As a volunteer CPR and first-aid instructor for the Douglas County chapter of the American Red Cross, Janet Kelly enjoys hearing and telling stories with a happy ending. She is especially thrilled whenever she hears a story about a former students using the skills they learned in class to save someone's life.
"There is no better feeling in the world to know that they've come through our classes and can help someone," Kelly said. "That's my goal. Each person that comes through, when they leave, I know that those people have the skills to save someone's life."
Since 1988, Kelly, 40, has taught nearly 800 people how to prepare for, recognize and respond to emergencies. She will soon begin training teachers in the Baldwin school district on infant and child CPR and first aid.
Kelly also serves on the Red Cross board of directors and is the health and safety chairwoman, coordinating and operating the Red Cross first-aid stations during such events as the Special Olympics and Haskell Indian Arts Market. Kelly has volunteers for Special Olympics since 1987. In addition, Kelly said she sometimes works up to 60 hours a week organizing fund-raising projects.
She became involved with the Red Cross after taking CPR and first-aid training in 1987 while working for a local school bus company. Volunteering with Red Cross is now in her blood. She gives a hearty laugh and says, "Someone asked me the other day, 'What do you do for fun?' And I said, 'I volunteer.' I really do. It's like my hobby."
Kelly, who teaches fourth- and fifth-graders with learning disabilities in the Baldwin school district, takes a special liking to her Red Cross teaching duties. Her classes are always animated with descriptive stories. She likes gearing her instruction to meet the students' particular skills.
"There's never a dull moment," Kelly said. "I truly like to have a good time when I'm teaching a class ... each person you meet touches your life."
Kelly's interest and motivation in helping people goes back "ever since I can remember." She was born to be a teacher, she said, and showed a special empathy for working with disadvantaged children early in life. As a sixth-grader, she tutored students with special needs and helped them tie their shoes. Kelly was active in 4-H, helped her mom transcribe books for braille, and read to the elderly as part of her church group.
Annette McDonald, chapter chairman of the Douglas County American Red Cross, couldn't be more pleased with the way Kelly has balanced her many hats of volunteer instructor, board member and fund-raiser. McDonald pats her prized volunteer on the shoulder while saying how much she appreciates her efforts.
"The dedication Janet shows is unequaled," McDonald said. "Her organizational and communication skills are exceptional. She is willing to take on any job, big or small."
Kelly can relax now knowing that it's her two boys' (ages 12 and 15) job to make dinner tonight, laughing while saying she's "at their mercy."
Whether it be seeing her children cook dinner, Special Olympians giving her hugs, or a former Red Cross student saving someone's life, Kelly selflessly reaps the rewards of a lifetime of teaching and learning. She finds purpose and meaning by giving to others.
"Truly, with all my volunteer work, I get so much more than what I give and that's what keeps me interested in volunteering because it's always a good feeling ... I can think of no other better reward in life."
-- The volunteer profile is written by David Garfield of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center.