The State Board of Education announced Sept. 14 that 15 school volunteers, including two in Fort Worth-area school districts, have been honored with the 2023 Heroes for Children Award for their outstanding dedication and service to Texas public schools and communities.
Established in 1994, the Heroes for Children Award celebrates citizens who go above and beyond to positively impact Texas public school students’ lives through volunteer service. Each year, the 15-member Board recognizes one Hero from each of their districts.
Paula Harwell from Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD in northeast Fort Worth received the award for State Board of Education District 11.
Sandra Maria Garcia from Fort Worth ISD received the award for State Board of Education District 13.
The 2023 honorees, who collectively have devoted 147 years of service to Texas public schools, exemplify the spirit of this award through their tireless efforts to support and enrich the educational experience for students in their communities.
“We are incredibly fortunate to have so many individuals whose selfless acts of service have made a significant difference in the lives of our students,” said SBOE chair Dr. Keven Ellis. “The State Board of Education is honored to recognize the 2023 Heroes for Children recipients for their commitment to the betterment of Texas public schools. Their unwavering dedication to the well-being of Texas students is an inspiration to us all.”
Below is a brief description of the volunteer work performed by each recipient:
Paula Harwell (Eagle Mountain-Saginaw Ind. School District – SBOE District 11) nominated by Jim Chadwell
Paula Harwell’s leadership for more than 15 years indicates her level of commitment to making the students and educators in Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD her top priority. She has served in many leadership roles for several nonprofit organizations, including PTA president at Dozier and Greenfield Elementary campuses, Council of PTAs president, where she led over 15 elementary campuses, PTO president, where she led seven campuses, chair of the bond committee, special needs advisory board, Girl Scouts, Theatre and Cheerleading clubs. She also served on numerous district and campus advisory committees and was a valued volunteer for the Education Foundation.
Through her leadership and careful planning, she was instrumental in providing nearly $133,000 in scholarships for graduating students. When Paula is not fundraising, she spends her time providing snacks and luncheons for teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. She has brought family engagement activities and various school events to the district through carnivals, school spirit enrichment activities, and social-emotional guest speakers. The entire Eagle Mountain-Saginaw community is proud to have a hero like Paula Harwell.
Sandra Maria Garcia (Fort Worth Ind. School District – SBOE District 13) nominated by Alma Pohler
Sandra Maria Garcia has been a committed volunteer in Fort Worth ISD for over 14 years. She is a servant leader whose passion and focus center on quality education for all and creating a safe environment for young students where they can flourish and reach their aspirations and dreams. Through her volunteer work, Sandra has helped expand the number of educated minorities by helping them envision a better future, guiding them on a path to reach their potential, and acting as their voice through advocacy. For Sandra, volunteer service is not just a once-a-year opportunity but a way of life uplifting families, especially of immigrant and impoverished populations, through education.
By leading the Hispanic Women’s Network of Texas, she has worked to promote the advancement of women in public, corporate, and civic life through education and personal and professional development. Through the Latinas in Progress program, she has mentored senior high school female students by partnering with the Fort Worth ISD and Tarrant County high schools to recruit mentors from the community. Through her involvement in many other civic groups, she has and continues to be a voice at school board meetings and the state legislature on issues concerning public education funding.
Delia Medina (Socorro Independent School District – SBOE District 1) nominated by Raquel Tarango
Delia Medina has been a volunteer for the past 15 years and currently serves as the volunteer coordinator, vice president of the Robotics Booster Club, and school ambassador for Montwood High School in Socorro ISD. As a volunteer, she has spruced up the campus walls and hallways with her art creations. She has also made costumes and signage for the robotics team and created murals and bulletin boards for the black student union club. Her invaluable involvement includes assisting with volunteer registrations, keeping track of service hours, scheduling parent-teacher conferences, and making phone calls to remind students and parents about informational sessions for federal student aid and military nights. At any given time, Delia can be found around campus leading various school events with other parents.
Nelida Tapia (La Joya Independent School District – SBOE District 2) nominated by Norma Garcia
Nelida Tapia has been a dedicated parent volunteer at JD Salinas Middle School in La Joya ISD for the past ten years where she leads parents in various district committees that impact student success and serves on several parent advisory committees. Mrs. Tapia has advocated for English classes for parents to help increase parent involvement and volunteerism. She diligently attends every parent meeting and is a great example to other parents on how to get involved. In addition to serving on school committees, she also decorates for school events and helps with school concession stands. She believes that volunteering has an incredible impact on students and the entire community.
