Somebody let the dogs into Progress Elementary School. They’re big, but they’re friendly and the kids love them. And no slobber is involved.
Since the beginning of the year the school has been participating in the Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students) program that gets fathers involved in volunteering at local schools. Since then, a school that hardly ever saw a father walk through the front door now has 65 fathers volunteering on a regular basis.
Todd Ballensky – who has a daughter in fifth grade and a son in third grade – came up with the idea to bring the national program to the school. He estimates that 90 percent of fathers never set foot in their child’s school – not for conferences, not for carnivals, not for anything. “It’s hard to get males involved,” he said.
Ballensky confesses that he used to be one of those hands-off dads. He coached his older children in sports and that was how they bonded. There was no “aha” moment, but Ballensky eventually decided it was time to enter those doors for his younger children.
Now he has dozens of fathers signed up. Some come for several hours; some just drop in at lunch and recess. They’ll do everything from helping students with class work to playing a mean game of tetherball. “They’ll basically do what the teachers want,” he said. “I just try to get the guys in whenever they can. I’d like to see at least one guy in here every day of the week.”
The fathers have done more than just help out in the classroom and on the playground. They’ve organized a food drive and donated Christmas presents to the families of 17 students. The only requirement to participate is passing a background check every year like every other school volunteer.
Principal Matt Chisholm said he had no problems authorizing the program, but was surprised at its success. “I never, ever thought it would get like this,” he said.
Skate park gets donations
The new Liberty Lake skate park, which broke ground May 2, got more attention at Tuesday’s Liberty Lake City Council meeting in the form of two community donations.
Liberty Lake Kiwanis President Bob Schneidmiller gave the council a check for $500. “It’s going to do a lot for our city,” he said. “More than that, it’s going to do a lot for our kids.”
Pat Dockrey of Dockrey Mechanical has for years spearheaded the effort to build a skate park. Tuesday he followed that up by giving the city $5,000 for the park. He said it wouldn’t be right if he and his wife didn’t help fund the park after all the work they did on the project.
Council member Odin Langford thanked Dockrey for all the time and effort he put into the park and also for showing local kids how to work with the government to get a project done. “I think we ought to consider naming the park Dockrey Skate Park,” he said.
“I’ll have to decline that,” Dockrey said. “I appreciate it more than you know.”
NIC helping job-seekers
When it comes to job hunting, a little preparation can make the difference between landing a trophy position and missing the mark entirely.
No one knows that better than Gail Laferriere, who as the director of Career Services at North Idaho College helps point thousands of job-seekers, from fresh-faced students to old-hand community members, along their individual professional path each year through the college’s employment-finding services.
Laferriere and the rest of the staff at the NIC office represent just one of several job-hunting service centers available in North Idaho, offering everything from résumé recommendations to mock interviews to – more pointedly – individual opinion.
“In this economy, it’s really tough,” Laferriere said about the current employment market, while sitting in her corner office on the second floor of the Edminster Student Union Building. “But there still are some job openings out there, and we want to help people find them. One of the key things we do here is job search skills education for a nominal fee, usually just to cover materials.”
In Kootenai County, job openings are at their lowest level since the mid-1980s, wrote Kathryn Tacke, a regional economist with the Idaho Department of Labor, in an e-mail. Average openings listed per week by local employers plummeted from a high of more than 600 in 2005 to just 115 in the first three weeks of April.
“Last time that Kootenai County’s unemployment rate was as high or higher than it has been in 2009 was in March 1999, when it was 8.9 percent,” she wrote.
At NIC, a mix of undergraduates, community members and even former professionals are using the Career Services variety of employment information resources, such as an extensive career library and a Discover computer program that narrows preferred job characteristics, as lucrative – or at least easy-to-find – positions dry up. Those include North Idaho’s once-staple industries: construction, mining, real estate and lumber mills.
However, even those in more reliable industries such as the medical field aren’t immune, Laferriere offered. “I would say all walks are coming in,” she said.
That’s a good thing, though, she said. “We’re a community college, so we’re here for the community. We want to help those people.”
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