Iris Manley of Gulfport is a familiar face at Gulfport Montessori Elementary School. That’s because she’s been volunteering there for more than four decades, about half of the 82 years she’s been on this earth.
Year in and year out, she’s been greeting visitors at the front desk, making photocopies for teachers, laminating documents, collecting box tops for fundraising.
“Anything and everything,” Manley says of the tasks she carries out during her approximately 20 hours a week of service at the school. “Anything that needs to be done.”
But she hopes her contribution to the thousands of children she’s seen pass through the school doors is much more than that.
“It’s amazing to see all these children grow up and become such amazing people,” she says. “They grow up and they go on to do service, they go into teaching, they go into all these categories. And to think that I might have in some small way had something to do with their lives.”
Mary Ruth Bumgarner, Gulfport Elementary’s volunteer coordinator, says the school is very lucky to have Manley’s help.
“We are so fortunate here at Gulfport Elementary to have her continuous support along with her devotion to our students and faculty,” she says.
Manley says she began volunteering at the school in 1973, shortly after her family arrived in Gulfport from Ohio. Three of her four children attended the institution, as did two of her four grandchildren. She said she felt it was important for her children to see that she was involved.
Her favorite memories over the years include seeing students grow up and later send their own children and grandchildren to the school.
Her advice to the students?
“To learn all you can, to take help where it’s available,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to ask adults, your grandparents. Read anything you can get your hands on. I just can’t tell kids enough to read, read, read. Because they’re going to be our politicians and our teachers and our scientists of the future. And if they have an interest in it, just go for it.”
And, she encourages anyone with a little extra time to volunteer.
“We can always use more help,” says Manley. “Even if they could come in for one hour and listen to a child read, or maybe help them in math or spelling. Whatever the child needs.”
For information on volunteering at Gulfport Elementary School, contact Mary Ruth Bumgarner, 727-893-2643, ext. 2004, or BUMGARNERM@pcsb.org.