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Volunteers who give at Bellingham schools also receive

Community in Action

When volunteers offer their skills at Bellingham Public Schools, the benefits can last a lifetime. Volunteers teaching a writing class to fourth graders, for example, can spark an enduring creative outlet. A community member working with students in special education can instill lifelong independence.

Cordata Elementary School volunteers Shahla Jalili, Derek Munson and Wayne Weinschenk said they were motivated by kindness and a desire to give. What struck each of them was how much they themselves received through their work.


Shahla Jalili

Jalili worked in 2016-17 with students in kindergarten and first grade in special education.

“Her dedication to her work and to the students was impressive and much appreciated,” said Richard Bennett, Cordata’s special education teacher. “She was always willing to help in any capacity needed.”

Jalili studied psychology in her home country of Iran and has worked with adults with developmental disabilities at the Max Higbee Center in Bellingham and elsewhere. She decided she would like to work with children and started volunteering at Cordata this past winter.

“I like to share my experience and help people who need it,” Jalili said. “It’s a new experience, working with kids, and it’s wonderful.”


Derek Munson & Wayne Weinschenk

Munson and Weinschenk taught a weekly writing class to a group of Cordata fourth graders. Munson and Weinschenk’s goal was to take students who didn’t like writing, or who found it intimidating, and help them see writing as a fun way to express themselves.

Munson is a children’s author whose anti-bullying book “Enemy Pie” is read in schools across the country. Weinschenk is a retired nursing home administrator.

Children naturally are good writers, Munson said, because they have strong imaginations.

“They’re experiencing things very vividly,” Munson said. “I think that’s exciting. They already know their story. They just need help getting it out.”

For Munson, volunteering is an opportunity to assert and protect the rights of children — a cause that’s important to him.

“I love this idea of paying it forward, perpetuating kindness and seeing how it grows in unexpected ways,” he said.

Less than a year into retirement, Weinschenk landed at Cordata Elementary.

“You have to think about what’s meaningful to you” when deciding what to do in retirement, Weinschenk said. He wanted to volunteer at Cordata because his daughter teaches at a Title I elementary school in Tacoma.

“I get much more than I ever give here,” Weinschenk said. “It’s good to make contact across generations. People in retirement could tend to isolate themselves. … I look at it as a creative thing to do.”

Weinschenk plans to keep that energy going during the break, volunteering for a summer reading program for incoming fourth graders.

If you would like to volunteer at Bellingham Public Schools, contact Jennifer Gaer:



Photos: (1) Volunteer Derek Munson with students at Cordata Elementary School; (2) Shahla Jalili, who worked with special education students; (3) Munson and (4) Wayne Weinschenk, who together taught a writing class for fourth graders. Weinschenk also assisted in Adrya Dubel’s fourth-grade class.

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