It wasn’t so long ago that Karen King was working for an insurance company in the marketing department.
But then at 40-years-old, she decided to return to school and become a teacher. Now 11 years later, King said the best of both worlds for her is when she can combine teaching with her other passion – volunteering.
“It’s just sort of what I do,” the fifth grade Reed Intermediate School teacher said. “The most fun is being able to bring them along on the journey."
King's successes have earned her a spot as a finalist in the American Federation of Teachers’ Everyday Heroes program. The honor recognizes teachers and others across the country who epitomize the spirit of public service.
The winner, who will be chosen through a public voting process on AFT’s website, will be honored at a conference in Washington DC this spring.
The other teaching finalists are Hope Evanoff, a French teacher in Providence, Rhode Island; Martha Hanley, a speech therapist from Wayne, N.Y.; Andrea Harrison, a Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. art teacher; and Sharon Wingfield, a Chicago general education teacher.
King’s fellow teacher, Jill Beaudry, nominated her for the honor after seeing the relentless commitment King demonstrates in volunteering at the homeless Dorothy Day shelter in Danbury as well as with other various philanthropic causes.
For instance, King organized a pencil for peace drive in war-torn Kosovo and then later went to Haiti with a nonprofit group called Unite for Sight.
She helped establish a pen pal, photo and other programs for Liberian refugees living in Ghana, and later helped open a school for the refugees in Liberia.
She said her goal now is to help open an eye clinic in Liberia if she and others can raise $80,000. Having gone around talking to various Rotary clubs and securing matching funds, King only has $30,000 left to raise.
“I’m just impressed with her because she has that worldly view that one person can make a difference,” Beaudry said. “Here’s little Karen King from our area and she has done just fantastic things.”
King said one of the reasons she enjoys sharing her passion for volunteerism with students is that it can help spark student learning.
“It sort of lights that fire I have in them,” King said of her students. “If you get something really engaging, it can be the fuel.”
But while her colleagues recognize her as someone special, King reflects the praise back, saying that everyone in the school is ready to pitch in and help each other.
“It sort of becomes a culture at the school,” he said. “Our school is full of heroes. Mine is an obvious story but this happens all the time of people who go the extra mile.”
To vote for King or any of the other finalists, visit the website here.