By Greg Ellison, Staff Writer
(Oct. 26, 2017) Three members of Worcester County Schools were nominated for LifeChanger of the Year Awards, an annual program recognizing K-12 educators and staff for having a meaningful influence in students’ lives.
In the running for the honors are Snow Hill Middle School secretary Jennifer Ames, Stephen Decatur High School teacher Laurie Chetelat and Pocomoke High School teacher Elizabeth Jones.
The LifeChanger of the Year awards are sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, which since 2006 has sought to support nonprofit and educational organizations.
The grand-prize winner will split $10,000 with their school and four grand prize finalists will share $5,000. Also, all five finalists will be flown to Bermuda in May for fun in the sun.
Snow Hill Middle School Principal Chris Welch nominated Ames for continuing to make a positive impact on students after more than three decades at the institution.
For her part, Ames, who typically avoids the spotlight, said the accolade is appreciated and recalled some sage advice imparted during her youth.
“My mother always said let people do and say what they like,” she said. “If they want to … let them.”
Ames, a shore native and longtime parishioner at Collins Temple A.M.E. Church in Snow Hill, also works with the Haven House After School Program at Snow Hill Elementary School.
“I get to learn the children who are in the program and, by the time they come to middle school, I know them,” she said. “Now, some of their children are coming through.”
Breaking with the traditional office-support role, Ames also takes time to provide guidance when students experience life challenges.
“I talk to them and sometimes they don’t like what I say,” she said. “I might have to go a little deep on them sometimes.”
Ames is always happy to talk one-on-one and assist students in navigating the turbulent waters of youth.
“I try to show them a different way,” she said. “They may not see it today, but maybe tomorrow or down the road.”
Stephen Decatur High School Principal Thomas Zimmer nominated Chetelat, who has spent the bulk of her three-decade career in education fostering community connectivity in Berlin.
“I went to high school here and learned the importance of helping other people,” she said. “Everybody can have a role, no matter how big or how small.”
In addition to instructing AP U.S. History and Government courses, Chetelat founded and oversees Connections, a community service organization for students.
“I have a volunteer group I started with two kids 15 years ago,” she said. “We are up to 146 members and do year-round activities.”
While admitting the nomination was humbling, Chetelat said altruism, rather than recognition, is her primary motivator.
“I try to serve as a role model for them in giving to the community,” she said. “A lot of my kids go on and continue service as adults.”
Deflecting the attention, Chetelat said numerous others at the school go above and beyond the call of duty. She also expressed gratitude that Stephen Decatur High School would receive half the prize money.
“Taking it out into the real world is the best type of learning,” she said. “I look at it as a way to recognize my kids, because they make me look good.”
Pocomoke High School Principal Annette Wallace nominated Jones for her efforts to assure students from economically challenged families had resources to continue in higher education.
“A lot of our kid are from families in poverty,” she said. “I like to make certain our kids are aware of all the opportunities.”
In 2014, Jones joined Wallace as part of the leadership team developing the Project 100 initiative, with the goal of assuring every student pursues an educational pathway after high school.
“They don’t always know what’s out there and available to them if nobody shows them,” she said.
After spending nearly three decades in education, with almost 20 years at Pocomoke High School, Jones said the recognition was humbling.
“I was doing what I was supposed to be doing,” she said. “It would be nice [to win], because it gives money back to the school to help the kids prosper.”
For her part, Jones said assisting students with the myriad of paperwork involved with college applications is its own reward.
“Somebody along the line has to help,” she said. “It makes me feel better about their future.”
To leave comments about candidates and the impact their efforts have had, visit www.lifechangeroftheyear.com. Select the nominees tab to search by name or state for individual profiles.
The nomination process closes on Dec. 31.