Those who are blessed with the opportunity to observe Tammy Shertzer during her day as a full-time volunteer with the School District of Lancaster (SDOL) witness something quite extraordinary. Tammy, who has Down syndrome, volunteers alongside teacher Deb Glenn, whose classroom serves children with special needs. It’s been said that with each task Tammy completes — setting up learning centers, escorting students to class, or even gently wiping a child’s face or holding a trembling hand — she has a heart for the situation…a heart that she shares with every child she serves.
The gift that Tammy brings to the students isn’t just about the tasks she happily performs every day; it goes much deeper than that. “Tammy can put you in tune with the fact that everyone is experiencing the world a little differently,” explains teacher Deb. “She can put you in their shoes and she has a patience for figuring out what someone needs — and meeting those needs. She’s very selfless.”
Deb Glenn and Tammy Shertzer first met in in the late 80s when Tammy was just 16 years old and Deb was a special needs student teacher in her school. Tammy helped Deb as she was learning her way around the classroom. Her selfless, helpful spirit was never forgotten. When the two reconnected by chance at a softball game a few years later, Tammy had graduated from high school and Deb’s teaching career had taken off. Again, Deb asked Tammy to help her in the classroom, but this time it was in her own special needs classroom. It started as just a few days a week, but soon Tammy’s help was so valuable, Deb asked her to come in full time. The two have worked together as a team ever since for the School District of Lancaster in a variety of classrooms.
Tammy’s unique gifts have also been formally celebrated by the greater Lancaster community. In 1996, she received IU-13’s first Volunteer of the Year award. She’s been presented with the J. Lloyd Stauffer Award from the Arc of Lancaster County, given annually to a person who contributes significantly to the community while meeting the challenges of an intellectual or developmental disability. Tammy was also nominated for a Jefferson Award, which acknowledges volunteerism and public service.
In August Tammy received The Essence of Humanity Award, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate remarkable human qualities — love, strength, determination — in the face of adversity. The recipient also shows a spirit of caring and inspiration— beyond his or her daily job. Tammy was presented with the award to thunderous audience applause from hundreds of SDOL teachers and staff during the School District of Lancaster’s new school year kick off meeting.
As exciting and proud as this moment was, perhaps more meaningful is the heartfelt endorsement from Deb, who has worked with Tammy for over 30 years —from the time she was starting out as a student teacher. “Tammy,” she says, “has simply helped me become a better teacher.”
“There are times Tam teaches me things. She can remind me that sometimes it’s just worthwhile to slow down and establish really solid routines. Every student benefits from those. When I am patient and watch and listen. I learn something!”
Deb looks over at Tammy, gives a knowing smile and winks. “Even this late in my career, right, Tam?”
Tammy’s pure, selfless spirit touches everything she does in the classroom, every day. She instinctively knows what each child needs and she gently meets those needs. Those who are fortunate to experience it know they have been given a gift of witnessing a deeper, more meaningful connection from someone who naturally loves serving others.
By Maureen Leader
Maureen Leader is the Public Relations and Communications Manager at Willow Valley Communities. Born and raised in New York City, she’s happiest with a full day of shopping and trying out a new, fabulous restaurant in downtown Lancaster. Maureen is inspired to write the stories of heroes that make her adopted hometown city the special place that it is.