Lisa Fairall (Northeast Independent School District – SBOE District 3) nominated by Zack Salesman
Lisa Fairall is a shining example of a volunteer who puts her heart and soul into working with children in Northeast ISD in San Antonio. Her goal in life is to ensure children are taught, loved, fed, and clothed. For the past 17 years, she has worked tirelessly towards this goal in the educational setting, at her church, and at her workplace. Every month, she organizes at least one to three volunteer opportunities, including peanut butter drives, weekend packing events for Snack Pak 4 Kids, school supply drives for Communities in Schools, toy drives for the Blue Santa program, and countless holiday collections of gifts and toys for disadvantaged children and families. She also led a clothing drive at Roosevelt High School called Dress for Success, intended to help students who needed professional clothing to interview for jobs and college admission interviews. Ms. Fairall has made it her mission to engage in at least one to three volunteer opportunities every month, and together with her colleagues, her mission has been successful.
Melanie Gracia (Galena Park Independent School District – SBOE District 4) nominated by America Garza
Melanie Gracia is a great example of parents and schools working together for students at Woodland Acres Middle School in Galena Park ISD. Through her work as Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) president for the past two years, she organized several fundraisers to purchase new sports equipment and supplies. Melanie also used her creativity to create beautiful backgrounds and murals where families could take pictures of themselves during several school events. She works hard to inform parents and the school community of upcoming events. She has spent countless hours volunteering at the food banks and answering questions. Her active role in these events encouraged other parents to volunteer at the school.
Tonnettia Simms (Harmony School of Endeavor, Austin – SBOE District 5) nominated by Mualla Ozguven
Tonnettia Simms has become a daily fixture in the halls of Harmony School of Endeavor in Austin. For the past two years, she has found ways to support both students and staff by hosting book fairs, assisting with movie days, working at the school library, decorating bulletin boards, making copies for staff, and other helpful tasks. Her efforts to increase parental involvement and build parent capacity are commendable. She helped recruit parents to participate in the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) and increased their awareness of school programs promoting greater community support.
Shannan Reid (Montgomery Independent School District – SBOE District 6) nominated by Stephanie Wells
Shannan Reid has advocated for public education for over nine years in Montgomery ISD. In 2017, She rallied the support of the community to create the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Get Back to Work Day, organizing hundreds of volunteers for campuses to assist teachers and staff in getting classrooms ready for the first day of school. This volunteer day has become a much-anticipated annual service event, matching volunteers with campuses to tackle long “to-do lists” in preparation for a new school year.
Shannan also served on the district’s Bond 2022, which successfully passed with support from the Montgomery community. She has also served as Education Foundation director since its inception in 2014. With her leadership, the foundation successfully raised funds for scholarships and innovative grants for teachers. As a fierce advocate for public education, she has spoken on behalf of the Montgomery ISD community in the state legislature to share concerns about K-12 education funding. Shannan is the kind of leader who can magnify and galvanize community support, demonstrating a remarkable ability to address the needs of the school community. Her unwavering support makes her a true hero.
Milimo Reed (Lamar Consolidated Ind. School District – SBOE District 7) nominated by Bill Reckert
Milimo Reed has been an exceptional volunteer at Lamar Consolidated ISD for the past seven years. She served as president of the PTO and as a community representative for the Site-Based Decision-Making (SBDM) committee. A tireless advocate for students and families, she worked to improve communication between the school and the community and has been instrumental in raising funds for school initiatives and programs. Her ability to motivate and lead volunteers is outstanding. She is a strong supporter of equality and inclusion and has worked to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality education. Her efforts as a sponsor for numerous school endeavors, including teacher appreciation weeks and student field trips, positively impacted students, teachers, and staff.
Milimo is a dedicated and skillful mentor for the youth housed at the Fort Bend County Juvenile Probation Center, where she has formed positive relationships and has become a role model to them. In addition to mentoring, Milimo also volunteers as a guest presenter and speaker to the three units of juveniles in the detention center, giving presentations to educate them about finances and their financial responsibilities.
Candy Todash (Humble Independent School District – SBOE District 8) nominated by Marilyn Mann
Candy Todash has been a dedicated volunteer for the past 12 years at Humble ISD, where she currently serves as president of the Council of PTAs and formerly served as treasurer and membership chair. Candy loves children of all ages who need comfort, care, and a safe haven. She serves as an advocate for students who need representation at monthly Admission Review and Dismissal (ARD) meetings. She also gives her time serving on committees that advocate for students. Some of those committees include the Dream Team, Special Needs, and Parent Involvement.
Her heart goes beyond the classroom and out into the community, where she helps families find resources and other necessities. When she is not at a meeting, Candy can be seen at the concession stand serving up hot dogs, nachos, warm smiles, and comforting hugs to the many students and parents who rely on her leadership. Nurturing children and giving back to the community are the pillars of Candy’s volunteer philosophy. The Humble ISD community is a better place because of a servant like Candy Todash.
