Volunteers step up to fill void at St. Stephen’s School

When kids aren’t feeling well at St. Stephen’s School in Anoka there is someone ready and waiting to tend to their needs.

Second-grader Grace Bengle visits with volunteer school nurse Jan Donais. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming
Second-grader Grace Bengle visits with volunteer school nurse Jan Donais. Photo by Mandy Moran Froemming

But more often than not these days, that health care professional is a volunteer.

Funding cuts over the past two years first sliced the Catholic school’s full-time health para position in half, then this year only nine hours were available.

But parishioners of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church as well as the community have stepped up to fill the void.

There is a pool of volunteers including registered and licensed retired and working nurses, along with one doctor, who cover two shifts a day in the school’s medical office.

“I know the students are well cared for by a group of volunteers who love what they are doing,” said Principal Rebecca Gustafson.

The volunteers, along with health care para Mary Joy Naeher-Olson, see kids with everything from upset tummies to skinned knees. They celebrate lost teeth and help calm test-day anxieties.

Jan Donais retired from Mercy Hospital last year where she worked as a registered nurse in critical care.

She recruited many of the volunteers for the nurse’s office from the St. Stephen’s parish.

“It’s really an uplifting experience,” said Donais, who volunteers at least one day a week.

With many of the volunteers having backgrounds in trauma or cardiac care, there’s no doubt the students are being well looked after, said Gustafson.

“The best part is the kids who need some extra attention don’t have to come into the (administrative) office where it is very busy. They have a nice quiet place to recuperate.”

Donais said when she first retired from nursing she really missed her work, but volunteering in the medical office helps to fill the void.

St. Stephen’s is currently home to 475 students ranging from three-year-old preschoolers to eighth graders.

The majority of the volunteers are retired medical professionals, but a few are still on the job. All receive school sanctioned safety training and are subject to a background check.

Anyone from the medical field interested in sharing their time as a volunteer can contact the school at 421-3236.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at
[email protected]