When Wayne Weinschenk retired from three decades in the nursing home industry last year, the Blaine resident was looking for a new direction for his energies. “My daughter was my inspiration,” says Weinschenk, 70. “She’s a hardworking, dedicated teacher and she suggested there would be a meaningful opportunity for me to volunteer in a school.”
He took her advice, approaching the school district with the request that his volunteer position be in a school with kids from different backgrounds. At Cordata Elementary his wish came true, and for the past year Weinschenk has supported the school’s writer’s club and volunteered in a 4th grade classroom, assisting with math, art and history projects and accompanying the class on field trips. He started with one day a week but has already doubled his time.
“I started volunteering to see what I could give the students, but I now realize that I get much more than I give,” he reflected. “It’s so rewarding to see the kids respond to you, and to see how interested they are in school and what they’re doing.”
Weinschenk said his favorite moments are when he sees “the light go on when the kids get it. They approach me in the hall and give me high fives and they really do give me the impression that I’m making a difference by volunteering. What they don’t know is that they’re making a difference in my life, too!”
“I like the intergenerational aspect of this volunteering,” he continued. “It’s meaningful to be with the generation on the other side of you. It’s sort of a circle. And there’s a lot of positive energy in the school, where everyone I meet is helpful, committed and focused on the kids.”
When he started out as a volunteer with Bellingham Schools, Weinschenk was under the impression that schools in general were bombarded and stressed. “We ask an awful lot of the schools and they come under severe criticism,” he noted. But his experience belied his early impressions and today he believes the schools are doing a great job, if Cordata is any reflection.
“It’s a wonderful school, not at all like I pictured,” he said. “It gives me hope for the school system. And volunteering there is a very enriching experience for me, personally. The kids are very respectful, kind and open, and I take that as an indication that they’re happy to have me there.”
Weinschenk said he would recommend other retirees consider volunteering in the school district too, even if their initial motivation is selfish. “From a selfish point of view, it makes one’s life more meaningful, which is something I didn’t know would happen when I started volunteering ... I’ve developed meaningful, enriching relationships with many of the students and I look forward to going into the classroom every week.”
“When you retire your whole life shifts a little,” said Weinschenk. “You realize life is all about relationships.”