For an hour and a half on Friday mornings, Karen Locke watches with a giant smile on her face as the love of her life, Jim, cheerfully greets Lewisville High School students as they arrive on campus. Being a volunteer greeter at the front door isn’t the most flashy job in the world for a local senior citizen, but Jim certainly wears that badge with pride.
“At first, the kids see this old guy standing at the door and wonder what’s going on. Before long, he’s giving out high-fives and candy,” Karen said with a laugh. “For some kids, that’s the first person to say ‘good morning’ to them that day.”
She added, “I volunteer in the office, and you meet so many great people you wouldn’t normally meet.”
The Lockes have always had a vested interest in LISD. Both their sons graduated from Lewisville schools. Karen worked for the district for 30 years in various capacities before retiring five years ago. They both know so many people in the district, volunteer their time seemingly at the drop of a hat, and because they are Lewisville residents, they are acutely aware that’s where their tax dollars are going. Therefore, it’s nice to give back and still be in the loop.
“The schools can use lots of hands,” she said. “But I feel like there are a lot of people who don’t know they can volunteer.”
If that’s the case, it won’t be that way for long. Lewisville ISD has finally launched its long-awaited Senior Ambassador Program and is set to host its first meeting on September 23 at the Bolin Professional Learning Center. Superintendent Kevin Rogers will be there to speak, as will several other district officials. The hope is to catch lightning in a bottle with a sizable population of citizens they believe can be integral to spreading the message about all the amazing happenings at LISD while also getting involved through various volunteer and community initiatives.
Karen Locke and longtime community supporter Mary Kay Walker quickly jumped on board to help spread awareness of the Senior Ambassador Program. The program is for any senior citizen regardless of whether they have a history with LISD or they simply have a heart for today’s youth and want to volunteer and build lasting friendships along the way.
“We need volunteers, and senior citizens really make the perfect volunteers,” said Bill Lee, LISD’s director of marketing. “They can be storytellers, greeters, ushers at our fine arts events, etc. There really are no limits. There are so many ways for them to get involved, and we’re lucky to have some great people like Karen and Mary Kay helping spread the word.”
“The more I got involved with Bill in terms of talking about the district, the more I got to see the actions of the school and all the great things these students and the district are doing,” Walker said. “It was just an idea that I really liked, and I truly do feel like the program is a benefit for the students and the many senior citizens out there.”
She added, “And the best part is that you can be as involved as much or as little as you want. You don’t have to sign up and immediately be saddled with 10 tasks. You can take pride in what you do, and it gives the district another dimension.”
According to the most recent estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020, the number of residents age 65 and older in Denton County increased 99.55% between 2010 and 2019. Denton County’s total population grew to 887,207 residents, and the senior population went from making up 7% of the county’s population in 2010 to 10.5% in 2019.
Many of those residents were negatively impacted because of the COVID-19 pandemic and, in many cases, were forced to stay home more than they were used to. Programs like the Senior Ambassador Program give them a chance to leave their homes, stay busy, and make a difference.
“You get to meet a lot of people you wouldn’t ordinarily get to meet, and that’s good for all of us,” Locke said. “They also get to see the good things that are going on. Some people may have misconceptions about what goes on in the day-to-day operations at our local schools. This is their chance to be informed.”
There is plenty to be excited about at LISD. With 68 of the best elementary, middle school, and high schools in Texas, LISD is widely considered an educational standard-bearer for its more than 50,000 students. This includes a diverse lineup of programs (Incubator EDU program, The Collegiate Academy, STEM Academy, and more) that help prepare students for the future and set them up to earn certifications that can lead to high-paying jobs straight out of high school.
To help spread that message, Lee said he immediately looked to create ambassador programs when he joined the district in early 2019. The district created its first Realtor Ambassador Program to educate and inform the hundreds of realtors who help homebuyers as they move into the area. They also added the LISD Alumni Association, which already has over 1,000 members active in promoting the school district.
The Senior Ambassador Program was supposed to launch last year but was halted because of the coronavirus. It’s been a long time coming for many, and the expectation is that this program will be universally applauded.
“I believe in this program and want to help get the word out,” Walker said. “All of it is to create a better community, but I’m also always out there thinking, ‘What’s going to help our seniors keep going strong?’
Locke agreed, adding that there is no better time than the present to get involved.
“I’ve discovered in retirement that I need to stay busy,” Locke said. “I still wear a lot of hats, and I enjoy it.”
For more information on how to get involved in the Senior Ambassador Program or to register for the first meeting on September 23, visit lisd.net/seniors.