Debbie Bozeman-Zook (Malakoff Ind. School District –SBOE District 9) nominated by Brandi Sutton
Debbie Bozeman-Zook is the leader behind a project that was fully funded by the support of the local community at Tool Elementary in Malakoff ISD. For three years, she led all fundraising efforts that raised approximately $50,000 to build Fran’s Teaching Garden in honor of Fran Sonka, a 93-year-old who gave her love by greeting and hugging kids as they began their school day. To date, Miss Fran’s Teaching Garden has grown and harvested nearly a half-ton of produce that has been donated to the local food pantry. The garden has 28 raised beds complete with irrigation, a greenhouse, a tool shed, and a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation. This beautiful garden has been featured in Edible magazine and is possible because of Debbie’s dedication and generosity of her time.
In addition, she built a website to display student activities and their well-prepared hands-on lessons. On any given day at the school, you can find Debbie in the garden, spending countless hours working and planning activities such as planting seeds, caring for them, and harvesting them for the students to enjoy and be proud of. Debbie is the epitome of the ultimate school volunteer who impacts everyone at Tool Elementary and the local community.
Carlette Eller (Killeen Independent School District – SBOE District 10) nominated by Trandra Marzett
Carlette Eller is an energetic and dedicated volunteer, and for the past six years, served as the Skipcha Elementary PTO president in Killeen ISD. Her supportive and loyal spirit for the students, staff, and families is phenomenal, and she exemplifies positivity and dependability. During the last two school years, when volunteers were very scarce due to the pandemic, Carlette held several PTO positions while also serving as the president.
For three years, she spearheaded multiple fundraisers to build an all-abilities playground that came to fruition this past year with a bonus awning. Her countless hours of volunteerism earned her numerous Volunteer of the Year awards from the district. Her volunteering motto is “Taking every opportunity to help others.” One can find Carlette in the library – her favorite place, searching and preparing for fundraisers, helping teachers in their classrooms, or talking with staff about volunteer activities. The Skipcha Elementary community is a better place because of a dedicated servant like Carlette Eller.
James Bramlett (Pleasant-Grove Ind. School District – SBOE District 12) nominated by Haley Turner
James Bramlett has been a dedicated volunteer and advocate for education in Pleasant Grove ISD for the past 16 years and has made significant contributions that have left an indelible mark on the Texarkana community. His innovative idea to sponsor the Arkansas High/Texas High football game has provided annual scholarships of $2,500 to students on each team. Serving on the Pleasant Grove Education Foundation board since its inception, James has helped raise over $900,000 to support classroom instruction and ensure teachers have the necessary resources for student success. His impact extends beyond Pleasant Grove ISD, as he has also served on the Liberty-Eylau Education Foundation Board, dedicating over 100 hours of his time and raising over $175,000 for teacher grants.
James’ passion for literacy is evident in his annual volunteer work, where he reads books to elementary classes and emphasizes the importance of falling in love with reading. His commitment to empowering students and fostering a lifelong passion for learning is unparalleled. James has become a true hero for Texas public school students through his remarkable volunteerism, fundraising efforts, and unwavering commitment. His ability to make a lasting impact has earned him this well-deserved recognition.
Doris Patrick (Coppell Independent School District – SBOE District 14) nominated by Sandra Braden
Doris Patrick has volunteered at Valley Ranch Elementary in Coppell ISD for the past three years, where she has been instrumental in reviving a school garden that was left untended for many years. Through her tireless, year-round work, the Garden of the Stars has returned to life, offering students invaluable hands-on experiences in planting, tending, and harvesting edible crops. Currently, the garden has seven raised beds, two flowering plant beds, a storage shed, and an outside learning area that Doris maintains. She uses her knowledge to guide students in planting and harvesting, giving them a close look at natural processes and teaching them how living organisms thrive in these environments. Without Doris and the generosity of her time and expertise, there would not be a working garden and a vibrant outdoor learning space for students to enjoy and see how gardening helps the environment and provides fresh produce for human consumption.
Eddy Morelock (Lubbock Ind. School District – SBOE District 15) nominated by Phyllis Underwood
Eddy Morelock has been a volunteer for over 15 years in Lubbock ISD. He has held several positions in the PTA and as Council of PTAs president and has contributed a lot to the district’s students. His passion is to increase literacy among all students through reading. For four years, Eddy has organized and installed 43 Little Free Libraries on all district campuses where students can find books to read and enjoy after school hours and in the summertime when school lets out. Eddy has dedicated his time to repairing Little Free Libraries that needed attention by replacing the glass doors, securing doors that were falling off the hinges, and giving a fresh coat of paint to some. He has worked tirelessly to manually dig the post sites and install the libraries himself. He is very deserving of this Heroes for Children award.