handed out at the program, Williams said it likely won’t be the last. He stresses, however, that none of the volunteers lending their time and energy to the program do so for recognition.

“The group we have helping us are dedicated, inspiring and clearly invested,” Williams said. “To be able to take a moment to show volunteers like Johnson, who completely give of themselves to this project, it is an honor. It is an honor for me especially to be able to say ‘thank you’.”

Reporter Anna Hall writes about education and other local topics. Contact her at, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 322.


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