|BACKGROUNDER ON VOLUNTEER OF DISTINCTION IRENE BERRY|
MONTREAL, APRIL 10, 2008 - The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) will honour 80 year old Irene Berry on Wednesday, April 30 at Le Baron Royal (6020 Jean Talon East) in St. Léonard at the seventh annual Volunteer Appreciation Evening. This year’s event is being held during National Volunteer Week.
Ms. Berry has been volunteering at Westmount Park School for the past 20 years.
“I love being at Westmount Park and being with the children. It’s like a second home to me,” said Ms. Berry, who recently turned 80. “The love I get from the children and the teachers in the school is incredible. It’s great to know that I’m appreciated by everyone.”
Ms. Berry, who is affectionately known as “Nanny” by everyone at the school, was born in Montreal and is a longtime resident of St. Henri. A mother of 10 children, she started out as a teacher’s aide at Royal Arthur Elementary School in St. Henri. When the school closed over 20 years ago, she joined Westmount Park to continue her work as a teacher’s aide and as a volunteer bus monitor. She then became a hall monitor during lunch time, and from there, decided to devote more time to the students and teachers of Westmount Park as a volunteer.
From the beginning to the end of the school day, Ms. Berry tirelessly gives her time to the school five days a week. She still serves as a bus monitor, and rides with and supervises the students on one of the busses to and from the school. In between, she helps the students at the school’s Pre-K program, works as a hall monitor during lunch time, and works with small groups every afternoon by playing games with them such as bingo, number match and puzzles. And when she is not working with the students, Ms. Berry keeps herself busy by cleaning up after art classes, as well as wiping down and washing tables.
“Irene always helps out with every aspect of the Pre-K day. In fact, she’s like my co-teacher here,” said Rose Fruchter, a Pre-K teacher who works closely with Ms. Berry. “She is strict, yet loving, and has a lot of patience and charm. It’s almost like she has 400 grandchildren. Everyone adores her.” She also noticed how Ms. Berry goes out of her way to make the Pre-K students happy. For example, whenever there is a special event or holiday, she goes to the local dollar store to buy candies and decorations for the class, usually out of her own pocket. Ms. Berry also helps them get settled in every morning, gets their snacks, assists with table work and works one-on-one with those students who require extra help.
Another aspect of Ms. Berry that amazes everyone at Westmount Park is the incredible amount of energy she has every day when she does her volunteering and hall monitor duties … yet she never takes any breaks or spares. “I don’t know what makes me so energetic. I just love being here with the children. It really makes my day,” admits Ms. Berry, who gets up every day at 4:30 a.m., so that she could get ready to board the bus for her monitor duties at 7:10 a.m.
When the school day ends, she loves to relax at her St. Henri home and listen to CDs by her favorite singer, Elvis Presley. A die hard Elvis fan, she boasts a vast collection of records, movies and memorabilia dealing with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, and admits that her home is almost like an Elvis museum. In fact, her love of Elvis music extended to a special birthday celebration that the students and staff at Westmount Park held for her last March. Besides being presented with a birthday cake that had Elvis’ likeness on it, she was also serenaded by a professional Elvis impersonator. And on the actual day of her birthday, a group of Westmont Park teachers gave her a special birthday greeting by serenading her with a medley of Elvis tunes (her favorite song is “The Wonder of You”).
“If I can sum up in one word the kind of person Irene is, and that’s ‘caring’,” said Westmount Park principal Christina Delaney. “She knows every child in the school, and she is so gentle with the little kids. I love watching her every morning as she unloads the bus that she monitors when it arrives. All the kids run up to her to say hello. She always provides comforting hugs and encouraging words to the students. They see her as their grandmother, because many of them don’t have grandparents who are over the age of 80. She really brings a nice dimension to the school.”
Michael J. Cohen