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Volunteerism cheered in Berkeley County

July 27, 1998

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

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Kelly BlackfordBy KERRY LYNN FRALEY / Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Martinsburg parent Kelly Blackford has chaperoned dozens of field trips in the nine years since her oldest son started school.

But she never had to deal with a situation like she did in May, when a first-grader under her charge fell in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on a field trip to The National Aquarium.

Blackford, 38, said she wasn't really thinking when she went in after the boy, who lost his footing while watching the ducks from the dock.

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"I was right there," she said. "He went straight down. Luckily, I jumped in where he was, grabbed a hold of him and started swimming."

Fortunately, the boy was fine, said Blackford, who said she was told by paramedics several children had recently drowned after similar accidents there.

Blackford's heroic effort while volunteering earned her the honor of receiving Berkeley County Schools' first "You Make a Difference" volunteer award this month, said schools spokeswoman Mary Jo Brown.

Future recipients of the new monthly award won't have to make such a splash, Brown said. But they will face stiff competition.

"We have so many wonderful volunteers, we could select one a week," she said.

More than 500 community members volunteer in the school system, Brown said.

For some, it's a one-time activity, like judging a science fair, she said. Others give their time regularly, ranging from 30 minutes a week to several hours every day.

Activities include grading papers, working in a school's office or library, mixing the solution for elementary school children's weekly fluoride doses and working one-on-one with students in the Providing Academic and Self-Esteem Support program, Brown said.

The awards program was requested by the new school board as a way to acknowledge all of the volunteers, she said.

Schools will submit names of potential honorees, along with the reasons they should be recognized, Brown said. Each school will continue its own program for recognizing volunteers at the school level, she said.

Blackford received the countywide award at the July 6 school board meeting, when new board President Todd Beckwith presented her with the specially designed plaque. The rescue earned her recognition in Opequon Elementary School's end-of-the-year assembly as well, she said.

"I was very honored," said Blackford, who said she started volunteering in the schools when son Corey, 13, started kindergarten because she wanted to be involved in his school and help out.

He'll be in eighth grade at North Middle School this year, she said.

"I've been a homeroom mother. I've helped in the book fairs, Santa Secret Shops, sock hops. Just basically, if they need help, I go in and help the teacher," Blackford said.

Now that Corey is older, he doesn't like it as much when his mom comes to school. But her younger son, Hunter, 7, loves it, she said.

So does she.

"I love kids. I like being around them," Blackford said.

The next award recipient will be announced at the Aug. 17 school board meeting, Brown said.

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