Impact Feature Issue on Paraeducators Supporting Students with Disabilities and At-Risk

I Know I Have a Lot to Give Back: Volunteer of the Year, Vernon Tischler


Vernon Tischler lives, works, and volunteers in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Kris Schoeller is a training coordinator and transition specialist with projects at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.

This past May, Vernon Tischler received the David L. Sons Humanitarian Award for his dedication to volunteering in the West 7th Community of St. Paul, Minnesota. This award is given each year to a person in the community who has given selflessly to others. Vernon is a friend, coworker, volunteer, and son who cares about the person next door, the kids in school and church, his friends, and anyone else he meets along the way. He came into my life a few years ago because he has Down syndrome and received an authorization from the county for support in the community, which I provide. But, mostly Vernon has been my friend. He always lifts my spirits and softens life’s hard knocks. He is a writer, artist, dancer, and a singer. He reads my thoughts and my heart, and for that I am grateful. I wish that everyone could spend time with him and get to know him as I do. He is a very wonderful man.

I asked Vernon to share his thoughts about his volunteer activities, and why volunteering is important to him and to the community. His words are below. – Kris Schoeller

On May 15th, 2001, I received the David L. Sons Humanitarian Award for volunteering and helping people in our neighborhood. I was very proud and so were all my family and friends who came to the dinner. I wore a suit and gave a speech and I wasn’t nervous because my family and friends were all there to cheer me.

I am a happy-go-lucky guy and I love working with children and helping them learn new things. I love to read, write stories, sing, and I am a very good artist. Mostly, I like to make people feel good. Everyone has sad or bad things that happen to them, and if I can make them feel better, then I feel better. Everything I write and do is from my heart and out of my chest. I can tell when people are hurt or sad about things, and so I like to make them laugh or feel good about themselves. Sometimes I get frustrated or sad, but I just write a story or draw about my feelings and then go out and help someone else. That makes me feel better. 

I worked unpaid at Monroe Community School as part of a work-training program while I was still in high school. I used to go to Monroe when I was in middle school. It is close to my home and I can walk there. Some of my duties were to help Bob, the custodian. He found lots of things that he needed help with and I got to be around all the kids, which I love. Eventually I was hired as a full-time teaching assistant, but still wanted to help Bob. I like being busy and around people, so Bob said that I could help him in the lunchroom during lunch. I mop, clean windows, carry out trash, and do whatever needs to be done.

When the school budget cuts came I lost my job as a TA along with a lot of other people. The Wilder Foundation has a program at Monroe called Achievement Plus. I used to volunteer with their program in the library, putting books back on the shelves, fixing them, and helping the students find books. So, they hired me for four hours a day and I got a job with food service two hours a day, so I was able to stay at Monroe. I start at 7:30 a.m. with Achievement Plus helping kindergartners and first graders with math and reading. From 9:00-11:00 I work in the food service. After lunch I help Bob in the lunchroom; this is volunteer. After more time with Achievement Plus I go to the library and help organize and stamp books. My day usually ends at 3:30. If there is a carnival or other school event I volunteer to come back at night to help where I am needed, and if there are conferences or special meetings I stay late to help get everything ready. In the fall, when my summer job is over I go over to Monroe and help the custodian get the school ready for when it opens. I like to help and it’s fun for me to work with the guys, who are my friends.

I love working with the kids. It’s a good experience because I was their age once and it was my dream come true when I started growing up. My mom was always there for me and did a good job of raising me. Jack (my mom’s husband) did half of my life. He’s funny and fun to be with. I also volunteer at church with Vacation Bible School and sometimes with Sunday school. I used to go to the Bible school and then I got too old. I didn’t want to give that up so I asked if I could come and work with the kids. I read Bible stories to them and help them make pictures about the stories so they can learn about Jesus.

In the summer, I get bored when my teacher aid job is on break. There is a day care center by my house and sometimes I volunteer with them. I read to the little kids and play in the playground. Sometimes I take the little ones for a walk in the stroller. 

Those are the things I do that are at places in the community, but I also try to look for things that other people need just walking around. Sometimes kids at school are too late for the crossing patrols so I help them get back home. I know my neighbors and if they need help I like to pitch in. When I am out with my community support person or on respite, I like to help in the kitchen or with any of the work that needs to get done. It is just more fun to be with people with whatever they are doing instead of just being by myself. Plus, I make people laugh and that is fun.

Having Down syndrome sometimes bugs me, but mostly I know I have a lot to give back, and when the kids are curious about it, I just tell them about it and then they just go on reading or playing. I think they like my smile and that I am patient; I don’t get mad. They probably like my drawings, too, because I draw lots of cartoon people and make their faces really expressive. I can draw happy, scared, mad, frightened, and surprised faces. That makes them laugh and know that I care about their feelings.

I know that not everyone gets a chance to do all the volunteer stuff that I do. I am the fourth generation of my family living in the West Seventh Community and people know my mom and they knew my grandparents and great grandmother. There are lots of good people who live here and when my mom talks to them about me volunteering they know us and they have been really open and welcoming to me. I don’t want to leave my neighborhood or my old school because people care about me and my family. That makes me feel good about giving back, makes me feel like I am part of my community and I don’t want to let them down.