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MONTREAL, MARCH 10, 2014- Debbie Hanley has been chosen as this year’s Volunteer of Distinction by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB).  She will be recognized  on Tuesday, April 8 at  Le Renaissance Reception Hall (7550 Henri Bourassa Boulevard East) in RDP.

“I’ve never stopped volunteering and helping out people,” said Ms. Hanley. “It’s a big part of my life, and I can’t see myself doing anything different.”

Ms. Hanley has volunteered at Roslyn Elementary School in Westmount for the past 30 years. She also serves as school secretary.

It was at Coronation School  in Côte des Neiges where Ms. Hanley began her  volunteer efforts 35 years ago, where she performed a variety of duties from reading aloud to students, to helping out teachers in the classroom. When one of her children became a student at Options Alternative High School in Ville Émard, Ms. Hanley decided to offer her services as a volunteer there. “The school’s office staff told me that they weren’t used to getting phone calls from people who were willing to be volunteer,” she said, noting that she taught students computer and typing skills, as well as social sciences.

However, it was 20 years ago when Ms. Hanley began to effectively juggle a full-time day job and her many volunteer duties at Roslyn, where her three children were students. She helped pupils on a one-on-one basis in different classrooms; she volunteers at the book fair (where at one point, she read aloud to students dressed up as Ms. Frizzle, a character from the popular series of “Magic School Bus” books); and her corn on the cob station is a popular spot during the school’s annual welcome back event.

Ms. Hanley also coordinates Roslyn’s popular Spaghetti Talent Show Night every March, which attracts over 500 people annually, and she personally cooks the spaghetti sauce that is served at the event (“We make sure everybody gets fed,” she added). It also raises a good deal of money to benefit the school. “The Spaghetti Talent Show Night is also great for the school’s morale,” she said. “It’s very heartwarming to see the kids and their families eating spaghetti together before the show and having fun. And then afterwards, you see the kids go onstage and perform, which gives them the chance to shine. In fact, the event is so popular, that every January, the kids ask me when they can sign up for the upcoming talent show.”

For the last 15 years, Ms. Hanley has also played a major role in Roslyn’s Home and School Association (which is called “HandS”), and thanks to her experience and knowledge of school affairs, has become an effective go-between for the parents, staff and students. They have even managed to obtain a $20,000 grant through Future Shop to build a computer lab, and the association did some further fundraising to help pay for the painting of the lab and providing it with furniture.

One of Ms. Hanley’s duties at the Roslyn office is working with families who register their children to  attend the school. She gets to know a lot of their personal stories and as a result she ended up developing another one of her special projects. She made arrangements with Share the Warmth to donate food to the school, such as sandwiches, muffins, fruit, vegetables and yogurt, so that many of the students have something to eat; as well, every Christmas time, she personally delivers food baskets to many deserving families at Roslyn.

“This is being done so we don’t have any of our kids say that they are hungry,” said Ms. Hanley. “Just because the school is located in Westmount, it doesn’t mean that all of the families who have children there don’t have needs.”

Ms. Hanley also works with the 100 parents who make up Roslyn’s volunteer corps, and recruits them to get involved in every aspect of school life there, whether it is the library, the classrooms, the many school events, the health room, and even the lice patrol. She also arranges for nursing students to do their stages at Roslyn’s health room.

Ms. Hanley enjoys her volunteer work at Roslyn, and finds volunteering to be contagious. In fact, she finds it so contagious, that she gets her entire family involved as school volunteers, including her husband, her three children and six grandchildren, and even her sister.

“I’m an old school type of person, in which I am strong on giving back to the community,” she says. “I believe that Roslyn School is not just a place to work, but also it’s a place where you get yourself so wrapped up, it begins to feel like a family,” she said. “Roslyn is a volunteer-based school, in which its many dedicated volunteers keep the school going.

“I have a great time volunteering. The people appreciate it, and the kids have a great time, too. And above all, they learn what community spirit is all about.” 


Michael J. Cohen
Communications and Marketing Specialist
English Montreal School Board
Tel: (514) 483-7200 ext. 7243
Fax: (514) 483-7213